Capacity for Boredom

Disclaimer: this is mostly missspelled ramblings are unfinished. Read at your own diescretion

Everything, when repeated enough time, becomes boring. If you listen to enough Motzart, you might become bored of his style. No matter how creative Motzart is, he can’t help but creat music in his own style. The same is true, in a simpler sense, for TV sitcoms. After watching one or two (or none) sitcoms, you identify (probably subconciously) the elements that make it a sitcom and sitcoms in general become boring. Any attempt to liven things up results in either another boring sitcom, or something which is interesting but no longer a sitcom. Teen fiction novels are another great example. The number of these that you can read before getting bored indicates your ability to abstract away the noise and see the common theme behind all novels in the genre. There could be a metric, we could call if the Boring Number, of any given theme, which indicated how many instances of that theme a person can experience before getting bored of it. These number are subjective, of course. My boring number for Motzart may be quite low, not because I’m intelligent enough to realize the soul of his theme but because my lack of musical understanding keeps me from seeing any aspects that would be available to someone more keen at hearing interesting patterns in his music. So the Boring Number for a given them is pushed in opposite directions by two forces. A person’s capacity to recognise interesting aspects of instances of the theme will raise the boring number, because they have more content to experience in any given instance. For example, someone who pays close attention to movie details can watch the same movie several times without feeling bored because they can skillfully extract much more content from the same instance. I’ll call this trait extraction (todo think of a better term). On the other side is a person’s ability to comprehend the repetitiveness of the theme. A young person reading what I see as another generic teen fiction novel might just not be smart enough to pick up on how repetitive the genre is. I’ll call this apparent non-awareness of repetitiveness sphixishness, after the allegory of the sphinx wasp in Dougles Hoststaadtr’s Metemagical Themas (TODO how to spell sphinx/sphix)

Both creation and consumption of any media is subject to these forces, and we can imagine extremes of extraction ability and sphixishness. Consider giving a book of fairy tales to a few very different people. Someone with no extraction ability at all would have trouble reading books at all, citing their lack of content. “I just don’t get it,” this poor soul would cry, “there’s just ink on paper. No knights or princesses or these other fantasies you speak of.” A less absurd extremely poor extractor might read the words and sentences correctly but fail to identify a narrative and quickly become bored of the repetivieness of word use and sentence structure. Somewhere in between these two would be me “reading” a book in a foriegn langauge that I had no comprehension. Even for my best efforts, I likely become bored of the flow of words and letters and give up. If I somehow learned the language in this process, a whole world of content would open up to me.

Up the scale on extraction ability, you can imagine someone who understands every nuance of literature and psychology and could spend days re-reading the same page, unraveling the secret thoughts of the the author and the time they lived in, and guessing at alternate narratives the author considered but never wrote down. Of course, there is only so much content actually present in a given work of literature, so there is an upper bound on how much content can be extracted. There is the curious case of someone who reads the novel and stops near the end and writes their own endings. I would not consider this action to be extraction but creativity, which is closely related but not the same thing. So the ideal extractor would be able to know everything the author ever put into the book, even things not immidiatly related to literature, such as skill guesses of the author’s personal traits and frame of mind when the wrote the book.

Now imagine someone with very strong antisphixishness (and impossibly good extraction ability) reading several books in the same genre. They would read one or two instances of fairy tale and understand the heart of the genre and not want to read anymore because of how repetitive and predictable they are. Seeking novel stories, they would find a new genre, maybe sci-fi. After reading a few scifi trilogies, they wouldn’t be able to stand the repetitive and predictable themes. They read biogrophies, and despite complete comprehension of the significance of each person’s life, they can’t remain interested any more than you can at yet another cliche vampire novel. They switch to high fantasy and find that not only are the bored of the books within a genre, they’ve become bored of the entire class of genres. Any attempt to create a novel genre strikes them as trite and derivitive, just as another predictable fairy tale is of no interest to a normal person who has read hundreds. They find a few oddball books, reading Finnegan’s Wake and The Ticket That Exploded with complete comprehension but find them too derivative, because they derive from a common source, the human brain, who’s output has become so banal and predictable to this poor god of antisphixishness. Such an entitiy would not be amused, either, by random letters on a page. The randomness, once recognised, lets one disregard the content entirely and the only content left is the typesetting and other physical aspects of the book.

An entity such as this, which can become bored of any theme on any level, would be said to have supercuriosity, an aspect related to superintelligence but with different value alignment problems. Where a superintelligence will discover how to maximize its goals in seemingly creative ways until they are maximized, a supercuriosity would mercillessly explore and experiement and understand the world around it simultaniously finding ways to understand themes of the objects around it. It’s hard to say what the ultimate fate of such an entity would be. Humans, besides our built in rewards that stimulate physical pleasure, also pursue pleasures of the mind such as literature. What prevents us from attaining supercuriosity? There are many things in our world which are neither random nor completely predictable which we don’t have the capacity to enjoy. There are higher level themes which we have trouble comprehending and are thus incapable of getting bored of. No one I know of could understand all human literature on such a high level that no book you could bring them would be of any interest. No human is so versed in video games that they can borededly play through any game on the first try with ease. And no human is so extremely well tempered to music that you can’t create a song that will feel new and original.

TODO this paragraph breaks the transistion between the one above and below The limits to human antisphixishness are our ability to remember old experiences and identify frames we used on new ones. If you’ve read every single XKCD comic in a row over the course of several months, you can probably go to somewhere in the middle and laugh at the same joke a second time because you’ve forgotten the content of one instance, while not yet gotten bored of the theme “XKCD comic”.

Creating a song, however, is an act very different from listening to one. Someone who has seen so many shakespear plays and deriviative works might be so sick of the theme they never want to see any again but yet has no ability to create their own Shakespear play. And writers are even more prones to sphixishness than readers. How many times has an author released a successfull book only to create several derivative works that reak of sphixishness? How many variations on the theme of “star wars” can be created before not a single audience member is amused? Consider the quintessential dadaist art piece, Fountain by (TODO insert name). The theme was “things that you want to try and tell me aren’t art go ahead I dare you.” This theme is special in its introspeciveness, seemingly contradictory because it depends on the audience to reject it as “art”. These forms of expression are no longer that interesting, so a dadaist creator today would be hard pressed to create anything “not art” enought to count as interesting dadaist art. In fact, most attempts would be outright derivative, which is further embarassing for an art form whose main purpose was to free the minds of artists from strict and regular (and quite boring) forms. John Cage’s music is also a theme; any given piece of John Cage music clearly fits into a common theme and are, within the theme, quite sphixish. The theme itself, the theme “John Cage Music” is quite antisphixish withing the larger scale theme or meta-theme of “Music”. So John Cage can be said to be a creative themesist but not a very creative musician, because once he created his theme of music (a huge leap of creativity) his remaining work of creating further instanes on this theme require “no more” creativity than Bach composing another piece of music. I say “no more” in quotes because it is still surmountable cretivity, but not special on the same level as the act of creating a novel theme. Meta-thematical creativity is what many consider “true creativity” as opposed to deriviative creativity, but even meta-themes have meta-meta-themes and within a meta-meta-theme, what looks like a huge frame-breaking leap of creativity is merely another small step around in a fixed box.

You can imagine a battle between the ultimate supercreativity and supercuriosity, the former tring the create novel and interesting things and the latter trying to tease apart the signal from the noise and getting bored of them. There’s no reason for these to even be sepereate agents, this seems like a good framing for a human artist: an agent which creates things, reflects on how repetitive and derivative they are, and then creates again. If such an entity was created inside of a computer, it would be a quite an accomplishment. The recent advances in creativity driven AI are promising, how would a creativity driven AI fair against a game-creating adversary? Could the process be used to automatically generate increasingly fun games in a completely automated way? These are exciting times.