Lectures for a New Year: Is Time on Your Side?


In this brilliant talk, Professor Philip Zimbardo discusses different ways human minds focus on time. Do you focus on the past? If so, are you "Past Positive" (focusing on the good times) or "Past Negative" (focusing on failures)? Do you focus on the present? If so, are you hedonistic or do you just feel it doesn't pay to plan?

As Zimbardo says, "Most of us are here because we're future-oriented. We have learned to work, rather than play -- to resist temptation. But there's another way to be future-oriented. Depending on your religion, life begins after the death of the mortal body. To be future-oriented, you have to trust that when you make a decision about the future, it's gonna carry out." He proceeds to discuss how in different cultures, people have different paces of life, different time orientations, and how that affects their societies' function. He also goes into a detailed discussion of how computers and technology change our perception of time, and what that means for things like technology. Basically, Zimbardo makes a powerful argument that our individual (and collective) perception of time affects our health, wellbeing, and work habits. This is great stuff.

Topics: the six flavors of time orientation, how we all start out as hedonists, game-playing kids versus school, why some kids don't take safe sex messages onboard, an eight-day week, and family meals.

For: everyone, particularly those interested in living an examined life. (I'm looking at you, "everyone reading this.")

Best anecdote: Zimbardo is Sicilian, and gets into a discussion of how there's an ongoing debate in Italy about splitting the country into two. It appears, at least in part, to boil down to a surprising linguistic anomaly of the Sicilian language -- watch for this around the 3:15 mark.

Further Reading

Zimbardo is pretty awesome, and he's been around for a while -- he's the guy behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, for example. He has written a bunch of books, but the one on this topic is The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.

You might also enjoy A Geography Of Time by Robert Levine, mentioned in this lecture.


There's a transcript here.

Bonus Points

The video above ends a bit abruptly, largely because they're boiling down a much longer talk. Here's the (thoroughly awesome) full 40-minute lecture:

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