Present is Always Now: An Interview with Jonte Vowinckel

Time Talks: International Time Perspective Network thematic groups interview series

In these series we bring you individual stories about the members of the International Time Perspective Network, what is it that they are passionate about, how they bring their ideas to life, and what role time perspective plays in their lives.

We hope that you’ll be inspired by the many aspects of the concept of time, share our fascination and join the dialogue!

International Time Perspective Network | Diversity of Approaches, Unity of Passion

Back in February 2014 I received an email from Jonte, in which he mentioned that he created a ‘positive-present’ time perspective scale because he believed it was missing in Time Perspective assessment and that he was working on a few projects combining science and art, such as together with artists, he was developing a standardized method to visualize people’s time perspective profile.

Intrigued by his research and art projects, I was happy to know that Elena Kazakina and Ksenia Chistopolskaya, members of the Health & Clinical Issues thematic group, chose to interview Jonte for these series.

I was equally happy to have found Radhika Chitalia, illustrator at Handmade by Radhika, who took up the challenge to visualize Jonte’s ideas.

Anna Sircova, Time Talks creator and editor

How did you find out about Time Perspective, Time Perspective Network and about Warsaw Conference?

When I was searching for a subject for my BA thesis in 2011, a friend of mine, who has actually no background in academic psychology, told me about time perspective (TP) theory. I looked it up and was hooked instantly.

I remember that I just missed the deadline for submission for the time perspective conference in Coimbra and also I didn’t have the money to come. I found this a pity and so, already back in 2012 I knew that I would join the next TP conference and not miss it again.

What are your impressions about the Conference? What was of most interest to you?

I was quite excited to meet all the TP researchers in real-life and my expectations that people who devote their time to such fascinating stuff are probably inspiring, openhearted and the opposite of boring were confirmed for pretty much everyone I interacted with. I was deeply inspired by many conversations and talks.

What impressed me most was seeing Phil Zimbardo dancing at the party as if he was 23.

The nice atmosphere on the conference, the many kind and inspiring people, the huge potential this ‘movement’ has, confirmed and strengthened my positive emotional relation towards this field of research and consolidated my wish to keep working on time perspective theory in the future.

What is exactly your area of time studies?

I see the present as the core of time psychology and present perspective as the central time perspective because from a subjective perspective it is always now.

One can mentally time travel, mentally be in the past or the future, but at the same time one is always also in the present.

The idea of a past or a future cannot exist without a mind that is in the present. The mind creates past and future by projection in the present. Past and future cannot exist without the present. Yet the present is not superior to past and future because the present also cannot exist without the past and the future: The subjectively experienced present, also called ‘phenomenal present’, extends into the near past and the near future and therefore relies on them. This means that past and future are dependent on a present in which they are created, but also the psychological present depends on the near past and the near future. Otherwise we could not experience music or language or even movement.

When I was in the process of searching a subject for my master’s research, it was Jeff D. Webster, the creator of the Balanced Time Perspective Scale (BTPS), one of the most influential measures in TP, who came up with assistance. Jeff introduced the idea that I could create a present sub-scale for the BTPS within my master’s thesis.

This new sub-scale research was a great idea and together with Gerben Westerhof and Ernst Bohlmeijer, who already supervised my bachelor’s research and Jeff Webster, we created the so called present-eudaimonic scale, which is intended to measure a purely healthy relationship toward the present moment. The scale is based on current concepts of mindfulness and flow.

The present-eudaimonic scale measures the frequency of the respondent to experience full engagement with the present moment on the levels of both perception and action. In my opinion, the creation of this scale was a big step toward the completion of time perspective measurement.

Another area of research where there is still work to be done concerning the completion of the measurement of time perspectives is the time after our death, the post-mortem or ‘transcendental’ future.

I think that time psychology can also be fruitful in explaining adverse aspects of human behavior. Besides all the beautiful things the human race does and creates, we are extremely hostile and destructive in our behavior towards nature and other beings, including ourselves. I believe that our restlessness and our strong ability to suppress undesired information from focal awareness play a major role in this destructiveness.

Illustration by Radhika Chitalia

I do believe that a lot of human behavior is fueled by our endeavor to suppress the cold certainty of our eventual physical decay, which is reflected in the fact that we always must do something and in an increasing tendency to distance ourselves from nature.

We are scared of being aware of our affiliation with nature and our own ‘creatureliness’ because all animals are mortal. I think we create distance from nature because we cannot stand silence.

This permanent restlessness and movement away from silence also moves us away from self-reflection and self-knowledge.

I believe that another consequence of avoiding being aware of our own mortality is that we may develop a tendency to also avoid thinking about the long-term future, which contains our death. I believe that only with a certain degree of death acceptance one can develop a respectful relationship with nature as well as a consciousness regarding the relations between our activities in the present and their consequences on the long-term future. And I believe that this is true for individuals but also for our civilization as a whole.

Time perspective research looks at the healthiest composition of relations towards time of both individuals and societies.

This is where my main research interest lies: Finding the factors that facilitate a healthy and sustainable relationship between present and future perspective in order to eventually establish structures that minimize suffering and simultaneously enable and promote flourishing on multiple levels.

What’s your news, what’s new happened since the conference in Warsaw?

Since April our article on the present-eudaimonic scale is online, which is my first publication so I am really happy about this.

I joined Maciej Stolarski, Konrad Jankowski and Marcin Zajenkowski from Warsaw University in a study on the hypothesis that balanced time perspective (the assumed to be most healthy composition of personal relations to time) mediates the relationship between mindfulness and life satisfaction. We finished the project in less than a month and in my opinion the article that resulted from this cooperation is a nice read and a valuable contribution to the literature.

At the moment I am preparing a study on the relationships between time perspectives, death attitudes, nature connectedness, meaning in life and well-being. I’m working on this with highly inspiring people from different countries and we will collect data in a number of countries for this.
In October I will begin a psychotherapist training in Bonn/Germany.

How did the conference in Warsaw influence your own time perspective?

Similar to my research on the present-eudaimonic scale, my experience at the Time Perspective conference in Warsaw can be explained in past, present, and future.

Before the conference in Warsaw, I anticipated the Warsaw event with excitement. During the conference, I was quite present-oriented, absorbing all the input and enjoying the time. After the conference, I look back on it with good feelings.

Events such as the conference in Warsaw are kind of shelves in the mental archive of psychological past, events that structure the mental representation of the past.

Tell us about your play that you are going to present in Copenhagen.

What fascinates me most is investigating the connections between domains such as psychology and philosophy, or science and art. Since I was 13 or so, I was always writing creatively, often poems or just thoughts about the world and my relation with it. In 2013 I decided to try another medium and integrated old stuff I already had with new parts which I wrote in order to make a whole of it.

My girlfriend studies artistic research and came up with the idea to combine art and science in one event. We organized lectures by professionals who work with art and/or consciousness.

Two friends of mine who are studying art managed to get study credits for the preparation and staging of the play and together with my girlfriend we realized the project within a few months. The play was premiered in June 2014 in fase2 in the city of Enschede in the Netherlands.

The overarching theme of the event as well as the name of the play was Noema, which means ‘content of consciousness’. According to phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, consciousness is always consciousness of something and accordingly ‘consists’ of a perceiving part and an object- or content-part.

The theater plays with this notion and among others it addresses issues of existentialism, phenomenology, sustainability and time.

I am really excited to stage the play in Copenhagen in the context of 2016 Time Perspective conference and I am happy about this great possibility to be able to work at the interface of science and art.

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This interview is brought to you by:

Interviewers | members of the Health and Clinical Issues thematic group

Elena Kazakina, PhD is a licensed psychologist in independent private practice in East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. She earned her doctorate from Columbia University and has been applying temporal concepts in counseling and psychotherapy since her dissertation research on time perspective in 1999. Dr. Kazakina has worked as a supervising psychologist, clinician and consultant in various clinical settings in the New York Metropolitan area. She gave talks and workshops on the integration of time perspective theory, research and clinical practice at home in the US, as well as at the Ist and 2nd International Time Perspective Conferences (2012; 2014). Her writings appeared in the volumes “International Studies in Time Perspective” (2013) and “Time Perspective Theory; Review, Research and Application ” (2015).

Ksenia Chistopolskaya, junior research fellow at the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry, department of Suicidology, and a PhD student in Lomonosov Moscow State University, working on the topic of death fears and death attitudes in ordinary people and people after a recent suicide attempt.

Illustration — Handmade by Radhika

Proof-reading — Natalie Odisho

Assistant editor — Oksana Senyk

Idea and realization — Anna Sircova, Twitter @anna_bki