L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 214, March 10, 2003
STAND IN THE GAP
All The Time In The World
Exclusive to TLE
The elimination of government is human creativity unchained.
Under any form of government, individuals aren't free to persue their own best interests. For example, far too much of my time is spent on projects designed to teach others the benefits of embracing the Zero Aggression Principle. I'm writing a book on the ZAP. I formed an organization devoted to popularizing and teaching the ZAP. I write weekly columns that evolve around the ZAP. I engage in private e-mail discussions about aspects of the ZAP.
These projects represent the majority of my waking time not spent keeping my family supported in the manner to which they've become accustomed. What pet projects would I have, if only the philosophical state of the world didn't demand my attention elsewhere? What pet projects would others have, freed from the oppressive demands of government?
Here's one thing I'd be doing if I didn't have to fight for a free society: researching subjective time sense therapy.
As anyone over age 30 can attest, an individual's subjective perception of the passage of time contracts with age. It's a common topic among middle-aged and older people that "time seems to go by so quickly, these days!"
In many ways, I envy the subjective passage of time experienced by my two burgeoning libertarian daughters, presently aged seven and nine. Both complain about the length of time necessary to drive between our home in McCook Lake, South Dakota to Sioux Falls. This is about a fifty minute drive at safe speeds (approximately 90mph), and one that we undertake for family outings from time to time. The girls will uniformly complain that the trip is taking FOREVER: from my perspective, it's barely an inconvenience.
Many individuals ignore such complaints from children as inexperience and lack of perspective. Such casual dismissal overlooks that the key to the problem of time contraction is, in fact, EXPERIENCE.
The phenomenon of time contraction is reported universally, across most cultures and ethnicities: as one ages, time seems to pass much more rapidly -- and it gets worse the older one gets.
As is the case with some aspects of the Zero Aggression Principle, I find that my background gives me some unique insights in this regard. I began my adult life as a professional actor. This included a great deal of training in stage movement, particularly becoming familiar with one's senses and body.
Actors have a saying, almost like a mantra: "Be in the moment." This is a reference to the fact that (in the words of my old acting guru, the late Dr. William Morgan), "Theater is planned, rehearsed spontaneity." Actors learn their lines, their blocking, and their characterization in an attempt to appear as though -- night after night -- the events being experienced by their character are happening for the first time.
Obviously, it's NOT happening for the first time. Consequently, a common problem for actors is to spend so much time internally anticipating the "big speech" five minutes into the future that they'll neglect whatever might be happening in the present.
Hence the phrase, "Be in the moment." Concentrate on what's happening NOW, not what you're expecting to happen five minutes from now. Five minutes from now is when you should be concentrating on that.
As I've aged, I've discovered that it's increasingly difficult to "be in the moment." There appears to be a very simple reason why this is the case. It is, I believe, the key to the subjective time sense:
Over time, the mind ceases to pay conscious attention to repetitive sensory input. In theatrical terms, the mind "edits out" unimportant data.
For example, individuals living in a large metropolitan area aren't aware of the constant background noises of the city. To be constantly aware of random background noise would drive one insane. The mind simply "edits it out" from conscious thought, only taking note when something unusual occurs, such as a nearby police siren.
When I moved back to my home state of South Dakota after a decade spent in Chicago, I found that it took a couple of weeks for my mind to deal with the relative silence of my McCook Lake home. It had become accustomed to "editing out" far more background noise than that generated by a near-country lot.
After only a couple of months in South Dakota, a business trip took me to San Francisco. I was positively shocked at how hard it was to sleep in my downtown hotel room. In that short period of time, my mind had grown completely unaccustomed to city noises and was no longer prepared to automatically "edit them out."
Similarly, I had occasion to spend the summer of 1988 living and working in Clinton, Iowa. Clinton is home to a large corn processing plant. As anyone who's ever passed such a plant can tell you, there is an unmistakable -- and somewhat unpleasant -- odor that accompanies it. The plant in Clinton produces a smell that covers a large part of the town.
I noticed the smell the first couple of days' living there. In short order, my mind began to "edit out" the smell as inconsequential. I became completely unaware of it, reminded of it only after returning to Clinton after a weekend excursion to Chicago.
By age thirty or so, most daily sensory input has been experienced millions of times. The feel of a cool breeze, the aromas accompanying daily life, the route to one's drive to work. Anything one can experience repetitively becomes unimportant to the mind, and is simply "edited out" of conscious thought.
The "editing out" of sensory input from conscious thought causes the brain to compensate for the increased "downtime" by decreasing the apparent passage of time between meaningful events. Hence, as an individual ages, the more repetitive sensory input is "edited out," and time seems to be passing more rapidly.
The solution to this problem is very simple in theory, but difficult in practice. It requires exercises designed to put one's mind "into the moment," the way that an actor can remind himself to concentrate on what's going on right now as opposed to what's coming up in five minutes.
Such exercises already exist in the theatrical world, but are sadly beyond the scope of a limited essay such as this. To my knowledge, they've never been applied to this problem, other than anecdotally. I use these techniques to increase or decrease my subjective perception of time passage at will. During a long car trip, I contract the passage of time. Conversely, during a family outing, I can increase it.
Were we in a free society in which individuals self-govern guided by the Zero Aggression Principle, I would formalize the "Stone Theory of Subjective Time Perception." I'd form a company devoted to researching the phenomenon scientifically, proving my theory if possible, and then formalizing techniques for treating it.
In the process, I'd make millions of dollars for myself and my investors. How much would the population of a free society pay for a far longer subjective lifespan? Indeed, were it not for government, I could probably make millions re-training elderly individuals in the present unfree society.
Unfortunately, government creates artificially high barriers to entry into scientific fields. This essentially prevents an educated layman from practicing in any creditable way. No doubt I could find some interest among the practitioners of holistic medicine, but there are problems with this. Not all holistic disciplines have scientific merit, and association with such can make one appear less credible.
In a free society, I'd simply have my idea, convince enough backers that it was worthwhile, conduct repeatable scientific testing, and get on with pioneering a new field of scientific endeavor.
That's what I'd do if I lived in a free society in which individuals self-govern guided by the Zero Aggression Principle. What would you do? What other breathtaking advances in science and human achievement are waiting behind the creative power of millions of free individuals?
Human creativity -- and everything it promises -- is currently shackled by government. It is imperative that when the present US FedGov falls that we follow the lead of Somalia and replace it with nothing.