May 10, 2014

William James: "It is impossible to bore a German"

In the midst of a biographical interview, Steven Pinker calls up a quote I've never heard before:
When I got to Harvard, the Psychology Department, at least the experimental program in the Psychology Department, was extremely mathematical. It specialized in a sub-sub-discipline called psychophysics, which was the oldest part of psychology, coming out of Germany in the late 19th century. William James, the namesake of this building, said “the study of psychophysics proves that it is impossible to bore a German.”

It's oddly similar to the complaint of an alcoholic singer in a Garrison Keillor short story about how Norwegians will not allow themselves to be entertained.
   

37 comments:

Dave Pinsen said...

Isn't this trait a key to Germany's economic success? e.g..

Anonymous said...

"it is impossible to bore a German”

Counter-example:

http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3r0oao

dearieme said...

German humour is no laughing matter.

Anonymous said...

My German wife of 35 years is still the funniest person I know,but not IN German,only in English.And then,unfortunately,not intentionally.Her English is fluent but she can still mangle the language sufficiently to crack me up.

On these occasions,she often demonstrates the German love of slapstick humour by hitting me over the head with a blunt object.

Ah yes,happy times.

Anonymous said...

o/t - gushing review of Conchita Wurst in the UK Telegraph. The author, Charlotte Runcie, is the grand-daughter of a former Archbishop of Canterbury.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/eurovision/10821874/Eurovision-2014-live-review-No-shame-in-losing-to-Conchita.html

Grey Enlightenment said...

The Germans are wicked smart but they are like those people that take a joke literally

Prof. Woland said...

If you talk with a waiter in Europe chances are they will tell you that German tourists, particularly when traveling in groups, are the loudest. They are also well liked because they spend more money compared to a lot of other travelers.

Anonymous said...

It's similar to a joke by George Santayana, James's acquaintance and fellow Harvard man. While in Germany Santayana observed that the Germans, like other purer races, "seemed to pay for the distinctness of the type which they preserve by missing some of the ordinary attributes of humanity." He goes on to say "the Germans, as far as I know, have no capacity for being bored. Else I think the race would have become extinct long ego through self-torture." Think of the Ring cycle, Hegel, Goethe's Faust, doorstop pedantic scholarship, etc.

The jokes are basically the same, so I suspect James and Santayana were adapting a joke in general circulation among the educated men of New England.

http://books.google.com/books?id=F0HKsFMDFTEC&pg=PA6&dq=%22no+capacity+for+being+bored%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=umBvU-fhI4y1yASSi4HgBQ&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22no%20capacity%20for%20being%20bored%22&f=false

Georg said...

“the study of psychophysics proves that it is impossible to bore a German.”

Sayd someone who erronously got into this study and misses the "thrills" of
Freudian babble "science".

Mark Caplan said...

William James might also have had in mind Die Meistersinger, which is still going strong at the 5-hour mark. Too bad James missed the documentary film The Clock (2010), made by an almost German (Swiss), which ticks away non-stop for 24 hours.

slumber_j said...

The roof of William James Hall--the only skyscraperish Harvard building at maybe 14 stories--used to be a great place to watch the sun come up while drinking beer.

SFG said...

Oh come on. Has nobody seen Berndt das Brot? They like a lot of the silly things we do, though obviously there are cultural differences and things get lots in translation.

Anonymous said...

This must be why Germans can get excited over dull dull dull boring TV series.

I thought Heimat was boring as hell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ff11q5_mlE0

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heimat_(film)

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And then this at 7 hrs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8sfBoid8_Y

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And Wagner's operas are Too Long.


SFG said...

Well, let me amend my previous comment.

The poop thing someone mentioned in another thread is real.

I was a fan of an obscure game-creation program and played some of the RPGs created by the community. There were two prominent entries from Germans--among the best-made games in the field, BTW, taking into account these were all one-person creations.

Anyway, one was totally loose and silly, the other a nicely imagined fantasy world. The thing they both had in common was copious amounts of potty humor. n=2, but still.

Apparently it just boils down to joking about poop instead of sex--saying 'shit' instead of 'fuck', to wit.

Anonymous said...

Fassbinder

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPC2PYzk10E

Wenders

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY8uDNkOLHM

Kluge

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

http://youtu.be/GLaSIMj6O18

But early German cinema was great

Anonymous said...

Recruited by RAMS.

Roftl.

http://www.eurweb.com/2014/05/michael-sam-kisses-boyfriend-after-selection-by-st-louis-rams-watch/

Elli said...

Must be nurture not nature because I'm half German and I bore easily and find it very painful.

OTOH I'm so polite I save my screaming for the car.

Anonymous said...

Or a Brit...

Anonymous said...

Not true about Norwegians: they entertain themselves just fine with 18-hour-long "slow TV" programs that show people knitting, chopping wood, drying wood, stacking wood, and a log burning in a fireplace, all shown in their entirety, without any time compression.

David said...

It's a good rhing to calm down and be methodical, which requires patience. The will to power may be no other than the will to boredom.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this trait a key to Germany's economic success? e.g..

It might also be why they tend to over-engineer everything and why their cars are so unreliable despite their cost and prestige.

pat said...

This of course is the fundamental difference between Verdi and Wagner.

Pat Boyle

hardly said...

THe Economist's article on that rice growing in China research indicates that Westerners have been shown to have a more analytic and abstract mental life than Chinese. Anecdotally this agrees with what I know about the two races. Perhaps this is also the cause of East asia being not very productive on the pop culture front?

Anonymous said...

Sure, Steve makes the obvious points on how Germans are incapable of being bored and how israels can't be embarassed. What I'm curious about is whether Germans can be embarassed and Israelis be bored..

Hepp said...

OT, but someone needs to tell the Daily Caller that Wade left the Times a while ago

http://dailycaller.com/2014/05/10/30-year-new-york-times-science-writer-out-after-writing-book-about-genetics-race/

Anonymous said...

"It is impossible to bore a German"

True. His skull is too thick.

Yavor Stefanov said...

That's way funny

Anonymous said...

"Oh come on. Has nobody seen Berndt das Brot? They like a lot of the silly things we do, though obviously there are cultural differences and things get lots in translation."

There are tons of Germans on the Anglophone internet (probably the second largest European group you see on English media sites after Scandinavians of whatever stripe) and to a man they're pretty ordinary people.

Anonymous said...

@hardly
"Perhaps this is also the cause of East asia being not very productive on the pop culture front?"

Korea seems to be quite productive on the pop culture front.

Anonymous said...

"Korea seems to be quite productive on the pop culture front."

Cuz they're whoreans.

Anonymous said...

"Norwegians will not allow themselves to be entertained."

This movie nearly turned me brain into frozen salmon.

Anonymous said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCs6AzLeNQI

Different Euro types.

SFG said...

"Perhaps this is also the cause of East asia being not very productive on the pop culture front?"

Um...anime? manga? They may not have wide appeal, but the Japanese have never lacked for visual culture. I think the Asian intelligence is more visuospatial than ours, and so they come up with gorgeous paintings, well-designed cars, and some of the most impressive costumes I've seen...

Steve Sailer said...

There's a Japanese boarding school near where I live for rich Japanese kids who want to spend a year abroad in America but want to spend it with other Japanese kids. You can recognize them walking down Ventura Blvd. because they are so much more elaborately dressed than anybody who grew up here. The level of creativity in clothes among the Japanese teens dwarfs that of American students of similar levels of wealth.

I suspect it has only been like this for the last 20 or 30 years but the young Japanese women are now definitely into dressing up more than anybody in Southern California. Lower Manhattan/Brooklyn might compare, but nowhere else I'm familiar with in America.

Anonymous said...

"Norwegians will not allow themselves to be entertained."

This movie nearly turned me brain into frozen salmon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkegknGeM1s

the HBD explainer said...

Isn't this trait a key to Germany's economic success? e.g..

You're a bit late to the Unified Field Theory party, aren't you?

Anonymous said...

Once again, South Park nails it.

http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/383452/the-xj-212-funnybot