The Psychology of Time and the Paradox of How Impulsivity and Self-Control Mediate Our Capacity for Presence

The Psychology of Time and the Paradox of How Impulsivity and Self-Control Mediate Our Capacity for Presence
“Consciousness is tied to corporeality and temporality: I experience myself as existing with a body over time.”
By Maria Popova
Apr 27 2016
<https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/04/27/time-felt-marc-wittmann/>

“Reality is never and nowhere more accessible than in the immediate moment of one’s own life,” Kafka once told a teenage friend. “It’s only there that it can be won or lost.” The great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky believed that what draws us to film is the gift of time — “time lost or spent or not yet had.” From the moment we are born to the moment we take our last breath, we battle with reality under the knell of this constant awareness that we are either winning or losing time. We long for what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of the turning world,” but in chasing after it we spin ourselves into a perpetual restlessness, losing the very thing we strive to win. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard captured this perfectly in his superb 1932 meditation on our paradoxical experience of time: “If our heart were large enough to love life in all its detail, we would see that every instant is at once a giver and a plunderer.”

These multiple and contradictory dimensions of time is what German psychologist Marc Wittmann explores in Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time (public library) — a fascinating inquiry into how our subjective experience of time’s passage shapes everything from our emotional memory to our sense of self. Bridging disciplines as wide-ranging as neuroscience and philosophy, Wittmann examines questions of consciousness, identity, happiness, boredom, money, and aging, exposing the centrality of time in each of them. What emerges is the disorienting sense that time isn’t something which happens to us — rather, we are time.

One of Wittmann’s most pause-giving points has to do with how temporality mediates the mind-body problem. He writes:

Presence means becoming aware of a physical and psychic self that is temporally extended. To be self-conscious is to recognize oneself as something that persists through time and is embodied.

In a sense, time is a construction of our consciousness. Two generations after Hannah Arendt observed in her brilliant meditation on time that “it is the insertion of man with his limited life span that transforms the continuously flowing stream of sheer change … into time as we know it,” Wittmann writes:

Self-consciousness — achieving awareness of one’s own self — emerges on the basis of temporally enduring perception of bodily states that are tied to neural activity in the brain’s insular lobe. The self and time prove to be especially present in boredom. They go missing in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, which results from the acceleration of social processes. Through mindfulness and emotional control, the tempo of life that we experience can be reduced, and we can regain time for ourselves and others.

Perception necessarily encompasses the individual who is doing the perceiving. It is I who perceives. This might seem self-evident. Perception of myself, my ego, occurs naturally when I consider myself. I “feel” and think about myself. But who is the subject if I am the object of my own attention? When I observe myself, after all, I become the object of observation. Clearly, this intangibility of the subject as a subject — and not an object — poses a philosophical problem: as soon as I observe myself, I have already become the object of my observation.

With an eye to his compatriot Martin Heidegger, whose philosophy equated self and time (and who happened to have been Arendt’s onetime lover and lifelong friend), Wittmann adds:

As phenomenological philosophy has determined, self-consciousness is not a mental state that is added on to our experience, or that is particular; rather, it is a feature inherent in all experience. My perception contains me.

[…]

On the phenomenal level, consciousness — and the self-consciousness deriving from it — is distinguished by spatial and temporal presence. Consciousness is tied to corporeality and temporality: I experience myself as existing with a body over time.

[snip]

Why Is Productivity So Weak? Three Theories

Why Is Productivity So Weak? Three Theories
By Neil Irwin
Apr 28 2016
<http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/upshot/why-is-productivity-so-weak-three-theories.html>

More than 151 million Americans count themselves employed, a number that has risen sharply in the last few years. The question is this: What are they doing all day?

Because whatever it is, it barely seems to be registering in economic output. The number of hours Americans worked rose 1.9 percent in the year ended in March. New data released Thursday showed that gross domestic product in the first quarter was up 1.9 percent over the previous year. Despite constant advances in software, equipment and management practices to try to make corporate America more efficient, actual economic output is merely moving in lock step with the number of hours people put in, rather than rising as it has throughout modern history.

We could chalk that up to a statistical blip if it were a single year; productivity data are notoriously volatile. But this has been going on for some time. From 2011 through 2015, the government’s official labor productivity measure shows only 0.4 percent annual growth in output per hour of work. That’s the lowest for a five-year span since the 1977-to-1982 period, and far below the 2.3 percent average since the 1950s.

Productivity is one of the most important yet least understood areas of economics. Over long periods, it is the only pathway toward higher levels of prosperity; the reason an American worker makes much more today than a century ago is that each hour of labor produces much more in goods and services. Put bluntly, if the kind of productivity growth implied by the new data published Thursday were to persist indefinitely, your grandchildren would be no richer than you.

But it is also really hard to measure, particularly for service firms. (How productive were employees at Facebook, or your local bank, last quarter? Have fun trying to figure it out.)

And even with years of hindsight, economists are never quite sure why productivity rises or falls. During the 2008 recession, labor productivity soared. Was this because employers laid off their least productive workers first? Because everybody worked harder, fearful for their jobs? Or was it a measurement problem as government statistics-takers struggled to capture fast-moving changes in the economy? We don’t know for sure. (Here’s one analysis that emphasizes the first explanation.)

That is a long way of saying we don’t know for sure what is going on right now, or how long it will last. But the possible answers range from utterly depressing to downright optimistic.

[snip]

Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies

Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies
By Julia Belluz and Javier Zarracina
Apr 28 2016
<http://www.vox.com/2016/4/28/11518804/weight-loss-exercise-myth-burn-calories>

Welcome to Show Me the Evidence, where we go beyond the frenzy of daily headlines to take a deeper look at the state of science around the most pressing health questions of the day.
“I’m going to make you work hard,” a blonde and perfectly muscled fitness instructor screamed at me in a recent spinning class, “so you can have that second drink at happy hour!”

At the end of the 45-minute workout, my body was dripping with sweat. I felt like I had worked really, really hard. And according to my bike, I had burned more than 700 calories. Surely I had earned an extra margarita.

The spinning instructor was echoing a message we’ve been getting for years: As long as you get on that bike or treadmill, you can keep indulging — and still lose weight. It’s been reinforced by fitness gurus, celebrities, food and beverage companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, and even public-health officials, doctors, and the first lady of the United States. Countless gym memberships, fitness tracking devices, sports drinks, and workout videos have been sold on this promise.

There’s just one problem: This message is not only wrong, it’s leading us astray in our fight against obesity.

To find out why, I read through more than 60 studies on exercise and weight loss. I also spoke to nine leading exercise, nutrition, and obesity researchers. Here’s what I learned.

[snip]

Inside OpenAI, Elon Musk’s Wild Plan to Set Artificial Intelligence Free

Inside OpenAI, Elon Musk’s Wild Plan to Set Artificial Intelligence Free
By Cade Metz
Apr 27 2016
<http://www.wired.com/2016/04/openai-elon-musk-sam-altman-plan-to-set-artificial-intelligence-free/>

The Friday afternoon news dump, a grand tradition observed by politicians and capitalists alike, is usually supposed to hide bad news. So it was a little weird that Elon Musk, founder of electric car maker Tesla, and Sam Altman, president of famed tech incubator Y Combinator, unveiled their new artificial intelligence company at the tail end of a weeklong AI conference in Montreal this past December.

But there was a reason they revealed OpenAI at that late hour. It wasn’t that no one was looking. It was that everyone was looking. When some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies caught wind of the project, they began offering tremendous amounts of money to OpenAI’s freshly assembled cadre of artificial intelligence researchers, intent on keeping these big thinkers for themselves. The last-minute offers—some made at the conference itself—were large enough to force Musk and Altman to delay the announcement of the new startup. “The amount of money was borderline crazy,” says Wojciech Zaremba, a researcher who was joining OpenAI after internships at both Google and Facebook and was among those who received big offers at the eleventh hour.

How many dollars is “borderline crazy”? Two years ago, as the market for the latest machine learning technology really started to heat up, Microsoft Research vice president Peter Lee said that the cost of a top AI researcher had eclipsed the cost of a top quarterback prospect in the National Football League—and he meant under regular circumstances, not when two of the most famous entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley were trying to poach your top talent. Zaremba says that as OpenAI was coming together, he was offered two or three times his market value.

OpenAI didn’t match those offers. But it offered something else: the chance to explore research aimed solely at the future instead of products and quarterly earnings, and to eventually share most—if not all—of this research with anyone who wants it. That’s right: Musk, Altman, and company aim to give away what may become the 21st century’s most transformative technology—and give it away for free.

Zaremba says those borderline crazy offers actually turned him off—despite his enormous respect for companies like Google and Facebook. He felt like the money was at least as much of an effort to prevent the creation of OpenAI as a play to win his services, and it pushed him even further towards the startup’s magnanimous mission. “I realized,” Zaremba says, “that OpenAI was the best place to be.”

That’s the irony at the heart of this story: even as the world’s biggest tech companies try to hold onto their researchers with the same fierceness that NFL teams try to hold onto their star quarterbacks, the researchers themselves just want to share. In the rarefied world of AI research, the brightest minds aren’t driven by—or at least not only by—the next product cycle or profit margin. They want to make AI better, and making AI better doesn’t happen when you keep your latest findings to yourself.

OpenAI is a billion-dollar effort to push AI as far as it will go.

This morning, OpenAI will release its first batch of AI software, a toolkit for building artificially intelligent systems by way of a technology called “reinforcement learning”—one of the key technologies that, among other things, drove the creation of AlphaGo, the Google AI that shocked the world by mastering the ancient game of Go. With this toolkit, you can build systems that simulate a new breed of robot, play Atari games, and, yes, master the game of Go.

But game-playing is just the beginning. OpenAI is a billion-dollar effort to push AI as far as it will go. In both how the company came together and what it plans to do, you can see the next great wave of innovation forming. We’re a long way from knowing whether OpenAI itself becomes the main agent for that change. But the forces that drove the creation of this rather unusual startup show that the new breed of AI will not only remake technology, but remake the way we build technology.

AI Everywhere

Silicon Valley is not exactly averse to hyperbole. It’s always wise to meet bold-sounding claims with skepticism. But in the field of AI, the change is real. Inside places like Google and Facebook, a technology called deep learning is already helping Internet services identify faces in photos, recognize commands spoken into smartphones, and respond to Internet search queries. And this same technology can drive so many other tasks of the future. It can help machines understand natural language—the natural way that we humans talk and write. It can create a new breed of robot, giving automatons the power to not only perform tasks but learn them on the fly. And some believe it can eventually give machines something close to common sense—the ability to truly think like a human.

But along with such promise comes deep anxiety. Musk and Altman worry that if people can build AI that can do great things, then they can build AI that can do awful things, too. They’re not alone in their fear of robot overlords, but perhaps counterintuitively, Musk and Altman also think that the best way to battle malicious AI is not to restrict access to artificial intelligence but expand it. That’s part of what has attracted a team of young, hyper-intelligent idealists to their new project.

OpenAI began one evening last summer in a private room at Silicon Valley’s Rosewood Hotel—an upscale, urban, ranch-style hotel that sits, literally, at the center of the venture capital world along Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, California. Elon Musk was having dinner with Ilya Sutskever, who was then working on the Google Brain, the company’s sweeping effort to build deep neural networks—artificially intelligent systems that can learn to perform tasks by analyzing massive amounts of digital data, including everything from recognizing photos to writing email messages to, well, carrying on a conversation. Sutskever was one of the top thinkers on the project. But even bigger ideas were in play.

[snip]

Who Was Ramanujan?

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Crandall.  Steve’s comment:’I’m no historian of math, so I can’t judge, but it seems excellent.  Of course Wolfram can’t resist plugging Mathematica a bit, but that’s probably reasonable here.  It is a great tool for ‘experimental’ math.’.  DLH]

Who Was Ramanujan?
By Stephen Wolfram
Apr 27 2016
<http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2016/04/who-was-ramanujan/>

This week’s release of the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity (which I saw in rough form last fall through its mathematican-producers Manjul Bhargava and Ken Ono) leads me to write about its subject, Srinivasa Ramanujan…

A Remarkable Letter

They used to come by physical mail. Now it’s usually email. From around the world, I have for many years received a steady trickle of messages that make bold claims—about prime numbers, relativity theory, AI, consciousness or a host of other things—but give little or no backup for what they say. I’m always so busy with my own ideas and projects that I invariably put off looking at these messages. But in the end I try to at least skim them—in large part because I remember the story of Ramanujan.

On about January 31, 1913 a mathematician named G. H. Hardy in Cambridge, England received a package of papers with a cover letter that began: “Dear Sir, I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of only £20 per annum. I am now about 23 years of age….” and went on to say that its author had made “startling” progress on a theory of divergent series in mathematics, and had all but solved the longstanding problem of the distribution of prime numbers. The cover letter ended: “Being poor, if you are convinced that there is anything of value I would like to have my theorems published…. Being inexperienced I would very highly value any advice you give me. Requesting to be excused for the trouble I give you. I remain, Dear Sir, Yours truly, S. Ramanujan”.

[snip]

Amid Media Megamergers, a Mosaic of Community Media Thrives

Amid Media Megamergers, a Mosaic of Community Media Thrives
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Apr 28 2016
<http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/amid_media_megamergers_a_mosaic_of_community_media_thrives_20160428>

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.—The business press is all atwitter with merger news, as federal regulators are set to approve a massive deal between cable giants Charter, Time Warner and Bright House Networks. The $78 billion transaction will create the second-largest cable TV/Internet company, dubbed “New Charter,” next to Comcast, and leave just three major cable providers in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Gannett Company, which owns more than 100 newspapers, including USA Today, is attempting to acquire Tribune Publishing, which owns several major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. 

This looming consolidation in the corporate media is happening as we celebrate “Democracy Now!” news hour’s 20th anniversary. We are on a 100-city tour of the United States, going from city to city, hosting fundraisers for community media outlets and broadcasting the news as we travel. Our travels confirm that a thriving, vibrant community media sector exists, serving the public interest, free from the demands to turn a profit at any cost.

On Feb. 19, 1996, “Democracy Now!” began as the only daily election show in public broadcasting. President Bill Clinton was running for re-election against Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and third-party candidate Ross Perot. The plan was for the show to run through Election Day. Our hope was that the issues in the presidential race were important enough and the audience cared enough that they would tune in to daily coverage that brought them voices and ideas not normally heard in the corporate media.

That’s how we started: giving a voice to the grass roots. When the election wrapped up, we thought that “Democracy Now!” would wrap up as well. But there was more demand for the show after the elections than before. Why? There is a hunger for authentic voices—not the same handful of pundits circulating through all the media networks who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong. 

The show began on just nine community radio stations in 1996. Today, it’s carried on more than 1,400 outlets, a remarkable constellation of community media organizations: PBS, NPR and Pacifica public radio and television broadcasters, college and community stations, public-access television facilities, low-power FM radio stations, as well as online news organizations and, of course, the many newspapers that carry this column. 

These outlets each serve their community uniquely, providing relevant, locally created and curated content. As we travel, we see the connection that local media institutions help forge, both within a community but also across traditional barriers of race, class and age.

Take, for example, the new low-power FM (LPFM) radio station that is being built in Albuquerque, New Mexico. LPFM is a noncommercial radio service that recently got a boost from the Federal Communications Commission after activists spent years pushing the federal government to allow more stations. This new station in Albuquerque is licensed to a long-standing media nonprofit called Quote…Unquote, which provides training in digital-media creation, to empower people to tell their own stories.

To launch the station, they have partnered with the Robert F. Kennedy High School, a remarkable school in the South Valley, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Albuquerque, with a population of students who are largely undocumented immigrants. “We serve students that traditional schools have given up on,” Robert Baade, RFK’s director, told us. “The radio station will be one more tool for them, to allow them to speak for themselves.”

[snip]

All of the problems Universal Basic Income can solve that have nothing to do with unemployment

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

All of the problems Universal Basic Income can solve that have nothing to do with unemployment
By Olivia Goldhill
Apr 24 2016
<http://qz.com/667208/all-of-the-problems-universal-basic-income-can-solve-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-unemployment/>

Universal Basic Income isn’t just mankind’s answer to the threat of robots in the workplace. Those who support the transformative economic policy offer widely varying versions of exactly how it would operate, but all involve distributing a standard sum of money to citizens regardless of need. Many argue that this set-up could save the millions who are on track to lose their jobs to machines. But that’s not all.

The idealistic-sounding scheme would also solve many other 21st century problems, according to its supporters, largely because those with basic income would be less dependent on paid work. This, in turn, would give employees higher negotiating power to change the structure of employment.

Dutch reporter Rutger Bregman, whose Netherlands bestseller “Utopia for Realists,” was published in English earlier this week, argues for a form of UBI high enough to eradicate poverty. He believes this would remove our existing need to toil away for the vast majority of our waking hours, hoping to earn enough bonuses or promotions to enjoy a decent standard of living. Instead, we could fulfill the economist John Maynard Keynes’ prediction of a 15-hour working week by the year 2030.

Others are less convinced that there would be such a sharp drop in working hours, but nevertheless believe that UBI would reduce the working week. Currently, most people can’t afford to leave a job without worrying about being destitute, points out Jason Murphy, assistant professor of philosophy at Elms College in Massachusetts, who serves on the US Basic Income Guarantee Network Committee. “Having UBI means more negotiating power all around,” he says in an interview.

As well as increasing leisure time, working less could be a massive step towards reducing the pace of climate change. Bregman points to studies suggesting that working less would half the amount of CO2 (pdf) emitted this century. After all, countries with shorter working weeks have smaller environmental footprints (pdf).

“It’s pretty obvious why,” says Bregman in an interview. “We’re using most of our wealth and increased productivity in the form of more consumption.” We work more to spend more—on travel, cars, trips to the mall, exotic food, and many other products that harm the environment.

Murphy adds that more employees will have the negotiating power to insist on a job closer to their home. “A lot of carbon generation comes from commuting to work,”he says.

There has also been a growing focus on how basic income could be implemented to address gender inequality. Murphy believes that introducing a dependable source of income via UBI “gets to the very heart of women’s economic vulnerability.” He points to a rape shelter in Vancouver that has voiced support for UBI, in part because it would give women the economic freedom to escape abusive relationships.

[snip]