Stretching Our Intentions Through Time, Research Time, 26/10/2017

Here’s an interesting argument that I found in The Human Condition. It’s another example of how Hannah Arendt’s thinking blends ontological and ethical matters in ways that work.

She describes a foundational aspect of our experience of time – how we develop our most visceral conceptions and feelings for the time beyond the present. This goes beyond just remembering and imagining. Both of those are acts carried out in the present.

Remembering refers to the past and imagining can refer to the future, but these acts don’t connect our intentions and worldly activity beyond the present. These acts remain in the present – they don’t extend our action beyond the moment.

So we aren’t really experiencing the past and the future, only calling possibilities and memories before our thoughts. We can experience the past and the future, but it takes a much more intense act than speculation.

When I was partying in my early 20s, I had a
friend who, at the height of his drunkenness,
would scream, "I can see through time!"
Experiencing time beyond the hazy boundaries of the moment is a matter of physical reach there, spreading ourselves four-dimensionally.

Forgiveness and promising. These are the acts by which we physically reach into the past and future – essentially moral and social acts.

Forgiveness is to free someone from the consequences of a past act. It erases that old action from your relationship with that person. An action whose direct intention reaches into the past and changes it.

It may just be in the context of this one relationship between a few people, but it’s still changing the past – nullifying an event, deadening its consequences.

Promising is, parallel to forgiveness, the act of changing the future. Now, the future doesn’t yet exist – it literally hasn’t happened yet* – so you aren’t changing some pre-existing future.

* Please do not bring general relativity or any of the implied conceptions of time – block time, timeless time – into this conversation. I’m just talking about the human experience of time in the flow of our movement.

No, you're changing what would be into what can be. A promise is a reach into the future to create it – an act of manipulating existence into a particular shape. Our intentions in our promises push our actions forward in time as the promise becomes a goal, an attractor for our action.

These actions are possible only through social relationships – building bonds of trust, reliability, and obligation. Communities are constituted here.

But the constitution of communities and friendships are bound up with the extension of our experience beyond the present moment and into a smeared duration of practical awareness. Building our social bonds requires stretching our intentionality into the past the future – extending our presence from the present into a long stretch of time.

Self-conscious creatures become social through stretching their intentionality along entirely new vectors. Promising and forgiving makes us four-dimensional creatures. These acts make us more than timely – becoming temporal.

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