How Time Works

January 31 2021

Approximately ten days ago, I woke up with some realizations about how time works. This post is particularly unlikely to make sense right away. The purpose of my posting it to the internet now, in its raw form, is to begin to move the ideas from inside my own mind/experience, into a pseudo-public sphere (I say pseudo because it is not terribly likely for this to get read by anyone, unless I mention it to them; although I suppose one never knows when it comes to the online world).

The work has not been done yet, to relate this to others. Others who have not spent the time or work thinking and understanding things the way I do, whose minds don’t work just like my mind. But there you are. So I someone were to read this, it is likely they would partially understand it and partially not. I guess as much as to say, my confidence level is low in that.

We all must have several plates spinning at once. Some of us want to spin more plates because that is fun, others simply have to (e.g., mom working a job and going to night school online; or anyone being a parent; or a caretaker; etc.). The plates could be things as simple as having to manage a job, shop for groceries, cook one’s breakfast and dinner, and try to manage a personal life.

I am going to cross between metaphors—plates and cycles. They are two different images. We each run attention cycles. We run the cycle for as long as it runs, and then we pick up another cycle. But in another sense, we are spinning plates all the time. In other words, I am actively spinning an attention cycle for the duration my attention is on something, but in another sense that plate is spinning—that cycle is going—for as long as the project is going. I suppose another way to say this, is that when I am actively spinning the plate, I am aware of that plate, and in maximal control of that plate. You could say I am engaging an attention cycle on that plate, specifically. But now, I have to run off to keep this other plate spinning, over there. Now, my attention is on that other plate.

Another aspect of me (another level of my attention) may be on the entirety of the plates and their spinning. I call this scanning mode, and this type of attention can monitor various parts at once. Project managers, CEOs, people like this particularly need a good scanning mode. Although perhaps scanning mode is different than deep structural analysis mode. The former means having an awareness out of the corner of your eye, so you can jump into a situation if you need to—like a mom who’s trying to work at home, but will hear her baby crying when she wakes up. Let’s call that scanning mode. But deep structural analysis mode (maybe I can come up with a funner name than that) is the ability to very actively, thoughtfully apply lots of attention to the overall situation and structure. This would be things like: strategic planning; reflecting on the success or failure of a just-completed project; creating a five-year vision for oneself, including the major milestones.

But many deep-focus concentration cycles do not feature the high-level structural analysis of the DSA mode. When you are deeply involved in watching a movie, a deep conversation with a friend, reading a good book, arguing on Facebook, worrying about whether Larry will interfere with your submission again, or an almost infinite number of other things—most of those are deeply involved in that thing. And not all the other things.

But all the other things are still going on, without your awareness of them. That probably seems like a pretty obvious observation, only the reason it is meaningful to me is that when I am involved in a cycle, and to the degree I am absorbed in this cycle, I am unaware of this as a practical reality. When I am deeply involved in a project,

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© Alexander Feller 2018