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The Tinkered Mind
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May 5th, 2020
Boredom is the imagination’s punishment for being ignored. Of course, this humanizes the imagination, anthropomorphizes it, making it out to be like another person, one that has feelings and opinions about what we’ve done, or haven’t done. And for the most part, this is a mistake. As powerfully diverse and creative as the imagination is, it should be regarded less like some sort of entity or muse and more like a muscle.
A muscle has no opinion on what workouts you have or haven’t done. It simply exists and responds according to what has happened previously and what is currently happening. Just as boredom is the imagination’s punishment for being ignored, physical pain is the muscle’s response for being unused for so long.
Everything dies off if it is not fed in some way. Muscles atrophy when not used, the imagination goes blank, hunger fades after enough fasting, good relationships crumble if not nurtured, fire snuffs out if given no fuel.
It’s a universal principle: Use it or lose it.
But perhaps even more important is the inverse implication of this principle:
Use it to boost it.
There is no middle ground where we assume things stay at rest. Things either decay or improve. Rocks slowly chip and weather. Even the glass in windows slowly slumps downward over decades. Change is the only constant. And nothing highlights the state of an individual’s imagination more than a fat dollop of free time.
With this quarantine, for example, many people are having such a hard time with all this free time because life has normally been packed with the busyness of a bullshit job that only ever requires a sliver of creativity and imagination. And now, with the feeble constraints of a busy job gone, the true weakness of people’s imaginations becomes obvious, like an astronaut who cannot stand against the force of gravity after a long enough time in space.
On the other hand, for those who have by fortune or habit maintained a healthy exercise of their own imagination – these people are feasting on this opportunity of free time like never before.
Reminders that great things have been achieved during times of quarantine have circulated social media in recent months. Newton created Calculus during the plague. John Milton finished writing Paradise Lost during quarantine. Shakespeare’s most productive years were likewise during an epidemic. But the missing key for all of these anecdotes is the fact that these people were exercising their imaginations rather obsessively before the opportunity of such free time became available during times of the plague. It’s easy to imagine the mental health of your run-of-the-mill laborer during such times declining while these people created some humanity’s greatest works. In short, these creative people were prepared when the opportunity came along.
What harms one person is an opportunity to another. But where is the real difference if it’s the same event that both people are experiencing?
The good thing is that we can only stand so much pain before we get fed up and do something about it. What we do, of course, determines everything. If we don’t placate boredom with mindless entertainment – if we sit with that boredom, it burns itself out. The rusted gears of the imagination grow warm, and crackle back to life. The mind, if left to it’s own devices for long enough begins to create. Even those who have been mentally blindsided by this event have an opportunity, to once again, get their most powerful asset rolling again.