I watched a movie that was inspired by the classic myth of Sisyphus. It’s a well-worn story element to have a character be cursed to repeat a task or relatively brief passage of events for eternity.

But how long would it really seem? Presuming your brain doesn’t reset as part of a time loop but rather you continue experiencing consciousness but are forced to keep trying the same thing, it would reach a limit at some point.

Supposing you can try variations always to the same goal, there will still be a finite number of different possibilities. You will forget exactly how many times you repeated each particular variation, and in any case repeating doesn’t lead to new memories once you’ve memorized it. So, doing it a million more time would not seem to be any longer than when you thought about it before, right?

Or there might be limits in the brain’s subjective memory capacity.

Using whatever mechanism you might consider, what would the subjective time span of eternal repetition be? Or, can you repudiate that and suppose that the mind changes in other ways, but I think that leads to a larger limit, not a lack of any limit.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How nice if I can choose when to be cursed... I enjoy scuba diving where I can be one with nature and nature only [curses!] $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ Compulsory XKCD on the subject $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ Naturally it will be too long, always too long. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Any supernatural entity capable of cursing someone to an eternity of repeating the same tedious, boring task forever, will be capable of circumventing any limits of " the brain’s subjective memory capacity". Every new memory of the task will be fresh. Every repetition will be accessible with sublime, cruel clarity of memory. No hard god worthy of the name isn't going to let its cursed off the hook too easily. No way out. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 12:18

3 Answers 3


The brain is a strange and complex thing which we don't really understand. However it's suggested that the brain only lays down new memories for new experiences. Once something becomes repetitive your mind takes fewer samples and time passes without notice.

What this ultimately means is that Sisyphus' eternity blurs into one long day. Past the first few months the job ceases to be hard, just dull, but it doesn't matter because the brain doesn't remember it happening.

Ultimately, what difference is there between pushing a rock to the top of a hill and watching it roll down again and any other repetitive non-creative task any of us might do at work? At least he's out in the fresh air.


Repetitive tasks are way to meditate for westeners

This is rather addition to great answer from Separatix: Usual eastern meditation techniques require person to sit/lay down and "do nothing". Which is very unusual thing for most westeners.

However, when given repetitive, dull task (example clean huge area with broom), your mind becomes to "wander" after some time and subjective time tracking becomes loose.

So, for some, few hours can feel like "eternity", for some other few hours of repetitive task can feel like "few minutes"

Make it dull, but not repetitive

For most westeners, being locked in meeting when someone repeats the obvious in most words possible is the new hell. Especially when you consciously have to follow the conversation, because you might be asked some question.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you explain how non-westerners differ? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ According the books I did read about Mindfulness and meditation, they just sit down and "turn off" their mind. However, I do not have any trusted resource to refer. So take it as observation and new age mumbo jumbo $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz & Pavel Meditating is not really about turning off the mind, it's about becoming aware of oneself and ones surrounding. The part in guides where they mention stuff along the line of "turn off your mind" simply means "don't daydream or let your mind wander into other thoughts, you need to stay in the present" $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 10:15
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: I don't think longitude is precisely the issue here. There are of course forms of meditation in Western religion. It's just a shorthand that supposedly most Westerners are unfamiliar with formal meditation and most Easterners are familiar with it. Whether it's actually true or not is irrelevant to the stereotype ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ Fyi, an Indian friend of mine studied with a guru intensively for a time. (I wouldn't share more details than that) He had great trouble achieving the proper state of mind. His description implied this was normal. I don't think there is any great difference apart from the training to do it. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 4:47

You might suffer from Commuters Amnesia after a while.

If you're doing the same task over and over again, without the ability to have any control about it, like a commuter to and from work, your brain will switch into zombie mode, so that you will perform your task more or less automatically.

It may seem relaxing at first glance, but it produces more stress to the body than a jet pilot, as stated in the link and confirmed by personal experience of commuting 2 times 1 hour a day over nine years.

So, at the end of eternity, whenever that is, it may not have seemed so long to the person, because the brain was in hot-stand-by for most of the time.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, Pavel’s answer made me think of commuting, too. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:09

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