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Patterning of Time

Ernest R. Hilgard

Vol. 60, No. 4 (July–August 1972)

PATTERNING OF TIME. Leonard W. Doob. 472 pp. Yale University Press, 1971. $15.

This is a most remarkable book (and an excellent one) about how man confronts time. It defies simple categorization, because there is nothing quite like it, regardless of topic. It combines thoroughness of documentation (some 900 references cited) with two interlaced expository patterns, one a formal scheme of taxonomy, principles, and hypotheses (appropriately numbered, cross-referenced, and summarized), the other a pattern of sprightly, reflective, whimsical, and literate essay writing of a kind seldom found in serious expository writing by psychologists. Which do I prefer? The essays—yet if I had occasion to look up anything written on an aspect of time as a human problem I would now use this book as my authoritative compendium. It can most simply be characterized as an encyclopedic essay or series of essays on man in time.

In his preface Professor Doob indicates that this volume is the result of three decades of tormenting himself trying to understand time and trying to derive generalizations suggesting how persons confront time. As he points out, he has chosen to work on a gigantic canvas, and he succeeds in maintaining a very broad perspective. Those familiar with his earlier writings will understand that he will not stop with laboratory studies of time estimation (though he has shown patience in reviewing them all), but he will contribute the cross-cultural perspective of one who has dealt with non-Western peoples, and the social psychological perspective of one who has written on a variety of social problems, including planning, in which time perspective is paramount.

In a short review it is not possible to do justice to the range of materials, the ingenuity of interpretations, or the felicitous style, sometimes a bit tantalizing, as in this closing section on the arts: “At any rate, a good style which produces good art enables us to experience the finality of time while reminding us again and again of the fleetingness of our existence and enabling us simultaneously to forget that this is so” (p. 391).

The essay style is burdened occasionally by a lingering academic vocabulary derived from the learning theory that has through the years been the laboratory jargon of Doob’s Yale colleagues. “Temporal motives,” “drives,” “reinforcement” seem somehow out of place in this book when the author is really more at home with his final quotation from Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season / And a time to every purpose under the heaven.”—Ernest R. Hilgard, Psychology, Stanford University

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