Felt Time by Marc Wittmann is a psychological study of how we perceive time, Carpe Diem. I was intrigued by the title and concept because of the study of time by Shakespearean director John Barton who was curious about how ‘time’ was pronounced in the famous plays.
Wittmann opens with the Marshmallow Test. When I first saw this term, I thought of how people wait or don’t wait for marshmallows to cook when roasting them over a campfire. The more you wait the more delicious they become, but impatient folks don’t wait. But that’s not the Marshmallow Test in this study. Another example of temporal myopia as he calls it reminded me of social security benefits. When one reaches the age of sixty-two, one is eligible to receive hir social security benefits, but if one waits until s/he is seventy, the amount increases considerably. In fact between the ages of sixty-two and seventy each year provides a different amount. So when does one start collecting hir social security benefits demands on immediate or deferred gratification is an example of temporal myopia. The Marshmallow Test involved the giving of one marshmallow to a child and promising a second one in ten minutes if the first marshmallow wasn’t eaten when the giver of marshmallows returned to the room.
Time is a curious topic and study. How quickly someone answers a question does not determine intelligence, when we know taking time is usually more beneficial. For example, in school we give timed tests, which may be and is detrimental to many test takers. Instant replay or video review in sports is another example of time management so we “get it right.” Time is a double-edged sword: quick versus slow.
As time passes, we often hear people speak of the “good old days.“ There was no such thing as the “good old days” when women too frequently died in child birth, when schools were exclusively white, when houses were painted with lead paint, when cars didn’t have seat belts, when life expectancy was low, when we savaged the earth, when we burned coal, when we polluted our waterways, when we used horses for transportation, when we had world wars and so on. Over time, we romanticize the “good old days.” It wasn’t romantic, it wasn’t good, but it was the old days.
Time is measured in past, present, and future. It is on this measurement that the study of time is conducted in this study. “Gratification” is one of the tools. Do we regret or not regret a past event? Do we seek “immediate gratification”? Can we forgo “gratification”? The study of the rhythm of the brain uses days, months, seasons, and calendars such as school, fiscal, and tax to chart the degree of “gratification” and temporal cognizance. Wittmann’s referencing decade long studies are most interesting as are the elaborate and sometimes tragic brain study projects. Suddenly we become aware of feeling time, being conscious of time, being more aware of time. Time can be felt.
“Mindfulness” is a term applied to the here and now. Being conscious of the present is very difficult. When we gather with friends, we often reminisce about the past as in reunions of any kind. In social gatherings we talk about future plans, jobs, trips, and the like. But when one is left alone we might hear one is bored or lonely. Sitting in front of a fire is so calming and creates that state of mindfulness. Sitting in a chair on the ocean listening to the sounds, feeling the elements, seeing the waves and birds and fish interacting is mindfulness. One way I achieve this state of mindfulness is riding my bicycle. Zen or Yoga is a method we use to attain mindfulness. Consider New Year’s Eve. It is often a night of disappointment compared to the anticipation and preparation of it and days leading up to it. Projections of the event are usually better than the event itself. Mindfulness is a hard state to achieve; it takes practice. I concentrate on my breathing. Whether I am in front of a fire, on the beach, or on my bike I concentrate on breathing, each inhale and exhale which is mindfulness for me.
We all have a Circadian rhythm or internal clock. It is based on the twenty-four hour clock with the idea that we all need eight hours of sleep. With that in mind, we are larks, early risers, or owls, late risers. Much of this research on time is based on the brain and that is one area I did most of my study as a teacher. Sleep is important to the young and I believe we did them and still do them a disservice by starting school so early. According to this study and most of the brain research I did, the crucial study in school is best done from late morning to early afternoon. Schools are not set up in a time conscious manner for the youth. It is one argument I use in saying school is more a babysitting service than an educational one. When we have school days off, babysitters are the first called, and the time schedule of schools are based on parents’ work schedules. In fact the school year is still based on the agrarian calendar. The person who is in power dictates time. Employees have time clocks and time schedules. The boss can always be late because s/he was doing something important and hir lateness is excused, because s/he is the boss. Of course we are all conscious of how time drags when we are waiting and when it speeds by when we are having fun.
Time is instrumental in defining our ego. How we perceive time at any given time constructs our selves at that time. Time is the constraints we have and put on our actions and ourselves. Time controls conversations. Time is our dictator. So is “Time” a one or two syllable word? Is it emphasized on the first two letters or the last two letters? These are the questions Barton raised as a director and one Wittmann wrestles with in this fascinating and timely study.