The boredom myth

The myth that living forever would be boring

Existential philosophers have argued that life is essentially boring. Consider Martin Heidegger’s “Profound boredom…reveals being as a whole”, and Arthur Schopenhauer’s “if life… possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom…” But this was before self-actualization and personal responsibility became common concepts for making life choices. Now, the generally accepted meanings of boredom suggest it’s not that life itself is boring, but that people’s actions and perceptions create the boredom they experience. So if you think living forever would be boring, it has less to do with any actual perception of immortality, and more to do with how you feel about your life right now.

The Encarta dictionary defines “bored” as “feeling tired and irritable, either because of being exposed to something uninteresting or because of having nothing to do”. While we can all probably think of instances of being bored by “something uninteresting”, it’s typically when we are not fully engaged. Can any of us ever truthfully say we have “nothing to do” when there are invariably a myriad of things we are choosing not to do? As Anna Gosline writing in Scientific American (December 2007), put it: “Bored? Don’t blame your job, the traffic or your mindless chores. Battling boredom, researchers say, means finding focus, living in the moment and having something to live for.“

The implication of this objection seems to be that forever would be spent doing the same things over and over, a common ingredient of boredom. But why make that assumption? If you’ve developed a habit of repetitive and unadventurous thinking or behavior, and you confine yourself to a limited everyday reality, are stuck in a loop of apathy and laziness or a fear of experimentation and exploration, and are subconsciously simply waiting to die, then of course a boring life is inevitable.

Mortal life is built around traditional patterns of survival — finding a job, collecting a bunch of stuff, raising a family, teaching them to be like you, then dying. But physical immortality requires stepping out of any traditional patterns and going beyond the past and present to a life unrestrained by previous experience or limited imagination. In fact physical immortality is only even possible when we free ourselves from limiting thoughts and beliefs.

Our culture has conditioned us to think of living an unlimited lifespan as a curse often leading to stagnation, apathy, a loss of vitality and, yes, boredom. Fiction such as “The Immortal” by Jorge Luis Borges, “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift, J R Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and numerous others, all include variations on the immortality curse. Movies are similarly biased, including John Boorman’s “Zardoz”, often referenced in this context, and Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” Of course, as long as we’re convinced of our essential mortality, it’s perfectly reasonable to cast physical immortality as offering an unappealing alternative so dying doesn’t seem so bad.

But as Max More, the strategic philosopher, writes, “If there were, in principle, some limit to the length of a stimulating, challenging, rewarding life, we could not know where it lies until we reached it . . . To throw away what may be a vastly long stretch of joyful living on the basis that forever must bring boredom and stagnation would be a terrible error. . .” How you feel about immortality is really a referendum on how you feel about your life right now. Banish boredom from your life and switch on all out living now, and then see how you feel about forever.

Doug Morris is an artist, designer and writer and has worked as a mural, faux finish and decorative painter for 20 years.

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