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How Countries and People Perceive Time Influences How They Think About Climate Change
One of the many paradoxes of time is that it doesn’t flow by smoothly. Although we agree that time is objective—we don’t set our clocks arbitrarily after all—it feels as if it ebbs and flows with our mood. Why is it that an hour delay at the airport is so painful while an hour socializing with friends whooshes past so quickly? Alas, time is one of those enduring subjects that have preoccupied the minds of scholars for millennia. “What, then, is time?” Augustine asked in 4th century A.D. “I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me; but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled.”
For psychologists in the 21st century, the question is not “what is time?” but “how does our perception of time influence judgment and decision making?” Let me tell you about a few pieces of research conducted in this budding corner of psychological science. For starters, it turns out that how you think about the past significantly affects how you feel in the present. Consider this. In one study a group of participants wrote counter-factual essays on the origin of the United States. They imagined, for example, that Washington never crossed the Delaware or that the British triumphed at Yorktown. Another group of participants simply wrote down a brief history of the country’s origins—nothing romantic, just the facts. A subsequent test that measured political attitudes discovered that the participants in the first group were more patriotic. This “George Bailey” effect suggests that when we reconsider the past—when we reflect on the fact that things may have turned out differently—we appreciate the present more.
Another study asked the opposite question. What happens to the mind in the present when we ponder the future? Saving for the future is an endemic problem. One reason is future-me seems vastly different from present-me. When we invest money in a retirement fund, for instance, it somehow feels as if we are losing money instead of gaining it. With this in mind, researchers wondered if salient reminders of future-you boosted savings in the present. Using “age-progressed renderings”, one study showed college-age participants images of what they may look like in the future and found that they saved, on average, twice as much for retirement.
This brings me to a brand new study recently accepted in the journal Psychological Science. The study’s lead-author (who conducted the two previous studies) is Hal Hershfield, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business (his co-authors are Hye Min Bang and Elke Weber). I spoke with Hershfield a few months ago, and he explained that he was initially motivated by an observation the astrophysicist Richard Gott made in the early 1990s. Gott argued that on average, the longer a non-perishable entity lasts, the longer we should expect it to last. For example, on May 17, 1993, Gott listed the then current Broadway shows and estimated with 95 percent accuracy that the longest-running shows would last the longest, and vice versa. As a child he visited the Great Pyramids and the Berlin wall and correctly guessed that the former would out last the latter.
Although we don’t walk around with Gott’s principle in our frontal lobes, we have the intuition that a longer past means a longer future. That is, it seems more plausible that the United States (1776) will last longer than the fragile South Sudan (2011), while the nimble San Marino (301 A.D) will outlive both, just as Catholicism will outlive Mormonism and every other new-age religion. Hershfied’s insight is that “these perceptions should matter for pro-environmental behavior, which fundamentally relies on making tradeoffs between current economic costs and current and especially future environmental benefits.”
To test the relationship between the perception of a country’s age and intuitions about the environment, Hershfield and his colleagues conducted two studies. In the first they examined the relationship between the age of a country and its environmental performance. To measure the latter they used an environmental performance index developed by Yale that considers human health and the health of the ecosystem. A country’s age refers to the year it became independent (this means that China began in 1949, and not 2000 BCE). Controlling for GDP and WGI (Worldwide Governance Indicators), the team discovered a “strong positive relationship between country’s age and environmental performance.” The idea here is that countries with the longest pasts have the longest perceived futures, so it’s easier to imagine why negative environmental effects matter.
The second experiment examined the between-country differences using a clever temporal framing technique. Participants observed one of two timelines that spatially highlighted the age of the United States. In the first (the Young U.S. condition), the start point was the beginning of the Roman Empire (27 BC), which means a tiny sliver on the right side of the timeline represented the United States. In the second (the Old U.S. condition), the start point was 1492, making the United States occupy a significant portion of this timeline. The team designed the second frame to elicit a “sense of kinship or emotional connection to future generations,” just like the aforementioned study involving “age-progressed renderings” elicited a more intimate connection between the present-self and the future-self.
Next, the 308 participants took a survey that paired four “immediate concerns” (e.g., unemployment) with four environmental issues labeled “longer-term concerns” (e.g., air pollution). The task of the participants was to select which issues should get priority and indicate, using a 0-100 scale, how prioritized each issue should be. The dependent variable was NGO donation—their willingness to invest in environmental sustainability—but Hershfield and his colleagues also measured how participants perceived the age of the United States and how close they felt with future generations.
The first finding confirmed one of the hypotheses: participants in the Old U.S. condition were more likely to think the US was a “well-established” country. However, participants in the Young U.S. condition chose just as many long-term issues in the survey as participants in the Old U.S condition. Second, the team confirmed their initial hunch that participants in the Old U.S. condition who felt closer to future generations donated “significantly more of their earnings to an environmental fund compared to the other group.” Hershfield clarifies that the manipulation did not boost connectedness to future generations for all participants; it simply boosted the effect for people who already felt connected in the first place.
Here’s how the researchers sum it up:
Using both country-level data and an experiment, we found evidence that a country’s past duration may act as a mirror for estimates of its possible future duration. The longer the future appears to be, the more likely people are to act in pro-environmental ways, when they feel connected to future generations. Policy makers interested in harnessing these effects to promote environmental concern and action can take encouragement from the results of our experiment showing that such concern and action is elicited by the perception that one’s country has a long past (and by implication a long future), and not by its actual age. Thus, prompts that very simply compare a given country to a shorter-lived entity or that promote its historic past rather than existence in its current political identity may effectively change long-term environmental behavior.
One last thought. Time elicits our deep aversion to loss. When we speculate about the past, we realize that the odds of our existence are miniscule. And when we contemplate our well-being in the future, the fragilities of life—money, disease, accidents—become salient. Time brings the ultimate asymmetry: when you think about being alive in the present, you suddenly remember that you have a lot more to lose than to gain. Death, in other words, is worse than anything gained in life, except, of course, life itself.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Do you get worried or angry? Ever forget to tithe? One minister has bad news for you.
- A recently published article claims to identify the symptoms of "low-level atheism."
- Among these symptoms are worrying, cursing, and not tithing.
- There is a solution to all of this though, not being an atheist. Sending in money is also involved.
Are you worried about literally anything? You're an atheist now!<p>The essay begins by focusing on worrying, an all too common problem and gateway emotion to atheism:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"Every time we take a thought break and begin to wonder about how we will pay the stove oil bill, or the light bill, or what we are going to do if we get laid off from work in six months, we are worrying. We are actually telling the Lord, 'Jesus, you know all that stuff you said in Matthew chapter six about how you will take care of us? I don't believe it. I don't believe that you can do what you promised, so I am taking matters into my own hands; I'm going to worry about it until the situation is taken care of.'"</em></p><p>As it turns out, God plans his days around your dilemmas and will get to them in due course. So, if you are bothered about not being sure where your rent is coming form this month, you're doubting the Lord. Concerned about things like climate change? You're practically an iconoclast. Anxious at the thought that you aren't a good enough Christian? According to this, that exact worry is a sign that you aren't!</p><p>Are you feeling even more worried now? Oh, that isn't a good sign at all. You ought to be worried about that. </p>
Swearing and occasionally being angry, now signs of metaphysical distress!<p>According to Lindley:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"I have only sworn two times since receiving the Holy Ghost. The Lord has the power to change our attitudes and habits. I wish I could say that I never get angry anymore either, but that is not the case. Just like you, I struggle with atheistic tendencies.</em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"Every time something doesn't go the way we want it to and we get angry, we are telling the world, 'I am losing my temper, because this problem is so messed up that not even God can sort it out.' When we slam doors, swear, yell, break dishes, speed, or shake our fist at somebody we are in the grip of an atheism attack. </em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"You see the Bible very clearly states that there is nothing too hard for God to fix.</em> <em>'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.' </em>(Romans 8:28 NKJV) <em>This is why a person who has been born again can hit their thumb with a hammer and not swear. This is why the sincere Christian can look at a flat tire and say, 'I guess God needs to slow me down, because he has someone he needs me to cross paths with today.' Swearing and getting angry only says, 'There is absolutely no way that God can turn this flat tire into a blessing!'"</em><em></em></p><p>Well, shit. It seems that being angry with things, including things that might seem to be perfectly reasonable things to be mad at, is admitting that you think God is useless.</p><p>How exactly this reconciles with Jesus getting pissed off at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleansing_of_the_Temple" target="_blank">the moneylenders in the temple</a> and <a href="https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+3&version=NIV" target="_blank">healers that refused to save lives on Sunday</a> is unclear. Neither of these incidents seem to be the things that happen to somebody without bursts of anger, though I do suppose it is possible Christ had fits of atheism multiple times in his life. </p><p>Sometimes I don't believe in myself either. </p>
Stinginess, now coming to a den of heathens near you!<p>Lindley points out the final, most advanced symptom of atheism last: Not sending God money. He writes:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"<em>Some people are so greedy that they actually rob God.</em> <em>'…In what way have we robbed God? In tithes and offerings</em>.' (Malachi 3:8 NKJV)) <em>To those who would hold back the tithe the Lord has a challenge</em>: <em>'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this' says the Lord of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.' </em>(3:10 NKJV)"</p><p>While the God of Abraham is well known not to need money on account of his transcendental nature, it seems that he is still owed ten percent of everybody's earnings. This is not paid to him, of course, but to his helpers. In exchange for this, God will make good things happen. If you don't send money in addition to swearing or occasionally being grouchy, the minister assures us that <em>"you are at extreme risk for very serious complications from your atheism."</em></p><p>While this may look remarkably similar to a concept used by the mafia, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protection_racket" target="_blank">the protection racket</a>, it is an utterly different operation. In the case of the mob, the threat of punishment is used as a way to force people into paying part of their earnings to a larger organization. In return, they are promised the protection of that organization from vague threats, often including that organization. <br> <br> In this holy case, vague are threats used to show people the wisdom of paying part of their earnings to the church. In exchange for their payments, they are offered kickbacks from God and protection from vague threats made by the people telling them they need to send in money. </p><p>Luckily, Lindley suggests a solution for all three problems, especially the last one: Don't be an atheist! In particular, start praying and sending God money. This will resolve the third symptom automatically and the first two eventually.</p><p><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhnsHvz7UL8" target="_blank">It's an offer you can't refuse.</a> </p>
And now, the serious part.<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="SuG8OGad" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e1bfda7981ed1abe9eb979157ea0496"> <div id="botr_SuG8OGad_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/SuG8OGad-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/SuG8OGad-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/SuG8OGad-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>While it is fun to mock the often-ludicrous positions of those who misunderstand atheism, that very misunderstanding is an all too common and all too real issue for the millions of Americans who are not religious. Atheists in the United States face <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists#United_States" target="_blank">discrimination</a>,<strong></strong> are not <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-25187-001" target="_blank">trusted</a>, and are barred from <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists#Atheists_eligible_to_hold_office" target="_blank">running for office </a>in several states.</p><p> In my experience, many of these tend to come from a fundamental misunderstanding of what atheism <em>is</em>. I, at various times, have been accused of being a Satanist, a pagan, or an amoralist, among other things. It is little wonder why a person who doesn't understand what atheism <em>is</em> would find a variety of issues arising from it. </p><p>The minister in this case makes a similar mistake: He begins by thinking that atheism is something other than the proposition that there are no gods and then works forward. In this case, he seems to presume it is some kind of psychological condition which manifests as a hybrid of anxiety, Tourette's syndrome, and kleptomania. His use of the word "symptoms" is revealing. </p><p>While it is true that atheism can be anxiety-inducing, this falls more under the category of "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialism#Angst_and_dread" target="_blank">existential dread</a>" than psychosis. John-Paul Sartre, the atheistic philosopher who made Existentialism popular, wrote on this extensively. In his essay <em>"</em><a href="http://www.mrsmoser.com/uploads/8/5/0/1/8501319/english_11_ib_-_no_exit_-_existentialism_is_a_humanism_-_sartre.pdf" target="_blank">Existentialism is a Humanism</a><em>," </em>he explains:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world—and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist see him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of himself … what do we mean by anguish? The existentialist frankly states that man is in anguish. His meaning is as follows: When a man commits himself to anything, fully realizing that he is not only choosing what he will be, but is thereby at the same time a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind—in such a moment a man cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility."</em><em></em></p><p>If choosing what you are and what meaning your life will have doesn't give you anxiety, Sartre would suggest you're doing something wrong. </p><p>However, this anxiety isn't necessarily cured by belief. <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/" target="_blank">Soren Kierkegaard</a>, the founder of Existentialism, wrote extensively on the topics of angst, dread, anxiety, and regretting all of your life choices while being a thoroughly devoted Christian. While he argues that the leap of faith can help, he also argues that we are still fundamentally alone and responsible for our choices when it comes to making that anxiety-inducing <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Concept_of_Anxiety" target="_blank">leap</a>.</p><p>The minister's point about swearing as a result of lacking faith is bizarre enough to be left alone. Ten minutes in any bar in the middle section of the country on a Friday night should be enough to convince anybody that any sincere believer can swear while remaining a believer. </p><p>Furthermore, the minister presumes that a believer is going to be of the kind that thinks God is very engaged in human life. While he may suppose God was involved in his tire going flat, many other approaches to the divine reject that idea. Deists, who tend to think that there is a God who created the cosmos but leaves it <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism#Aspects_of_contemporary_deism" target="_blank">alone</a>, would be an example. </p><p>All in all, the essay described above is an unintentionally hilarious look at what some people think being an atheist is like. It is hardly the <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-atheist-be-in-awe-of-universe/" target="_blank">first</a>, and it won't be the last. Anxiety about atheism has a history going back to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apology_(Plato)#Accusers_of_Socrates" target="_blank">ancient Greece</a>—studies demonstrate the continued <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/atheists-threaten-believers-with-mortality" target="_blank">existence</a> of Christian anxiety about atheists—and this essay is another example of people being unduly concerned about it. </p><p>I'd accuse the minister of worrying too much about atheism, but then he'd be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39Bnk6VU53Y" target="_blank">one of us</a>. </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?