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In 11 studies conducted at Harvard University and other places – researchers found that most people would rather electrocute themselves than spend 15 minutes alone in a room with nothing to do but think.

Now the research subjects were not strapped to a death producing electric chair. But all they had in the room with them – in addition to their minds – was a machine for administrating small electrical shocks – which were indeed painful.

In the 15 minute time period, almost two thirds of the subjects gave themselves three or more electric shocks out of sheer boredom – seemingly unable or unwilling to spend a short amount of time exploring their own minds. One man administered 190 shocks to himself rather than just sit quietly with nothing to do.

So what does this mean?

Some would argue that this means that the attention span of the general population is slowly eroding away to non-existence. Why? It seems our addiction to electronic devices like smart phones and television and the allure of computerized media tools such as Facebook and Twitter is causing our attention to dwindle. Simultaneously the non-in-person interaction all these digital options provide makes us crave more stimulation so much – that electric shocks are better than the boredom of silent thought.

Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative and painful. And sit quietly alone and meditate even for 15 minutes, forget about it.

How far does this go? I know people and you probably do too, who just cannot be still. They are always plugged into their smart phone, constantly interacting with their email, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest. They do this all day long, even during meals. Heaven forbid they miss something. If they check their Facebook and nothing new has been posted since the last time they looked, they feel disappointed and even sad.

The Harvard researchers duly noted that analytical and critical thinking is what defines us as human beings and is an essential skill when deliberating the future or recalling the past. The notion that a startlingly high number of individuals – perhaps the majority of under the age of 40 or so, seemingly now cannot or will not engage in analytical and critical thinking is highly disturbing and does not bode well for the continuation of the human species.

The French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal nailed it when he said, “All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room.”

And none other than Albert Einstein wrote, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of IDIOTS.”


See how long you can go without checking your email? How long can you stand having your cell phone switched off? Can you last through one day, a week end? How long can you go without logging onto Facebook, a couple of hours? How addicted are you?

And the acid test, can you sit alone in a room without the television or radio on for 15 minutes and do nothing but think? And if you can do this, do you like it or hate it. How uncomfortable are you without the usual bombardment of electronic stimulation? Would you ever consider sitting quietly alone for 15 minutes once a day as part of the routine of taking care of your analytical and critical thinking skill? Yes or no.

Napoleon Hill wrote the following about thinking. “Every one of us is self-made. The habits that we select and internalize are the component parts of our success composition. Our habits of thought are the most important ones to cultivate first since once control is gained over these, it will be simple to follow the marching orders that we assign to ourselves. By first controlling our thoughts and balancing our emotions, we then can select the most expedient road to our goal in life. In disciplining ourselves to take proper action, we are notifying our ego that we mean business in achieving what we want in life. You cannot take possession of your own mind or direct it to definite ends without a practical system – a system of self-discipline.

So electric shocks or quiet analytical critical thinking, what will it be for you for me and for our society as a whole? Maybe we should learn about this in school. Although by the time kids reach school age these days it might already be too late. They may already be addicted to electronic stimulation. Certainly they have already consumed thousands of hours of television and they probably already have cell phones and a Facebook page.

We’re probably doomed.

© Master-Mind Alliance – July 18, 2014