Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

4.17.2015

Are You More Controlled by the Past, Present, or Future?


Another post in what I'm hoping will be a series inspired by This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works.  From my review: An interesting thought collage with a misleading title. The subtitle comes closer to capturing the contents: a collection of essays from a diverse group of thinkers responding to the question, What is your favorite deep, beautiful, or elegant explanation?  I've already referenced a couple of the ideas in On Communication.

Philip Zimbardo chose to share one of his own ideas in his response, but it's nevertheless a fascinating idea.  From Time Perspective Theory:
For most of us, we develop a biased temporal orientation that favors one time frame over others, becoming excessively oriented to past, present, or the future.

Thus, at decision time for major or minor judgments, some of us are totally influenced by factors in the immediate situation: The stimulus qualities, what others are doing, saying, urging, and one’s biological urges. Others facing the same decision matrix ignore all those present qualities by focusing instead on the past, the similarities between current and prior settings, remembering what was done and its effects. Finally, a third set of decision makers ignores the present and the past by focusing primarily on the future consequences of current actions, calculating costs vs. gains.

To complicate matters, there are sub domains of each of these primary time zones. Some past-oriented people tend to focus on negatives in their earlier experiences, regret, failure, abuse, trauma, while others are primarily past positive, focusing instead on the good old days, nostalgia, gratitude, and successes. There are two ways to be present-oriented, to live in present-hedonistic domain of seeking pleasure and novelty, and sensation seeking versus being present-fatalistic, living in a default present by believing nothing one does can make any changes in one’s future life. Future-oriented people are goal setters, plan strategies, tend to be successful, but another future focus is on the transcendental future—life begins after the death of the mortal body. . . .

Beyond mere correlations of scale measures, the ZTPI scales predict to a wide range of behaviors: Course grades, risk taking, alcohol, drug use and abuse, environmental conservation, medical checkups, creativity, problem solving, and much more. 

Finally, one of the most surprising discoveries is the application of Time Perspective theory to time therapy in “curing” PTSD in Veterans, as well as in sexually abused women or civilians suffering from motor vehicle fatality experiences. . . . 
I have yet to read it, but he expands on these ideas in his book The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.  He also has a website that delves into a bit more detail, including the opportunity to answer a few quick questions to rate yourself on the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory.  For instance, my Time Perspective scores:
Past-negative: 2.90
Past-positive: 3.22
Present-fatalistic: 1.78
Present-hedonistic: 2.40
Future: 3.92
Transcendental-future: 1.70
As related (in green) to this scale:
The accompanying explanation says that, even though the numbers don't line up, the 50% line is the average score for each category, and the red dots are not data but the researchers' idea of what an ideal perspective would be for each.

Not surprisingly, I'm highly future oriented (though I suspect based on some of my bad habits that I'm a bit more hedonistic than this indicates).  I complain frequently about decisions big and small (politics, work changes, etc.) that "they" are getting wrong because of their short-term perspective, that they're not considering the long-term consequences.  The website goes into more detail:
Future-Orientated Person: This person’s decisions tend to be based less on concrete, empirical aspects of the current behavioral setting and relatively more on his or her anticipated, abstract imaginings of future consequences of alternative courses of action. The focus is on if-then reasoning, probabilistic thinking, logical analysis, reasoning backward from imagined goal states to start points as well as forward tracking from starts to finishes. There is a clear concern for the consequences of one’s actions, attention to responsibility, liability, optimizing outcomes. This person accepts delays of immediate gratification to achieve longer-term better goals. She or he is also willing to invest effort and resources in current activities that only have a distant payoff, and to endure unpleasant current situations that have the potential for positive future outcomes. They are willing to save for a rainy day, accept that a stitch in time may save unnecessary work later. They are goal-oriented and may be either very competitive or cooperative depending on which strategy is situationally appropriate. They do not take physical risks, and tend to be health conscious, engaging in a variety of health enhancing behaviors some of which involve effort, time, money, and little immediate gain — but prevent long-term negative consequences (flossing teeth, taking vitamins, eating health foods, getting health and dental checkups, etc.). They are good at problem solving and abstract reasoning tasks, get higher grades, fewer incompletes or extensions required in courses. They are able to avoid temptations and distractions that are perceived as short-term inducements or time wasting, such as play and other consummatory activities, when there is work to be done or tasks to be accomplished. Much of their behavior is primarily an instrumental means to goal attainment. On the down side, the future-oriented person is unable to enjoy present, transient, consumable activities and experiences. Often they are labeled as wasting time. They may have more difficulty than other time types with intimate relationships since they thrive on control and predictability, which ought to be absent or shared in intimate encounters. Also their micro level of planning means that they do not allow natural acts, such as sexual arousal, to occur without concern for controlling it, anticipating consequences, and being apprehensive about being evaluated for sexual performance. One of their main goals is increasing efficiency, getting more done in less time. To this end they will buy a host of time saving appliances and engage in time management activities. Their form of negative mental health should revolve around high levels of anxiety, manic behavior, workaholism, and failures to achieve their ideal state. If their goals, when attained, are not substantial, it is likely they will feel as if they have worked hard and become successful at something that really wasn’t worth it, thus leaving them with a sense of existential meaningless of their life’s worth — in other words, being set up for mid-life crises.
The other perspectives are explained there as well.  Some of them, at least; I suspect the web page was completed before the book and some of Zimbardo's further work with the idea.  It doesn't consider the Future-Transcendental perspective, for instance.  Religious extremists (terrorists) rate extremely high in this category, as they are only concerned with the future afterlife instead of future life.  The site also doesn't delve too deeply into the past orientations, though I suspect everyone knows both types.

Another example of time perspective being expressed is what I wrote two posts ago in reaction to the long article saying that Artificial Intelligence could radically transform everything within our lifetimes:
If it all won't matter in 25-75 years, why bother?  It's not in my character to actually give in to this impulse, but after reading this piece I was left feeling like I shouldn't try to instill my kids with the value to care enough to make the world a better place.  They should just live their lives in search of as much personal enjoyment as possible since all of the world's problems will either be fixed or irrelevant by the end of their lifetimes anyway, right?  Not really, but it's hard not to feel too small and insignificant to matter in any meaningful way when considering thoughts like these.
In other words, with no future, my future orientation becomes meaningless so I might as well shift to a present perspective.

I suspect quite a bit of personal insight--and, hopefully, improvement--could be gained by giving these ideas and their implications more study.  Perhaps I'll have to see if I can find time for the book eventually.  In the meantime, I found this animated partial-lecture offered other helpful ways to think about time perspectives:

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