I am a firm believer that nothing is boring in the world. Everything is interesting as long as we go deeply enough into it. I think the problem with boredom is that we often don’t go deep enough into things. We just scratch the surface and then move on to something else when we get bored. It is our lack of specificity, our lack of knowledge, that makes things boring.
But if we took the time to really explore the things that interest us, I think we would find that there is a whole world of excitement and adventure waiting
You might be bored in a coffee shop and start staring at the exposed brick wall you’re sitting next to. Well, that is fascinating if you think deeply enough about it.
It will probably be even more fascinating if you happen to be a professional bricklayer. You’ll be able to judge the quality of the bricklaying work, compare it to your own work, and perhaps even get a glimpse into the psychology of the person who was laying those bricks, which might have been there for decades. In a way, you would communicate with someone in the past in a very nuanced and subtle manner.
But even if you don’t know much about bricks, we all the ability to learn. How are they made? What’s in-between the bricks, and how has that changed over the centuries? How has the bricklaying trade changed? You can find out all of this information and more, and the more you know, the more interesting it becomes.
The same can be said for anything in the world. There is always something interesting to learn, no matter how boring it might seem at first glance.
Think of any topic, and there will be numerous researchers who have spent the bulk of their lives studying that. How is that possible? Clearly, there is something more profound than what we superficially see, regardless of the subject matter.
Take the example of a rock. Most people would probably say that rocks are boring, but some geologists find them endlessly fascinating. To them, rocks are like time capsules containing the history of the Earth. They can tell us about the formation of our planet, the changes it has undergone over billions of years, and even the possibility of life on other planets. You can then learn about all the ways that we can date rocks, and the overlapping geological clocks that we use to do so.
For instance, there are a few different methods of geological dating, but the most common is radiometric dating. This involves using the decay rates of certain radioactive isotopes to date the rocks in which they are found. By measuring the amount of the isotope present, and comparing it to the known decay rate, geologists can estimate how long ago the rock formed. Another method is relative dating, which simply involves placing the rocks in order from oldest to youngest. This can be done by looking at the fossils they contain, or by observing other features such as the way the rock has been deformed over time. Both of these methods have their limitations, but by using them together, geologists can get a pretty good idea of the age of a rock. There are many other interesting things to learn about rocks, such as how they are formed, what minerals they contain, and how we use them in our everyday lives.
Think of anything that you know deeply. How do people who have strangers to that subject understand it on first review? They likely won’t appreciate the nuance that you can see, after years of thinking about a specific subject.
And this is why reading is such a great way to spend time. Not only does it allow you to have conversations with dead people, which is akin to time travel, but it allows you to receive a distillation of decades of thinking by one individual one one topic. And because authors often do spend years writing books, this means that you can be sure that they are bringing their very finest nuanced thoughts to the table. If you want to understand the world deeply, reading is one of the best ways to do so. It will give you a greater appreciation for the complexities and interconnectedness of all things, and allow you to have more interesting conversations with people from all walks of life.
So if you are ever bored, dig more deeply, understand more, and be curious.
I had a realization a few years ago that changed the way I hold conversations. If a conversation is boring, I am the boring one, not the other person. I am not asking the right questions, digging deep enough, and kindling the right fires of the mind.
I have now come to realize that this applies far more broadly to anything that we place our attention towards. This is especially true with the advent of the internet, where the entirety of human knowledge is available if you know how to look. Do you want to spend the afternoon learning about the history of bricks? I am sure many people have written extensively about it — and I bet it is rather interesting!
But, if we acknowledge that everything is interesting, there is also a bittersweet conclusion. We have finite lifespans, and there is simply too much to know. We will die before we ever learn a fraction of a percentage of it. In some cases, we can even work this out mathematically.
If I am lucky, I’ll have another fifty to sixty years to live based on average life expectancy. I read perhaps 100 books a year. So, I have, at best, 5,000 to 6,000 books that I can read before I die, and this also does not account for the fact that I will reread books more than once, so that number will invariably be smaller.
Millions of books have been written, and I’ll never read most of them or even know that they exist. It’s essential that this type of conclusion, either about the books we will never read, the knowledge we will never acquire, or the experiences we will never have, does not lead to a state of paralysis.
This is where our individual obsessions and passions come into play. Even if we cannot consume all of the world’s interesting facts, ideas, and stories, we can at least focus on those that interest us most and make the most of our time. We can also take solace in the fact that, even though our lifespans are limited, they are still long enough to do some serious study when it comes to learning about and appreciating the world around us.
It is much better to live in a world where there is too much choice, where there is an infinite amount of variety, than one where there are only a handful of paths.
The reassuring thought is that we will never know what we don’t know, and so we can only guess what we are missing. Perhaps my next 5,000 books will all be the wrong ones, and there is another set of 5,000 books that would ultimately open my mind and completely change me as a person for the better. But, regardless of which books I choose to read with the time I have left, I’ll never know the answer to that question.