Scientific Sense Podcast

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The end of mind?

In a recent study (1), the authors seem to have made the following interesting observation:

“In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”

Most of the study subjects appear to be men. Does this indicate a systematic atrophy of the human mind? Is this the end of thoughts? Is this the beginning of regression to nothingness?

Humans have been busy most of their evolutionary history – they had to sense and avert danger in every corner, hunt for food incessantly and later fight other clans constantly for superiority and survival. Humans have been both tacticians and a strategists, adept at maximizing within the constraints presented. They even ventured into abstract realms – philosophy, art and mathematics – that provided little direct utility to the problems at hand. Some even had visions of space travel and rocketed to nearby pebbles as a precursor. The human mind has been active – perhaps till very recently.

Now, we find ourselves unable to think and preferring electric shocks to boredom. How did we get here? Where do we go from here? Is this a segregation of mind share? What role do society, education and industrial organizations play?  Humans, the most unlikely species to dominate the World, may have overshot their own capabilities.

(1) Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind

Timothy D. Wilson1,*,
David A. Reinhard1,
Erin C. Westgate1,
Daniel T. Gilbert2,
Nicole Ellerbeck1,
Cheryl Hahn1,
Casey L. Brown1,
Adi Shaked1

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