Monday Morning Memo: Our Perceptions of Time

By Roy H. Williams

How do you see time? Do you see it as:
1. Chaotic – things happen randomly; history has no path?
2. Linear – history has a path and it is straight and fixed?
3. Cyclical – that which has been will be again, because history’s path keeps circling?

1. Those who see time as chaotic believe in bumper sticker destiny, “Shit Happens.” Chaotic-time perceivers live their lives at the mercy of circumstance. I believe Frank McKinney Hubbard was speaking of them when he said, “Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.”

2. Those who see time as linear believe in a predestined future. In the late 1700s Johann Friedrich Von Schiller spoke from a linear time perspective when he said, “There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.” A young woman recently expressed linear time-think this way, “If I make this choice, it was meant to happen that way, but if I make the other choice, it was meant to happen that way. So there’s no point trying to make choices because no matter what choice you make it was meant to happen. We’re all like actors in a movie for God.”

3. Those who see time as cyclical believe in learning from the past. Sociologists William Strauss and Neil Howe spoke of cyclical time when they wrote, “The reward of the historian is to locate patterns that recur over time and to discover the natural rhythms of social experience.” Strauss and Howe continue, “Back in the 1950s, forecasters widely predicted that America’s future would be like Disney’s Tomorrowland. The experts foresaw well-mannered youth, a wholesome culture, the end of ideology, an orderly conquest of racism and poverty, steady economic progress, plenty of social discipline, and uncontroversial Korea-like police actions abroad. All these predictions, of course, were wildly mistaken… Why were their predictions so wrong? When the forecasters assumed the future would extrapolate the recent past, they expected that the next set of people in each phase of life would behave just like the current occupants… but each year’s winter is more like the prior winter than like the autumn that came right before it.”

Like the seasons, the generations of humanity follow a cyclical pattern. Arthur Wing Pinero observed this pattern and wrote, “The future is only the past again, entered through another gate.” And who can forget the words of the immortal Solomon? “That which has been is now. And that which is to be has already been; And God requires that which is past.” (Ecclesiastes 3)

Like Strauss and Howe and Pinero and that original wisard of Israel, I believe time is cyclical, following a spiral path. And I plan to illustrate this during our October 2 New Campus Celebration in Austin. I really hope you can come. But regardless of whether you perceive time as chaotic, linear or cyclical, there is a fourth perception of time shared by all of us; the time of the mind, imaginary time, moving forward and backward in memory.

But this I will leave for another day.

Roy H. Williams

PS – That most unique and famous of 1977 Corvettes, The Caucasian, will be sold for a trifle, a pittance, a mere token of its worth on October 2, 2004. Will you be the one to drive it home?

Wizard Academy – Monday Morning Memo

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