Sunday, December 27, 2009

Burden of boredom borne by blockheads

Razib has previously wondered whether or not GNXP readers ever become bored:
Do readers of this weblog ever get bored? It seems that life is short, and there's so much to do and read. I understand that work can quite often be tedious and mind-numbing, but that's not quite what I'm talking about. What I'm referring to is having leisure or free time, and being bored because you don't know what to do with it.
The post struck me as a reminder of how different the relationship with time is for those with an insatiable need for cognition compared to those who are intellectually incurious. For the former, it's in perpetually short supply. For the latter, time often cannot pass by quickly enough. In the words of Roman general and Hannibal nightmare Scipio Africanus:
I'm never less at leisure than when at leisure...
I cannot recall the last time I've been in boredom. I always keep at least one book in the car and have my iPod in pocket at all times. Just getting to work on my backlog of books to read and podcasts to listen to guarantees I won't be twiddling my thumbs for months, and even if I did nothing else with my free time but these two things, I've reached a sort of singularity in which my to-do stack grows at a faster rate than my ability to shrink it down does. Yet I get texts and calls frequently enough from people I know asking what I'm doing at the moment, and if I want to go do something with them because they're bored sitting at home. I would never be the originator of such a text. Even if it's with a vivacious girl in her late teens, I can't imagine going somewhere without having already formulated a desirable plan about what I'm going to be doing.

I am quite confident in asserting that the same is true for the vast majority of readers, who are both intelligent and curious (the two are not synonymous, of course, but they are good proxies for one another). Most high IQ people always have something stimulating to engage in with their free time.

This isn't just me speaking from personal experience--the data confirm it. The GSS asked respondents in 1982 and again in 2004 how often they have time on their hands that they don't know what to do with. Using the familiar categorization method employed here before*, the following table shows the percentage of each group's members who reported to "almost never" be without something worthwhile to do in their free time:

Unboreable %
Really Smarts69.6
Pretty Smarts52.8
Pretty Dumbs39.2
Really Dumbs33.7

So much to do, so little time to do it. Now when are we ever going to get around to reproducing?

GSS variables used: WORDSUM(0-3)(4-5)(6)(7-8)(9-10), BORED

* Really Smarts (wordsum score of 9-10, comprising 13% of the population), Pretty Smarts (7-8, 26%), Normals (6, 22%), Pretty Dumbs (4-5, 27%), and Really Dumbs (0-3, 12%).


Razib said...

thanks for confirming my hunch!

Basil Ransom said...

Laziness is a factor. Always having material at your side requires foresight, which isn't always concomitant with intelligence and curiousity.

At least that's my excuse.

agnostic said...

There's a similar question that they've asked every or almost every year (LIFE):

"In general, do you find life exciting, pretty routine, or

Using the same IQ groups, here's the % exciting minus % dull ("net" exciting-ness):


The % routine also declines as you go up the IQ scale.

Eileen said...

Well, even if I have nothing "to do", like not having a book on hand or whatever, there's always thinking to be done! Ergo, never bored.

(I don't think I've ever been bored. Even when forced by circumstances to do something I wouldn't normally want to do. Like when I went to a football game once -- and that has only happened once in my life -- it was still fascinating to watch the behavior of the crowd, etc., etc.)

Alleged Wisdom said...

Good post.

I have never been and will never be bored, but I have been known to randomly ask my friends to go do something.

I always have a large supply of books I need to read, but sometimes (maybe a few times a month) I get tired of reading them and prefer social interaction. It is not boredom, exactly, but I just feel the need to go out and do something random and non-academic.

Tamala said...

This is interesting. I am never and have never been bored. At a job I used to have, I had several helpers over the course of a couple years and it always amazed me how many people just want to be told what to do and get almost hostile if you explain why or the principle behind what they are doing.
So many people are just not curious about the world. I can find things to interest me anywhere and find the world a constant source of interest and amazement.

Audacious Epigone said...


Even if your provisioning is subpar, it's easy to find stimulation--a magazine rack, people-watching as Eileen pointed out, or delving into your own thoughts. I often have to listen to podcasts more than once because my mind will wander off to some disparate subject for a period of time, causing me to miss what's being said.


Good stuff. Thanks.

Alleged Wisdom,

I do initiate doing social things, but I always have something in mind, and act as though I'm going to do it whether or not the person(s) I'm asking want to or not. If they don't, I very might not do it, either, but if we're going to be hanging out, that's what we're going to be doing.


Yet something close to half of all Americans in their late teens and early twenties are sitting through philosophy and American literature classes to fulfill general education requirements, even though they're receiving no 'practical' benefit in so doing and have no interest in taking anything else away from them.

The Undiscovered Jew said...



I make heavy use of your white IQ rates by state in this entry to discover that IQ (and other positive social indicators) increase fertility in whites after the age of 29:

Part III – Delayed Fertility is Reduced Fertility and Fun with Microsoft Excel

The Undiscovered Jew said...

From the link I posted:

Smart People Do Have Babies, But Later in Life

As you go through the above data and look at the state level and age specific birth rates for non-Hispanic white women in the 2002 CDC pdf, you will note that individual states with positive social indicators do indeed positively correlate with state level fertility after the age of 29.

For example, high white IQ Colorado has a higher birth rate per 1000 than lower IQ Alabama after the age of 29. And high household income Massachusetts has a higher birth rate per 1000 than lower household income Arkansas after the age of 29. And high housing valuation California has a higher birth rate per 1000 than lower housing valuation Mississippi after the age of 29.


1) It is true that overall fertility increases as positive social factors decrease. Put simply: Overall, stupid people are actually having more babies.

2) But if one breaks down the data by age group, this is not true. In fact, after age 29 amongst white women, positive social factors increase as fertility increases. Put simply: After age 29, smart people have more babies. Thus, one concludes modern society merely delays the fertility of smart people, it doesn't nullify it completely.

3) I have proved this by showing state income, housing valuations, and IQ have a strong positive correlation with state fertility for cohorts older than age 29.

Vijay said...

Really? I'm always bored or rather under-stimulated. The exceptional op-ed or meaningful interaction is an exception. When it does happen, it's great - but most of the time it's perennial boredom.

Perhaps I'm conflating boredom and frustration.

Black Sea said...

"So much to do, so little time to do it. Now when are we ever going to get around to reproducing?"

Once you've gotten around to reproducing, you may find yourself more frequently bored.

Jokah Macpherson said...

I surprised even myself by staying entertained during my weeklong Internetless Christmas holiday in Alabama. Between yardwork, visiting nonagenarian relatives in nursing homes, and a stack of books to read, I never even missed the ol' Web.

I wasn't always this way, though. I might not put it in the same words as Vijay, but college, for some reason, was the low point of my intellectual curiosity (and I didn't even sin enough to have a good excuse).

FuturePundit said...

It all depends. I am bored with most people. I am bored with tasks that can't be done in smart ways. If I can work on intellectually interesting problems and/or with exceptionally smart people then I am not bored.

Anonymous said...

I dated a girl for a short time... she was nice enough, but reading this blog makes me realize just how "prole" she was. She didn't work but got a "disability check" although there didn't appear to be anything physically wrong with her. She spent all her time watching TV or talking to her friends on the phone or chatting on Yahoo messenger. She had no hobbies, no interest in the world around her. There was not a single book in her house.

The only thing she was good at was sex. It was the only thing we had in common, and I was amazed at just how fast I realized that it wasn't enough.

Audacious Epigone said...


As lame as it sounds, I can't make the time at the moment, as I'm available very briefly. I will digest and respond shortly.


Either you're quite a bit smarter than I am, or you're not looking hard enough. There are lots of intellectually stimulating (albeit unproductive) activities to partake in, or if you're more industrious, real-world subjects to become an autodidactic success in.


My need for intellectual stimulation/cognition bloomed in my early twenties, specifically during my junior year of college (finding parapundit via a google search for a philosophy class was the specific, identifiable impetus). Prior to that, I wasn't very engaged in anything academic (though I still don't recall being bored outside of school and occasionally in work life).


Keep in mind, I'm referring to free time when you are not engaged in work-related business.


Sounds like my sister. Don't tell me what your name is, please!

FuturePundit said...

Audacious, I find at work and at home I'm bored of dummies. Depending on where you live your ability to interact with sharp people in leisure time will vary considerably.

My guess is as IQ goes up into the stratosphere it becomes very difficult for someone to find compatible peers. So one must do more self entertainment.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

As lame as it sounds, I can't make the time at the moment, as I'm available very briefly. I will digest and respond shortly.

Take as much time as you need and don't rush because I presented a decent sized amount of information for you to go through. Better to be careful and thorough than quick but shallow.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Btw, I did not look at the correlation between years spent in school had on fertility rates by age cohort, so that might be an angle for you to inspect in your post:

Educational index by state

Phoenixism said...

Only 3 things can induce boredom:

1) Terrible movies
2) Television
3) Conversations about #1 and/or #2

FuturePundit said...


Free time? What's that?

bgc said...

"Burden of boredom - borne by blockheads"

I notice that was a neatly constructed line of Anglo-Saxon alliterative poetry (I just added a dash to indicate the space - caesura - between the half-lines). A coincidence? - I think not...

Audacious Epigone said...


I should know better. Your output is ten times what mine is, and I feel the same way!



Jonathan said...

I'm never bored. There's an endless list of fascinating books, podcasts and web sites to peruse. The only low points are holiday dinners with my in-laws, cloddish folk who only talk about sports. Shudder.

Audacious Epigone said...


I'm more fortunate than you are in my tastes, I think. I can happily talk about football for hours as well!