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Inside brain, outside brain...

We'd rather give ourselves electric shocks than be alone with our thoughts, says new study

I was interested by that news story, and thought about it as I mowed the lawn. It seemed odd to me that they ruled out the person who had found a pen and started making a 'to do' list. Surely, that is a person who is not only comfortable alone with their thoughts, but has decided that their thoughts were so useful, they were worried about forgetting them and wanted to record them for their future convenience?

One thing I sometimes like to do in my head is design elaborate rabbit houses. It seems an odd and arbitrary division to say that you are alone with your thoughts while you work out how the doors would be secured and what materials to use for the roof and how to cut a pleasing set of curved windows that could be shuttered in the winter, but to say that as soon as you start to draw the thing on paper, you are somehow operating outside your head. I often write things in my head, but my head has very poor storage facilities so I forget them. Otherwise this blog would have a lot more stuff in it.

I wonder what people who would rather shock themselves with electricity than be alone with their thoughts, think about while mowing the lawn or hoovering? I can't believe anyone thinks about the mowing.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
13th Jul, 2014 21:11 (UTC)
There is indeed a difference.

I was just wondering if 'doing nothing' and 'being alone with your thoughts' necessarily overlapped. If I am doing a boring job like mowing, then perhaps I am still alone with my thoughts, if in a slightly less pressured way than if trapped in a windowless room, where the environment throws the emphasis onto itself.

If I went to sleep, I wonder if that would count as 'doing nothing'?
(Deleted comment)
13th Jul, 2014 22:06 (UTC)
Actually, you have a point about the button. I'm not sure that if I were put in a room with an electric shock button I could resist the temptation to find out if it was *really* a shock button by pressing it just once...

13th Jul, 2014 21:46 (UTC)
I live on my own (& have done for 16 years now), and I absolutely hate silence -- if I don't have the radio on, I have to have the TV on; I leave the radio playing upstairs so that when I go up it isn't silent, I leave it playing when I go out so that when I come home the house isn't silent, I leave it playing at night so that when I wake up it's not to silence. If I go to stay with family, I have to take my iPad so that I can listen to the radio when I'm alone in bed. For me, silence is something I can hear, and it's oppressive.

But that's not about being uncomfortable alone with my thoughts, it's about being unhappy alone. If I had a husband, I'm sure I'd love to have the opportunity to spend 15 minutes just thinking my own thoughts!

Do you have any rabbits, btw?
13th Jul, 2014 22:38 (UTC)
I've done that with the radio on occasion too, I agree that complete silence can be disturbing.

I've owned rabbits on and off since I was a kid, but when we lost the last one, Ash, I decided that cats and dogs was probably enough animals. But I never quite managed to achieve the perfect rabbit house - easy to clean, warm, spacious, secure with room to graze but also an attractive thing to have in the garden... I had a couple of henhouses which came close, but I still kind of fancy building a castle, or maybe a Bunny Cottage. :-D

13th Jul, 2014 22:02 (UTC)
I'm certainly happier when there's _something_ happening, even if it's repetitive. Mowing the lawn would be preferable to sitting doing nothing.
13th Jul, 2014 22:44 (UTC)
Given a free choice, I think I probably tend to choose an option that involves being entertained : I spend way too much time randomly clicking around the internet.

But when I *am* forced back onto my own internal resources, I often enjoy it and wonder why I spend so much time being passively entertained. Then I go back to randomly clicking. :-D
14th Jul, 2014 07:15 (UTC)
Oh yes, I can cope with aloneness - and I've done some of my best thinking when wandering between places with no phone/book, or in the shower.

And, like you, I forget in-between, and end up distracting myself again.
14th Jul, 2014 00:00 (UTC)
Reminds me of a discussion where someone defined extroverts as people with no interior resources. . . .

Why, yes, we were all introverts talking.
14th Jul, 2014 01:13 (UTC)
Being alone with one's thoughts and doing nothing simultaneously can be nice; say, in a hammock or a cozy chair, or something. But being asked to sit and do nothing while waiting on somebody else's whim seems different. I'd probably shock myself too.

(On a side note, am I the only one amused by the person who shocked himself approximately every 10 seconds?)
14th Jul, 2014 20:20 (UTC)
I am slightly worried that the person who shocked himself every 10 seconds had got his finger stuck in the machine :-D

14th Jul, 2014 02:31 (UTC)
Now I'm wondering how much sensation a 9v battery can give. And whether the average person, who shocked themself 1.47 times, had one ovary and one testicle.
14th Jul, 2014 12:23 (UTC)
I agree with those who say there's a difference between choosing to sit and think, and being told to sit and think. I still remember the hideous tedium of Maths O-level, when I finished very early, but we weren't allowed to leave until the full time was up. While I would quite happily have lain in bed for an hour, happily thinking about books and things, a forced hour sitting in the non-relaxing environment of an exam hall was just awful. I was so desperate for diversion that I read all the instructions backwards, and tried to memorise them. (Sadly, all I remember now is "snoitaluclac" and "rotaluclac.")

I wonder how many of the people who say they're entirely happy with their own thoughts have ever found themselves reading every single word of every advert they can see, or every word of small print on the back of their ticket, or all the ingredients (in every language) listed on the soft drink in their bag, if forced to wait unexpectedly for a bus/train/appointment.
14th Jul, 2014 12:44 (UTC)
But one of the experiments was being alone at home, where presumably both the level of comfort and the timing was entirely under the subject's control?

I can see that having nothing to do when under severe stress such as after an exam, or while waiting for an event is difficult - if you are waiting for a delayed bus or train, you aren't doing nothing, you are alert for the arrival of transport, which is why it's so stressful, you can't do/think about anything engrossing because you might miss your connection and usually you are in an uncomfortable noisy place too, albeit somewhere where there is likely to be lots to look at.

If you read an advert, then spend the next five minutes considering the colours, positioning, font, ideas in the advert, presumably under the terms of this experiment, while you were reading, you were 'doing' but the thinking about it afterwards was 'allowed'. It seems an odd distinction.
14th Jul, 2014 13:02 (UTC)
Yeah, the distinction does seem odd. I've done solitary walks lasting 8 or 9 hours, in which I usually mentally write endlesss long LJ posts that never get written, but in most cases, the lengthy mental blog posts are prompted by something I saw on the walk. I don't know if the researchers would accept that as me being alone with my thoughts, or not.

But I still think the knowledge that This Is A Test would intrude, even if you were self-policing at home. "I'm starting the test now." "How long has it been?" "Am I allowed to stop now?" "Oh no! I noticed a news headline out of the corner of my eye. Have I ruined the whole thing now?" It's still an artificial situation.

I do wonder how clearly it was explained. The article says they were told not to entertain themselves. To me, writing a story in my head, or trying to remember the words to a long ballad, or whatever, do count as entertaining myself. I would very possibly take that instruction as meaning, "just sit here and try to empty your mind. DON'T THINK ABOUT ANYTHING INTERESTING AT ALL."
14th Jul, 2014 20:37 (UTC)
It's definitely very artificial: both the 'We are Doing a Test' thing and the fact that apparently you can think inside your head but not with the aid of any supplies. I wonder how many people literally tried not to think. That WOULD be hard although the writeup suggests it was not the intended task, it would be so easy for people to end up doing it.
14th Jul, 2014 20:00 (UTC)
"Being alone with my own thoughts" is okay. "Being alone with my own worries" is something else entirely. There are times when I would rather give myself quite severe electrical shocks than do that.

Edited at 2014-07-14 20:01 (UTC)
15th Jul, 2014 12:12 (UTC)
Do you think the electrical shocks would cause the worries to go away, or at least become less nagging?
15th Jul, 2014 17:13 (UTC)
I just think they might be more pleasant :-(
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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