Section 2 focused on well-being in a rather straightforward individualist fashion. The question there was about the relative timings of events with respect to one’s experienced present and one’s life as a whole. This also meant that a perspectival aspect of temporal well-being stood in the foreground (“in-tense” versus detached life as a whole). However, there is also an aspect which allows for a transition to a less individualist encounter; an aspect which, by the same token, covers what might be called a synchronization aspect of temporal well-being.
If well-being is about relative timings and about being in-sync or in-tact, then one may wonder about its quality. Is it something like attaining perfect synchronicity—and if so, synchronicity between what? Obviously, time is not just something which one experiences individually. Time is also a dimension of the natural events around me (flowers bloom, the tides go up and down, etc.) and of my social interactions (train schedules, appointments at the dentist’s, election days, etc.). Thus, the fulfillments of my intentions depend on the timing or occurrence of those events in relation to my actions. To come back to the example from the beginning: If I go to the kiosk outside its opening hours, I will not get ice-cream; and if I do not know the weather forecast, I might even get rain-drenched during my unsuccessful walk to the kiosk.
Thus, this synchronization aspect of temporal well-being is about the relative timing between different “lines of events,” between events belonging to different temporal dimensions. On the one hand, there is the temporal dimension in which those “outer” events, whether natural or social, happen in the world around me. This dimension is usually measured and organized by means of clocks, and, following Blumenberg (1986), one may call it “world time.” On the other hand, there is the temporal dimension of my individual perceptions and actions as I experience them. This dimension is not measured by outside means but by felt durations, and one may call it “individual time.”Footnote 17
To address this synchronization aspect, I will start ex negativo (in subsection 3.1) by investigating desynchronization, when individual time and world time are out of joint, sometimes leading to impaired well-being. Once the general underlying dynamics are understood, the question arises whether such desynchronizations and impairments could occur also on a purely individual level (a lack of synchronicity within individual time, so to speak). This question will be discussed in subsection 3.2; and then the section closes with some critical considerations about synchronicity and desynchronizations in general.
Desynchronizations between individual time and world time
Consider again the unsuccessful enterprise to get an ice cream. Of course, I would have gotten my ice cream if only I had been in time with respect to the kiosk’s opening hours, and knowing the weather forecast I may have stayed dry by running a little faster or by waiting a little at the kiosk. Thus, the failures in my action are due to a bad timing relative to what is going on around me (opening hours, weather). That is, the failures are due to what can be described as a desynchronization between individual time (the temporal ordering of my perceptions, intentions, and actions) and world time (the temporal ordering of natural and social events). Accordingly, such desynchronizations usually decrease one’s well-being; for example, by getting wet instead of getting ice cream.Footnote 18
Such desynchronizations can also describe the all-too-common states of rushing and waiting. Rushing (or so-called time pressure) is the phenomenon of the world time “being ahead” of one’s individual time combined with efforts to make up for it. Realizing the opening hours of the shop, I rush to the kiosk which, in turn, makes me feel uncomfortable because it is exhausting and maybe makes me bump into my neighbor, who then gets angry at me etc. In contrast, waiting is the phenomenon of one’s individual time “being ahead” of the world time, which again is uncomfortable because it thwarts me in my actions. Having to wait for the kiosk to open delays my shopping which in turn delays my jogging etc.
Of course, bumping into neighbours and delayed jogging are rather simple and contingent consequences. There can be more severe consequences though; and also the origins for rushing and waiting vary from simple external causes such as broken shoelaces to rather intrinsic reasons based on one’s unrealistic handling of (the temporal extension of) actions. Indeed, within psychopathology, a phenomenological description in terms of desynchronization has been used to classify bipolar disorder (Fuchs 2013). Here the states of mania and depression, respectively, represent the much weightier and long-enduring pathological extremes of one’s individual time running either ahead or after world time. That is, Fuchs takes mania to be the pathological extreme of waiting (with impatience and agitation as intermediate states) and depression is taken to be the pathological extreme of rushing (with grief and guilt as its intermediate states).Footnote 19
For the non-pathological cases, one may wonder about remedies. If desynchronization decreases well-being, what helps a person to become in-tact again? One remedy, especially in the case of one’s individual time running ahead, is, of course, patience. Patience is the outstanding temporal virtue, allowing individual time to re-synchronize with world time—to regain, as it were, natural or social con-tact. Another (in some cases related) remedy can be found in certain forms of meditation, where the aim is to focus on the present experience and widen or expand it. Typical catchwords here are “time-forgetting devotion” or “eternal present moment” (“the moment becoming eternity”). This experience is often associated with religious enlightenment and also with the notion of “flow”.Footnote 20
What happens while in flow or in time-forgotten devotion involves a widening of one’s perceptual present and hence of one’s individual time.Footnote 21 This widening, together with the fact that references to the world time have an inferior standing in states of flow and meditation anyway, leaves little room for desynchronizations. The meditator’s (stretched) individual time and the (at best vaguely noticed) world time will, as it were, hardly reach critical shear stress. Having said that, it is obvious why such states of flow and meditation are exceptional rather than standard. To secure basic human needs from ingestion to social interaction, coordination with events in world time is necessary.
As will be shown in subsection 3.3, there are indeed circumstances where a perpetual and perfect synchronicity between world time and individual time may be dangerous rather than desirable. But before turning there, let us have a closer look at the constitution of individual time from a phenomenological perspective. This will illustrate the claim just made about the widening of one’s perceptual present, and it will show a further way in which temporal desynchronization can occur and influence individual well-being.
Desynchronizations within individual time
Let me consolidate some of the above results and distinctions: Individual time refers to time as individually perceived or experienced (which is not to claim that perceiving and acting occurs to a person devoid of social interrelations).Footnote 22 Accordingly, individual time is tensed in character. What I see or hear, I see or hear as happening now; when I remember something (rightly or wrongly), I remember it now and I remember it as having happened in the past, etc.Footnote 23
The phenomenological details of individual time consciousness have been investigated famously and carefully by Husserl (2008; see also Sieroka 2015). His analysis reveals the perceptual present to be extended in the sense that it is not only made up of a (momentary) impression but also of what Husserl calls retention and protention; that is, of (presently existing) intentional references to what is just past and to what is just about to come. And it is the inner dynamics of these intentional references which is most important for the constitution of time consciousness. These dynamics encompass two aspects: first, the integration of the (immediate) past and future into the present as experienced and, second, some kind of “continuous subliminal handover” of experiential content from being (less and less) future to being present to being (more and more) past. Without such dynamics we would perceive a staccato of sensual snapshots but never continuous processes, and we would need to make constant use of explicit memory to simply follow the line of a melody or the content of a sentence—and both are very unconvincing explanations of what is going on in perception.Footnote 24
Given that these inner dynamics are about integration and continuity relations, they can be understood as another variant of relative timing. Accordingly, one may wonder whether one’s well-being decreases if those dynamics are not in-tact.Footnote 25
This question about well-being leads back to some of the aspects already dealt with in Sect. 2. As indicated, one’s A-well-being depends not only on the immediate present but also on past- and future-oriented aspects. With Husserl’s analysis at hand, one can be a bit more precise: The past- and future-oriented aspects of A-well-being occur on two levels; namely on the “subliminal” or presentational level of retention and protention as well as on the higher (representational or propositional) level of explicit memories, hopes, and fears.
Let me start with the second. A-well-being depends on present (good and bad) explicit memories, on present (high and low) hopes, and on the dynamic interrelation between them. A coherent integration of past and future events is relevant on the level of explicit references (recollections, expectations, etc.), as easily seen from debates about the relation between well-being and a narrative self. Even though narrative accounts of the self might have their limits, it seems obvious that important aspects of well-being are about responding to challenges and changes, as set against the background of a life story that covers past, present, and future.Footnote 26 Indeed, a similar line of argument seems to hold on the intersubjective level. Not only individuals but also whole societies react to challenges and changes against the background of their “life story” (history, present, hopes, and fears).Footnote 27
On the lower (“subliminal”) level, A-well-being depends on the dynamics of retention and protention. If those dynamics are disturbed, the normal temporal integration of mental content fails. Footnote 28 This failure has severe consequences: memories get lost, hopes may refer to the wrong type of content (for instance, past instead of future events), and, as already mentioned, even the ability to hear a melody or understand spoken language might be severely disturbed. Again, details are subtle and there are, of course, cases where, for instance, forgetting certain past events is advantageous for individual well-being. However, I take it that in general the in-tact dynamics is preferrable because it allows an integration of past and future into a coherent present. Notably, this interpretation is fully in line with Husserl, who took the internal dynamics of retention and protention to be constitutive of any (conscious) experience. Turning back to the findings of Sect. 2, this also explains why concerns about one’s A-well-being are pervasive and difficult to keep at bay, whereas a focus on B-well-being usually asks for an active commitment to revisionism. The pervasiveness of A-well-being then is just a consequence of the fact that the inner dynamics which are constitutive of any experience are themselves genuinely tensed.
Blue notes needed: synchronicity with some desynchronization
In the previous two subsections, I discussed the dangers of failures in synchronicity. Subsection 3.1 was about the negative implications (and even pathologies) of an individual not being in-tact with world time. Here it is synchronicity that leads to successful actions, to fulfilled expectations, and the like. Since this is obviously desirable for one’s well-being, one might wonder whether a perpetual and perfect relative timing between individual and world time would lead to perfect or ultimate well-being.
Well, in fact it does not. Continuous synchronicity between world time and individual time can lead to suffering and delusion (see Blumenberg 1986), because it bears the dangers of reductionism and misidentification. First, note that “world time” is just a handy label for the temporal dimension of physical events as well as for all sorts of intersubjective encounters. Thus, relevant world time scales range from days and nights to election periods and church years, from sport championships to annual conferences. Reducing these different scales to only a few is delusional because it reduces the diversity and colorfulness of individual and collective experience. Subordinating all family activities to football television broadcasting times or becoming a religious dogmatist cuts off, or at least diminishes, dimensions of individual and collective human existence—dimensions which otherwise range from nature to politics to religion to science to arts to what have you.
Moreover, if reduction leads to only one remaining relevant time scale—when everything appears to be in-sync, so to speak—there is a danger of misidentifying this remaining scale with one’s individual time. Intrusiveness is the consequence, and the extreme case (the “resonance catastrophe” so to speak) of such a misidentification (due to permanent “self-energizing” synchronicity) is the hubris of taking oneself to be the “master of time.” Everything gets reduced to my individual time. Everyone is assumed to dance to my tune, and I no longer take other time scales of the world around me as seriously as I should—where “the world around me” may refer to my partner or family, to people working in my company, or (if I am an absolutist sovereign) to a whole dominion. Think of sleep deprivation as an example, which occurs on various levels of intrusiveness and malignity: from a child crying in the middle of the night forcing his or her parents to get up, to a noisy neighbor notoriously giving parties, to the systematic use of sleep deprivation as a method of torture. Regarding the latter, former concentration camp prisoners often report that it is exactly this phenomenon of their jailers being “the masters of time” which was so horrible and beyond all bearing. Moreover, also certain cases of murder-suicide and especially familicide can be understood as such a misidentification of individual time and world time (“if I am no longer there, there is no future for them either”).Footnote 29
The obvious remedy against such reductionism and hubris is desynchronization. If, at least occasionally, my individual time gets out-of-sync with other times, this helps me acknowledge their difference and appreciate the colorfulness or experiential variety of human existence.Footnote 30 If a child disturbs her or his parents during work, this can also be a remedy when it makes the parents realize that “work is not everything.” The breakdown of my car, which pushes me out-of-sync with several appointments, might make me realize the beauty of the nature around me which I would have otherwise missed. It is, to use an analogue from jazz, like a blue note: something which occurs only occasionally, something which drops out of the common scheme but is still fitting, and something which makes the listener startle in a positive way, raising his curiosity to what will happen next.Footnote 31
The upshot of this section is that well-being requires both parts of a conceptual dichotomy. Similar to Sect. 2, where the importance of both A- and B-well-being was acknowledged, it is the importance of both, synchronicity and desynchronization, that has come to the fore. In the remainder of this paper, I take a closer look at this communality and what it might tell us about a possible general relation between well-being and relative timing. To do so, I take a step back and re-approach the topic of time from a rather mundane perspective. Two very general and common associations will help in my little systematization, and they will also bring out more carefully the importance of the “experiential blue notes” just mentioned.