On Planning for the Future (part 2)

In my previous post I discussed the essential difference between retention and protention, with the intention to extend this analysis to the difference between recollection and thinking about the future (I have alternatively referred to thinking about the future as 'planning', which may be too narrow a term. From here, I will try to consistently use 'thinking about the future' or 'futural thinking'.)

Retention and protention are the bookends of what I call the micro-structure of time-consciousness. Recollection and planning are parts of the macro-structure of time-consciousness, which is more complex. The macro-structure of time-consciousness is accomplished through our "narrativizing faculty." That is, the narratives one constructs about her past and potential future constitute her autobiographical sense of self. Recollection and planning both participate in the phenomenological form of this narrativizing activity. Thus, when we think about the future, we are essentially "recalling memories" that we do not have (but wish to have; fear having; etc.)

As I said in my previous post, an essential difference between retention and protention can be cashed out in terms of their differing levels of determinateness of the content and context. Whereas retention has a determinate content and context, protention has a more or less determinate context but a necessarily unfulfilled content. However, this "essential difference" does not exhaust the difference between retention and protention. Protention, with its unfulfilled character, is affective. That is, the content of protentions is made determinate through the unfolding of time in a uni-directional manner. The phenomenal character of this "filling-in" is thus affective in the sense that we experience it as happening to us. Thus, protentional contents have a certain valence, or power to affect us, to varying degrees.

The reason we must be cautious with our thinking of the future is precisely because the emotional/valence aspect of protention is narratively affective on the level of maco-temporal consciousness. We view, and thus (e)value(ate) ourselves in light of our pasts and in anticipation of some future. The past is determinate but the possibility of the future is delimited by the context provided it by our past. Thus, it makes sense to say that we think of our future--through planning, hoping, fearing, desiring--in a formally similar way as we think of our past.

We are greatly affected by what we perceive to be our potential futures. The power of this affect only makes one more prone to self-fulfill the 'motivated' and thus delimited possible path through life. The more one becomes attuned to the infinity of logical possibility, one is able to become infinitely more hopeful; but also potentially infinitely more wrought with despair.

There is a danger here, however. While it makes psychological sense to assert that our fantasized futures are constrained by, even dependent upon, our past experiences; this runs the risk of forgetting or covering over the logical truth by virtue of which our futures are generally much more open and indeterminate than we typically imagine them to be. Our everyday understanding of what "could" happen is really just a misunderstanding of what will "probably" happen.

Notice that this forgetting is not necessarily good or bad for any particular group. Some individuals probably conceive of their futures in much too positive a light, while others are generally much too negative. Those unfailing optimists should recognize that a vast horizon of misfortune potentially awaits them, while those miserable misanthropes need to learn to see the light a bit more.

Our consciousness of the future generally conforms to how the future unfolds. This is more true for protention than it is for macro-level anticipation/planning. The further off into the futural horizon one abstracts, the broader the transverse horizon of meaningful possibility expands. As a subject approaches a fixed point in the future, the phenomenological horizon of possibility contracts, while the logical horizon does not. While it would be absurd to always pay heed to the logical horizon of possibility, it is wise to pay more attention to it more often than not. It is a humbling viewpoint which makes one cautious with words, thoughts, and deeds.

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