Administering Electric Shocks Or Sitting With One’s Thoughts?


In 2014, a study published in Science declared something that, to the researchers concerned, was quite surprising:

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

But this finding is not surprising at all. For Pascal, it was already clear in the seventeenth century when he wrote that “[a]ll of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 

In other words, the inability to contemplate (in the Western esoteric sense) or to meditate (in the Eastern sense).

Why, it should be asked, would one prefer shocking oneself to being alone with one’s thoughts? Surely, talk in terms of preferences above is just pseudo-economic speak and thus, as a part of a more searching explanatory account, worth setting off to the side.


I submit that it’s because one does not wish to find out whatever you don’t want to see about yourself can be revealed to you while you’re sitting quietly alone. Whatever secrets you have: so revealed. Whatever samskaras–or ego impulsions–that may animate your thinking: also revealed. And so on.

You just don’t want to open this box. 


There is a dodge, in the form of an objection, that comes quickly: “But sitting for 15 minutes on my own is a waste of time.” This, to be sure, is the spirit of restlessness, but that restlessness points back to precisely what was said above: You just don’t want to open this box.

If you’re alone with yourself long enough, what might you find? What fears might be disclosed?

Perhaps: I’m alone. Perhaps: I’m helpless. Perhaps: I’m utterly unlovable. Or just possibly: I’m afraid to die at all, especially alone.


If, however, you have the courage to open the box and to look deeply within, then in time all will become clear, for all is Truth and Truth is Happiness.