This will be far off in the strange-o-sphere for many, but I’ve been working to describe lived human experience in a way that’s useful to practicing, learning, and teaching Arts Management. I’ll explore why this might be useful in a future post. But for now, here are the building blocks. I’d be grateful for specific or general comment or critique.
- Humans move across physical space, but do not move across time. There is no future to “move toward “ or “move into.” Rather the future is always a cloud of possibilities that only resolve and converge in a present moment.
- This is not exclusively true for humans, but we’re only talking about humans here.
- We therefore make sense of the world and act in it (individually and collectively) by understanding backward and guessing forward. Our sensory, cognitive, and social systems evolved to work this way.
- It does “feel” like we’re moving forward in time, comparable to how we move into a physical space, because we have evolved to feel that way. Every instant, our bodies construct a bubble of experience that combines a remembered past, a sensed present, and a predicted future.
- This construction of past, present, and immediate future feels “of a piece” but is more appropriately considered as “constructed from pieces.”
- Our sense-making and action in time, individually and collectively, is therefore defined by probability and prediction. But those probabilities are unequally distributed and dynamic, and our sensory, cognitive, and social systems are attuned to these uneven and shifting distributions.
- Not all next moments are possible or probable. Rather, our possible/probable future is shaped by multiple constraints – the physical world, our physical and cognitive capacities, the choices we and others have made, the actions we take now, and a world of causal connections.
- In this view of human sense-making and action, it is not useful and often limiting to distinguish emotion and cognition. Evolving biology and neuroscience research suggests that there is no useful distinction to make.
- Uncertainty, in this context, is better understood not as an attribute of the environment, but as a relationship between the environment and our capacity to sense and make sense.
- Mastery or expertise, in this context, manifests as engaging the present and possible/probable futures with a rich and adaptive array of past patterns and practices.
The above derives from what I’ve been reading and learning about human cognition, the brain, emotion, the evolution of all of the above. Just trying to “learn out loud” to focus my thoughts and open the conversation.
Jennifer Whiting says
Thanks for these interesting thoughts. You may enjoy reading *Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time* by Sean Carrol; and *Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution* by Richard Wolfson. They’re both in the Great Courses lecture series.
The “arrow of time” seems an important concept to include.
Andrew Taylor says
Thanks for the recommendations, Jennifer! I look forward to digging deeper into how we humans navigate our passage through time.
Trevor O'Donnell says
Fascinating set of lenses for viewing management, Andrew.
It occurs to me that when applying these ideas to the arts, we’ll find that arts managers tend to lean in the direction of emotion over cognition, and that they engage their probable futures with a rich, but not necessarily adaptive, array of past patterns and practices.
On the other hand, arts managers tend to exist within social systems that are unusually adept at dealing with unequally distributed and dynamic probabilities. Arts professionals move into the future with an abundance of faith and optimism, and with a rare capacity to tolerate unhoped-for outcomes.
I do wonder if there might be another point to consider having to do with universality. Artists and arts pros know that art transcends time. What does it mean for this profession that its ultimate aspirations are essentially universal?
Looking forward to more.
Andrew Taylor says
Love these reflections and connections, Trevor. I agree that there are fruitful ways to explore this framing of how we make sense of and act in the world. Glad this resonates.
Peter Spellman says
I haven’t read your work in awhile, and this one hit me right between the eyes.
I’ve observed how painfully slow 20th century discoveries in physics (and their implications) are percolating into our thinking and language about ourselves and the world(s) around us.
But we are gradually catching up thanks to creative thinking like this.
Andrew Taylor says
Thanks Peter! I’m glad the post resonated. And I’m not sure if I’m exploring the physics of time, or the way we understand ourselves in time, or maybe both.
But I’ve found that softening my own assumptions about moving through time is opening up useful paths of discovery around Arts Management.
I’d love to hear whether and how the thoughts here lead you and others to different insights and actions. So please share if/when they do.
Jim O'Connell says
The following quote on the bulletin board outside my office (separate from the “Quote of the Week”):
“All of our separate fictions add up to joint reality.” — Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
It speaks to the different frames through which we view the past and the resulting differences in our expectations regarding the future.
This is a very rich conversation, Andrew. Thanks for beginning it. In addition to your musings, I’m particularly struck by Trevor’s observation that “Arts professionals move into the future with an abundance of faith and optimism, and with a rare capacity to tolerate unhoped-for outcomes.” That may show up as an upcoming QotW.
Andrew Taylor says
Thanks Jim. So grateful for your contributions here. The more I read about our evolving understanding of human cognition, the more I realize that these are not just metaphors. We actually DO construct our individual and shared reality – we understand backward and guess forward.
And when you accept that lens for yourself, and for every human surrounding you (artists, staff, board, audience, donors, policy makers, etc.), you do have to reimagine what it means to “plan, organize, lead, and control” as an arts manager – or at least acknowledge with humility that you don’t really do any of those things the way you think you do.