"Now" is privileged in most psychological theory, as a special instant of reality. It is commonly assumed that if past events are to be effective in one's present functioning, they must be attendant at the instant of concern -- as traces, representations, or other states held over from those past events. Future events, too, are understood as participating in the present only via surrogate expectations or representations. Psychological process, then, is construed as an ongoing succession, a concatenation of successive "slices of simultaneity." Both the manifest continuity of experience and the inferred accretions identified with learning or memory are traditionally understood as integrations of such instants.
From various viewpoints, however, it makes more sense to treat that instant as a fiction, an arbitrary abstraction from the flow of events. Ongoing process, flowing in time, can be understood as providing explanations without reduction to fictional instants. While challenging the intuitive unity of our direct observations, this temporally extended conception of process is more consistent with contemporary understanding of physical reality, and of many biological, evolutionary and cultural processes. We shall examine this alternative conception as illustrated by Michaels and Carello, in the ecological tradition of perception, by Richard Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould, in evolutionary biology, by Benjamin Whorf, concerning native American languages, and by contemporary developments in behavior-analytic theory.
We shall attend closely to tensions that arise between the instantaneous and the temporally extended conceptions of the psychological present. These will include assumptions regarding contiguous vs. remote causation, essentialist vs. selectionist conceptions of concepts, structuralist vs. functionalist metaphors in theory, behavior as part of process vs. behavior as symptom of process. Ultimately, we will be working toward an intuitive understanding of psychological process as existing simultaneously on multiple time scales. This implies distinct phenomena emergent at each scale, analogous to the multiple spatial scales that one might study with various magnifications of a microscope.
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