Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Are we ever in the present time?

  1. Jul 16, 2004 #1


    User Avatar

    I'm not certain that this is the correct area within which to post this thread but here goes.

    We perceive things slightly after the point at which they have occured.
    Is there any such thing as the present time, or is what we call the present time actually always slightly in the past?
    In other words, does 'now' actually exist?
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 16, 2004 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    This is the exact place for such thoughts. The idea that the present moment is just a "cut" between the future and the past, and yet it is the only one of the three that we experience directly, has motivated a lot of physics. For example in their very different ways, Dennet and Heidegger.
  4. Jul 16, 2004 #3


    User Avatar

    Do you think that 'now' is actually 'just a very very short time ago' matters?
    My thought is that we are constantly living slightly in the past. I wonder whether, in order to perceive the actual present, we would need to be of a form that could not perceive (I'm trying not to sound too mad here) the present moment, but was merely 'in it'. In other words, inanimate.
  5. Jul 16, 2004 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    how do you mean living slightly in the past? i think we are totally in the present, although we remember the recent past that forms our decisions and thoughts of what we do presently and influences our future...
  6. Jul 16, 2004 #5


    User Avatar

    There is a lag between touching something, for example, and your brain processing the message to inform you that you have touched it.
  7. Jul 16, 2004 #6
    but you still touched it. You touched it in the present... and then when you thought about it, that touch was in the past, but the thought is now the present

  8. Jul 16, 2004 #7


    User Avatar

    But the action and the thought are in two different times?
  9. Jul 16, 2004 #8
    "Touching it" took a certain amount of time too. Also, it is important that we not fall into the illusion that there is a final result of the processing that occurs after the touch. The brain continues to process, remember, and re-draft the experience (the set of stimuli), and so there is no final product (which is why Dennett created the Multiple Drafts model). Thus, not only is there no exact present (unless you count the smallest incriments of time which are unimaginably small and unnoticeable) but the specious present (the percieved "now") is actually a period of numerous milliseconds, where many parts of the brain are processing many different things, and perhaps (at some juncture) uttering the word "now" (which utterance also takes a certain amount of time to accomplish).
  10. Jul 16, 2004 #9


    User Avatar

    Any processing involved takes time. Everything that we perceive is slightly after the event. 'Now' is not actually the present time, unless we make 'now' a length of time to include the processing.
  11. Jul 16, 2004 #10
    "Smear" the present, so to speak? That's what the concept of "specious present" is, and it's the only real frame of reference we have (being incapable of percieving fundamental incriments of time).
  12. Jul 16, 2004 #11


    User Avatar

    I'm just taking a look at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/time-experience/
    There is talk of a period from 'a few seconds to not more than a minute' but also 'the interval of time such that events occurring within that interval are experienced as present'. The latter is considered more viable rather than William James' 'rather vague characterisation'. Perhaps he'd been on the mushrooms.
  13. Jul 16, 2004 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Of course everything I do occurs instantaneously in the present moment it happens in. Just because I may process it ever so slightly later doesn't mean it didn't happen in the present when I did it. It is just now a different present than the present when I typed the first letter of this post. And it will be a different present when you read this post, a whole series of present moments actually. And in the present, I can think about what I've done in the past or what I plan to do in the future, but that doesn't mean it never happened in a time considered the present, just that particular present moment has passed. Confused yet? Everything happens in the present, the present is just an instantaneous state between past and future.
  14. Jul 16, 2004 #13

    Math Is Hard

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Certainly. As Moonbear stated, things are happening instantaneously, but of course our perceptions are always lagging a bit behind.
    As you are reading this - I am already gone. :wink:
  15. Jul 17, 2004 #14
    Present may not exist. Time is always split into past and future. lets say we have a time period of one second. Also that we are exactly half way through the second. We do not have a present time, we have a half a second passed and a future half second. It can be divided infinately that way.
  16. Jul 17, 2004 #15
    Time does not exist.

    There is no beginning and there is no end.

    I came to the conclusion that time can not exist. After the "big bang" should i say or the "beginning" What happend? we do not know for certian. But look at "now" Do we create anything? no! all we do is convert. So since forever and infinte amount of "time" we haven't been in time or a part of time. We are and have always been in a state of conversion. Even our physical bodies as of now are in the state of conversion. part of us leaves through sweat, urin, stool, dead skin, hair and so on in a constant state. We are always changing/converting.

    Hope i made sense.
  17. Jul 17, 2004 #16
    No. I can prove it.

    We are in Yesterday and Tomorrow at the same time. There is no Present.
  18. Jul 17, 2004 #17
    yes, within every divisibly measurable amount of "time", there is a relative past and future. To say that we are in the "present" is stating that we are at the end of a series of infinitly divisible amount of time, which is a self-contradiction.

    If time has no end or beggining, then there is no present, past or future. There is only constant change and conversion. Infinite perpetual motion.

    If time has a definable beggining and end, then there is in fact a past, present and future. The concievable existance of infinity concepts contradicts this kind of reasoning.

    I believe there is no past or future unless you consider states of motion relative to other states of motion. There is no present since you cannot define it, it is infinitly divisible. There is only infinity, the true nature of existance.
  19. Jul 18, 2004 #18
    This is an opinion with which I disagree. However, I do recognize that some people hold this opinion.

    Do you not consider this a contradiction by definiton? Yesterday is in the past at the time that tomorrow is in the future. I don't think that you can claim that these do not exist either, since you used them.

    I am sorry, but I fail to see how you have proven anything. Would you be so kind as to explain this proof to those of us for whom it is not immediately obvious?
  20. Jul 27, 2004 #19
    No matter what time it is it's always now. :wink: By the way, did you know that the moment encompasses everything, including time and space?
  21. Jul 27, 2004 #20
    The whole confusion about the concept of present exists only when you assume that the present moment spans an infinitesimal duration. The present moment is exactly that - a moment. A snapshot. Events do not take place in moments, they take place in durations. That is why nothing can occur "in the present moment" even though the present moment truly exists. Things in a moment have only states; location, velocity, temperature, etc.

    Perception, for example, is an event and cannot occur in a moment. Having been perceived is a state, and not an event. If we take that in a present moment, something has been perceived (and we are in an inertial reference frame) it must be true that the event being perceived has occurred in the (local) past. Special Relativity enforces this. This does not invalidate the idea of the present moment, in fact I would say it tends to reinforce it. By observing something in the present moment, we can determine it has occurred in the past. This is a very real connection with countless uses in every field of science, but we always take it for granted because it is so "obvious."

    I have offered proof that present does exist. Now let's hear it from those who claim to prove it does not exist.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Are we ever in the present time?
  1. Are we ever unconscious? (Replies: 29)