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Definition of boredom

Boredom is the absence of the reward signal from the learn drive system. Boredom occurs when the learntropy level is low.

Boredom is always bad

For its significant impact on the absence of learning, and the dislike of schooling, boredom should never be spoken of in positive terms. It should be clearly defined as an unwelcome state. It should even be considered a basic child's right to be free from boredom. Absence of boredom is tantamount to the right to a high quality education.

When Yuval Harari speaks of the value of boredom, he misuses the term. He should speak of a low level of distraction instead. What he means is the peace from the noise of the world. Even scientists may misuse the term due to its lax definition. It is not the student who should be blamed for the boredom of a classroom. It is either the teacher, the subject, insufficient prior knowledge, the curriculum, the system, or most often, many of the above.

Boredom is a formula for low creativity. Lots of good thinking may happen in prison, but prison is not a way to get creative. It is not boredom that spawns creativity, but an active mind unbothered by distraction.

Despite this occasional confusion, I do not think we need a new term to define boredom unambiguously. For most people, boredom is most certainly a bad thing.

Boredom at school

In learning, boredom is a result of the lack of match between the presented knowledge and the prior knowledge (see: semantic distance). Presented knowledge may be too complex and may result in a signal of low learntropy. Knowledge of high complexity gets filtered on input and registers no reward. If this is combined with coercive teaching, a penalty may register instead (see: decoding failure penalty). On the other hand, knowledge that is too easy, i.e. it already corresponds with prior knowledge, the reward will also be little. Low learntropy will result in low attention, which may lead to fidgeting, daydreaming, and other behaviors that are penalized in the classroom. Penalization may then occur if the learning material is too difficult, or if it is too easy. See: Inherent problems of classroom schooling.

Boredom is a penalty dished out when learning is too hard or too easy

Boredom and creativity

A creative person is unlikely to experience boredom because in moments of low distraction, e.g. in a shower, the mind will be busy with new ideas. This is how we explain the fact that low boredom-proneness increases a person chances for success in life. Creative people simply do not get bored when they are free to make their own choices. That boredom-proneness is unlikely to be inborn. It is mostly a result of a suppressed learn drive. In a creative person, the absence of creativity may be intentionally self-induced, and would then be a form of meditation.

Conversely, a bored person is not likely to be highly creative as boredom itself is an indication on insufficient activation of neural concept maps in the mind (see: How to solve any problem?). This may be a result of insufficient new learning (see: Knowledge and creativity). This could be a symptom of learned helplessness, e.g. as induced by coercive schooling. It can also come from brain injury (see: post-traumatic amnesia).

For the brain injured by schooling, addictions, or trauma, the recovery from boredom-proneness may be slow. However, the formula is simple: the brain needs to reinstitute a healthy learn drive. This can happen spontaneously in free learning. The process is slow as it depends on building up new knowledge and literally building new brain tissue (neurons, dendritic spines, synapses, glia, etc.).

Toxic boredom

Boredom is particularly dangerous in early childhood. The entire brain architecture, the connectome, and detailed neural maps are built with a program that depends on diversified input from the environment. Some of the neural maps will get set in stone as white matter tracts that cannot easily be remolded in adulthood. Low learntropy implies penalization, which indicates that not enough is happening in the brain. This will literally lead to apoptosis (cell death). This is not an injury caused by a deleterious factor. This is part of a developmental program in which neuronal recycling eliminates cells that cannot find suitable synaptic targets due to biased activations typical of coercive learning or constrained lifestyle with insufficient behavioral spaces. In addition to rich environments and freedom, kids need a great deal of play, exercise, and sleep. Those are vital neurotrophic factors. Even blood vessel arborization in the brain may count for more than potty training or early reading. The opposite seems to be happening in typical daycare. In the name of "sufficient activation", we coerce inadequate input, keep learntropy low, and stunt the development. "Sufficient activation" is the activation chosen by the child in an environment rich in adequate opportunities.

Boredom in childhood implies lost opportunities for brain development

The right to education

We are all born with a vibrant learn drive, which underlies creative thinking. School system is one of the best known effective ways to induce boredom and suppress the learn drive. From boredom and learned helplessness it is a short way to drugs and gambling. Only isolation wards in prison can beat school as the most boring places in the world. As boredom often tops the list of school dislikes, school reform is necessary.

The right not to be bored, should be listed among basic child's rights on the par with the right to education

This glossary entry is used to explain "I would never send my kids to school" (2017-2024) by Piotr Wozniak

Learn drive vs. School drive
Learn drive vs. School drive

Figure: This is how school destroys the love of learning. Learn drive is the set of passions and interests that a child would like to pursue. School drive is the set of rewards and penalties set up by the school system. Learn drive leads to simple, mnemonic, coherent, stable and applicable memories due to the fact that the quality of knowledge determines the degree of reward in the learn drive system. School drive leads to complex, short-term memories vulnerable to interference due to the fact that schools serialize knowledge by curriculum (not by the neural mechanism of the learn drive). Competitive inhibition between the Learn drive and the School drive circuits will lead to the weakening of neural connections. Strong School drive will weaken the learn drive, destroy the passion for learning, and lead to learned helplessness. Powerful Learn drive will lead to rebellion that will protect intrinsic passions, but possibly will also lead to problems at school. Storing new knowledge under the influence of Learn drive is highly rewarding and carries no penalty (by definition of the learn drive). This will make the learn drive thrive leading to success in learning (and at school). In contrast, poor quality of knowledge induced by the pressures of the School drive will produce a weaker reward signal, and possibly a strong incoherence penalty. The penalty will feed back to produce reactance against the school drive, which will in turn require further coercive correction from the school system, which will in turn reduce the quality of knowledge further. Those feedback loops may lead to the dominance of one of the forces: the learn drive or the school drive. Thriving learn drive increases rebellion that increases defenses against the school drive. Similarly, increased penalization at school increases learned helplessness that weakens the learn drive and results in submission to the system. Sadly, in most cases, the control system settles in the middle of those two extremes (see: the old soup problem). Most children hate school, lose their love of learning, and still submit to the enslavement. Their best chance for recovery is the freedom of college, or better yet, the freedom of adulthood. See: Competitive feedback loops in binary decision making at neuronal level
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