It is clear to everyone that time is continuous, perhaps with no beginning and no end and always moving – or did time begin with the “big bang”? For Sir Isaac Newton time is linear and integral to the makeup of the universe. It is measurable and is a dimension in which events occur one after the other. Not so for Immanuel Kant who proposes that time is a concept, not a dimension of and part of the structure of the universe but rather is a paradigm of the human intellect through which we tend to order happenings, their longevity and periodic occurrence.
Regardless of how we conceptualize this experience called time, we tend to agree that there is a continuity we experience. Moreover we use words such as “past” to connote experience which has already occurred and “future” for experiences we anticipate. For practical purposes, we all participate in the identification of time by measurements which we have evolved in units of hours, minutes and seconds. Furthermore we use these units to measure a multitude of events, ranging from the time it takes you to read this, all the way to when the next full moon will occur. Time is also a socially acceptable way to assign economic value, for example, a psychiatrist, amongst others, frequently sets rates to be charged for treatment by time spent.
Jean Piaget spoke of the perception of time passing as “lived time.” Time seems to have characteristics – such as speed. We have all had the experience of time passing quickly and yet also have had the experience of time being so slow that a particular event seems never-ending. With increasing age we experience the more rapid passing of time. Of course, a seventy-five year old’s experience of an hour as a percentage of life lived is miniscule compared to that of a seven or five year old child. In the use of the hypnotic trance we speak of the characteristic “time distortion”. A trance session may seem much shorter to the subject than the actual time spent as measured by a clock. In addition, it is possible to experience activities in quite some detail in a short period of time which in the physical world would take considerable time. An example of this is an internationally known musician with whom I have worked who is able to mentally rehearse a 45 minute composition in 10 minutes or less. Various drugs can also distort the experience of time. Furthermore, what a wonderful experience it is to be away from day to day routine and cues and experience the total loss of track of time. In contrast many of us experience setting the clock to wake us at 7 a.m. only to find ourselves waking 10 minutes before the alarm goes off in response to the clock within. Finally, two different people at the same event at the same time may have two different experiences of weather that time was long more short.
Clinically, as I have worked with people for 40 plus years it is apparent to me that the concept that we live in two time dimensions is very useful. This utility is for both the therapist and the client in understanding human problems with which people present and in creating a construct and position to provide for forward movement. Furthermore it is useful for healthy people who wish to maximize their growth. I will describe each of these and then the application.
I submit that there is the “here and now (however long that may be) i.e. the present. Then there is the “then and there”. The past and the future are both in the then and there. The past and the present for many purposes are the same. Neither is here and now. Attempting to live in the past or in the future creates static in the human being which may present as anxiety and/or other signs and symptoms. However the interesting thing is that we are in the present in order to be able to have the experience of past and future. So, I submit that we experience both the here and now and the then and there as present experiences. There is a premium placed on living in the present characterized by expressions such as “being in the moment”. Thus I further submit that, not only are here and now and then and there both in the present but that significant problems occur when we act as if we live in the then and there. The here and now has primacy and we function optimally when that is clear. It is clear from my clinical work that plans for the future almost never materialize. Equally clear is the fact that when plans for the future are experienced as phenomena of the here and now there is significant behavior towards those plans. An operational example is the desire to lose weight. There is a significant difference in the achievement of that goal when one visualizes oneself at the desired weight in the present. This can be generalized so that any desired goal can be experienced in the present. When this is so, it is remarkable how the behavior will be the behavior of a person who has already obtained those goals of loss bringing them ever closer. You may say “but doesn’t believing that I am already how I want to be lead to delusional thinking, complacence and inactivity or even inappropriate activity?” Not so if indeed the person is living in the present and can acknowledge the physical presence of the undesirable present weight. On the other hand it will be so if the person is living in the then and there. There is something affirming about being able to experience/visualize, in the “now”, the desired “then and there” while being clear about the difference. This is how visualization is so powerful. This is why “virtual reality” training and treatment techniques are so effective.
The problem with most plans which sit on the shelf or which are forgotten is that they are not conceptualized in the present so that behavior needed now to bring about the desired state does not occur or is expected to magically occur. On the other hand, plans which are adopted as present positions necessitate the behavior required to have the desired description materialize.