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Present defined by consciousness

  1. Dec 25, 2008 #1
    It seems to me that the "present" is defined by us; conscious observers. Events are like frames on a movie reel. The observer is like the light in a movie projector that defines the present moment as the frame which passes in front of the light. The frames that have passed are the past and those not yet passed by the light are the future. How else can the present be defined accept by an observer, a conscious awareness?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 26, 2008 #2
    Without a present we have no past or future, so it would seem that time is dependent on an observer. In order to have time we must have consciousness, therefore consiousness must have existed from the beginning of time...
  4. Dec 26, 2008 #3
    I disagree though.
    Motion has existed before consciousness, and time as we define it/understand it is a recollection of the past, an experience of the present and a prediction of the future.
    All these 3 things are simply side effects of consciousness, and imo reality is not dependent on them to create physical time (motion.)

    If physical time is the same as motion, then observer time/consciousness is a local phenomena, while physical time is universal.
  5. Dec 26, 2008 #4
    What about velocity and other aspects of movement ? They involve time and not just movement. Do not concepts such as velocity disappear without an observer? Do not all the laws of physics as we know them depend on having time with a past, present and future?
  6. Dec 26, 2008 #5

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    What do you mean by "just movement"? As far as I know, you can't have motion without time.
  7. Dec 26, 2008 #6
    Right, you can't have motion without time. I am responding to octelcogopod reference to "universal time." What happens to time when we remove the present (and therefore past and future)?

    There needs to be some point of reference (the present) in order to have a continuum of time and threrefore all the laws of physics... unless I am missing something.
  8. Dec 26, 2008 #7
    There needs to be the present as a point of reference in order for time as a continuum to have any meaning. You can have no measurement of motion without the present as a point of reference.
  9. Dec 26, 2008 #8
    I'm just saying you are mixing observer time and physical time.
    Physical time can't be anything more than motion, where it only exists in the present, while observer time is a side effect of consciousness, where present, past and future exist.

    In physical time, the past has no meaning, nor does the future, time = motion.
  10. Dec 27, 2008 #9
    I'm sorry for my rather short post that didn't explain much. Allow me to go into a bit more detail on what I mean.

    I propose that time, matter, and everything basically that happens, is one big event that is all the same.
    The universe might have started with the big bang, at least the way we see it, and somehow the laws of physics developed, and things became through logical sequence of events the way they are now, and continue to develop into the future.

    You say we need the present as a point of reference for measurement of motion, which is true, but only for our measurement purposes.
    The physical universe is probably a logical sequence of events, deterministic or not, that has developed over billions of years.
    The past is gone, and while it may be intuitively correct to say that we need time as a reference, it's not necessarily so.
    If everything is deterministic, and has a sequence, then the past is literally gone forever once the moment is over.

    Time doesn't have to be anything more than motion, or better yet, we can say time equals the sequence of events.
    If all physical laws (even ones we do not know of yet) are taken into account, then the time dimension will reveal itself naturally through the measurement of those laws.
    If we had "gods book" of the universe, I don't think there would be any misunderstandings as to why things have motion, or why there is the intuition of time to begin with.

    Time need not be anything more than the sequence of events, and more so WHY there is that sequence of events. And if that sequence is deterministic and logical, then we would have an answer as to why everything is the way it is.

    Further, I would propose that there is a time dimension as a result of consciousness, which is a completely local and separate issue to the physical time problem altogether.
    This conscious time brings in the problems of how do we analyze the way we think about time, and how do we separate our own intuition from the way things physically are.
  11. Dec 27, 2008 #10
    Guys, space/time is a single dimension. No space no time and vice versa...

    Time is a compulsory and direct emergent property of space. I would suggest space or the creation of the vaccum is primary and time follows like night follows day on earth.
  12. Dec 27, 2008 #11
    Octelcogopod, so you would agree that in order to have a present you need consciousness? If I understand the way you see it, time does not need a present. Motion needs time but motion needs no present.

    Answer me this: does velocity need a present? Can you have velocity without a point of reference to measure the speed from, a constant that we experience as the present. Whether it is our present or an arbitrary present my view is that there needs to be a present for us to measure time. If you cannot measure time does the laws of the universe have any meaning?
  13. Dec 27, 2008 #12
    I would say velocity does need a present.
    Velocity could be split into subjective and objective as well, and from the objective third person perspective, velocity would be a side effect of motion, where the only effect one state has to the next (increasing velocity) would be the physical laws unfolding, as based on whatever their laws are.

    As an example, a ball falling to earth with an increasing velocity would be simply the fundamental physical laws unfolding, but the velocity itself would have no meaning, it could only be measured physically as motion.
    You do need something to record one state to the next, and there's currently no way to do so without consciousness. But this does not mean things cannot move or increase in speed, it simply means the concept of velocity is a first person phenomena.

    I'm probably going to get heat for such a statement, but I simply don't see any other solution.. Velocity would then remain a measurement concept, not a physical concept.
  14. Dec 27, 2008 #13
    Alright, what about events? Was there a big bang, formation of galaxies and a history of cosmos without time with a past present and future? If not, is not consiousness, which allows for time, necessary to have any type of reality? Take away the present (consciousness) and nothing makes sense... I know it is consciousness making the sense, but there is no objective reality that has any meaning without time with a past present and future.
  15. Dec 27, 2008 #14

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    Objective reality (and physical time) probably gets along just fine without any organisms around to conceptualize and mentally organize it. I don't imagine objective reality to be in the sense-making or "meaning" business or have any dependency on it. That's in the purview of subjective reality.

    If I go away for a week, all kinds of events take place even though no one is there to observe them: the plants wilt, my bananas on the counter turn brown, etc. I don't find it miraculous that these changes have taken place when I return.
  16. Dec 27, 2008 #15
    I think you are right.
    Look at this way.
    Reality just "is" what it is.
    We have lots of measurement systems in place to calculate and predict and quantify, and they may all be true and correct, but the way I see it, nothing of that means anything without consciousness to apply the knowledge, and as you say, the time perspective.
    There is really nothing can be said, understood, or analyzed without consciousness.
    Reality then is just some system that unfolds itself based on something we do not know what is.
    A bullet which increases in velocity has no meaning without consciousness to apply the concepts we know about velocity and bullets, as such trying to explain reality through some objective lens is not possible.
    The bullet just "is" and the velocity just happens, based on the rules of the system.

    As far as we know, consciousness is the only mechanism in the physical universe which is capable of storing old information, and processing it to memorize the past, experience the present and predict the future.
    While it is debatable, if we for arguments sake say that consciousness is all physical, then to understand all of reality, we would need to not only understand the mechanisms behind the physical events, like physics, quantum physics etc, but we would also need a way to describe objectively the meaning of say velocity, and the way consciousness operates physically.

    Since we are not even close to bridging the mental and the physical, something tells me there is a lot more to be discovered in regards to consciousness.
    And what this means to me is that to understand things like what reality is, what consciousness is, we need a completely new way of looking at things.
    The old method of just measuring particles and objects and mathematically quantifying them might not work. How can math ever explain to anyone else how much my arm hurts after I fell? Like ever?

    Regarding your point in your last post, I can say that I do think consciousness is a local phenomena, and that the way we make logic, understanding and prediction in it, is only a survival attribute which does not affect reality's functioning in and of itself.
    Reality just IS, and we observe it, but from OUR perspective, EVERYTHING must go through our processing and senses, the first person view, and thus we will never truly be able to explain anything other than processing third person info in the first person view.

    While this is a pretty complicated subject which can go in many directions, I hope I haven't gone too far off the trail. I really do think we are at some core issues regarding reality and consciousness here, and I would say your post initially sparked this inspiration in me.
  17. Dec 27, 2008 #16


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    "define" is something only a consciousness can do, methinks. So every definition arose from consciousness if that's true.
  18. Dec 28, 2008 #17
    None at that proves we exist in a purely objective universe or reality. Non-locality in quantum mechanics would allow all those things to happen in an entangled world without you or anyone else being there to witness the event/s. Hence why the moon is there when no-one is looking at it. It having been placed in our consciousness it wont suddenly dissapear, and entanglement and quantum non-locality are probably responsible for that mechanism of global consistency.

    Another possibility is that non-local influences occur instantaneously or faster than light. That means changes could occur to your physical reality quicker than you could ever imagine, let alone notice through any sensory organs which use light for communication - such as our eyes.

    In any case there is really no proof we exist in a real objective physcial world as dreamed up by classicists. In fact there is plenty of evidence our reality is far more subjective that anyone ever imagined.
  19. Dec 28, 2008 #18

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    No worries - I was never out to prove that we exist in a purely objective universe or even that there is one. What I said was "probably". I simply think the existence of an objective universe (which we experience through our subjective filtering) makes sense. It makes more sense to me than a universe that requires an observer for existence.
    How did the moon get "placed in our consciousness" to begin with?
    No disagreement there. I might be thinking along different lines, but the literature in cognitive and social psychology teems with all kind of cognitive errors that we make and biases we adopt in certain situations or under certain conditions. In spite of that, our experiences aren't so profoundly unique that we can't have consensus about "reality" a great deal of the time. If there's no independent, objective reality, that we all have our little subjective windows into, why are our experiences of "reality" so much alike? (I'm sure there's a good answer for that and you are about to hit me over the head with it - but bring it on! :smile:)

    I found a couple of arguments for realism by a philosopher named Ray Bradley which I thought were interesting and persuasive:

    http://www.eequalsmcsquared.auckland.ac.nz/sites/index.cfm?DA3BD27F-F6BA-C7DF-784A-698F7BDB5128 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  20. Dec 29, 2008 #19
    Math Is Hard,

    "How did the moon get "placed in our consciousness" to begin with?"

    I would assume the moon has been globally known by man since pre-history, and it influences the earth in many ways so in all likelihood primates and other animal species are also aware of the moon, though their defintion or understanding of it would be less evolved than ours.

    Ever held a cat up to a mirror? I tried it with mine and it did not notice anything. It did not respond at all to its own reflection, and it just looked straight through the mirror as if it was a blank wall. Maybe other cats are different but i can tell that in my cat's world there is no mirror. Its not that it doesnt notice it, its just that the properties of the mirror which reflect an image for you and I do not exist for my cat.

    "If there's no independent, objective reality, that we all have our little subjective windows into, why are our experiences of "reality" so much alike? (I'm sure there's a good answer for that and you are about to hit me over the head with it - but bring it on!"

    There's a couple different questions/answers to that. My point about the subjectiveness of our reality relates to quantum mechanical systems in superposition or pre-observation/measurement. One can not say that the particle has any defined value before we measure or observe it, only various probabilties depending on the system and its configuration. Bohmian's get over this by saying we should imagine the particle has set values before observations/measurement, however that's clearly a cop-out.

    But in answer to your question about why all our realities seem so similar i would point out that we are humans, and we experience, see, smell, and hear with similar levels of sensitvity and bias. Our brains are more less the same in terms of complexity. So its natural we can empathise somehwat with eachother. However going back to my cat. I bet its experiences a totally different reality than you or I.

    "If antirealism were correct, and nothing can meaningfully be said to exist unless it is observed by a conscious human being, then most of our commonsense beliefs and the most of science itself - such as the sciences of cosmology (to do with the Big Bang theory of the origins of the universe) and evolutionary theory (to do with the origins of the human species) - would have to be rejected..."

    No, its wrong to assume that an observer has to be a conscious human being. It might not even necessarily need to be a biological system. And he is also wrong assuming that science needs to be thrown out the window or is necessarily redundant in an observer-"defined" reality. The fact that the observer exists and starts bumbling about in its mysterious enviroment means it will discover clues to its origination which are compatible with its own existence. And remember all these scientific theories are at best close approximations as to what happened in our distant past, or what we think happened, or what history best explain our very presence and existence. Also in quantum mechnics the observer asks specific questions so the level of non realism is in fact constrained by what we are expecting.

    "If antirealism were correct, and nothing can exist unless it is being observed, then objects such as the moon cannot exist unless their subatomic constituents are being observed. For it is an obvious, and unassailable, truth that a complex object cannot exist unless its simple constituents exist."

    This philosopher needs a primer on qm, as do may modern philosophers who seem to be stuck in a Newtonian timewarp :-)

    We've covered the point about the moon and entanglment. Its a known global object and does not need to be looked at in order to re-emerge. Einstein's point about the moon was very different than the philosopher as quoted above. Einstein was not saying the moon should not exist if not looked at, he was saying it should not always be exactly where we expect it to be. So like a quantum wave function it should be smeared across the sky.

    Of course no-one yet understands or has explained satisfactorily why macroscopic objects dont act like particles as the quantum scale.
  21. Dec 30, 2008 #20
    It is clear from reading all the posts that people have many different takes on the relationship between objective and subjective realities. Clearly this is an area that is still unclear to most people.

    I define objective reality as the world of objects. Thoughts are included as objects in this reality. We, as subjects, observe thoughts, we are not our thoughts. We are conscious of our thoughts. We are consciousness. One way of understanding consciousness, the subject, is the space in which thoughts are experienced.

    When I don't identify with my thoughts time disappears and the present opens up. Consciousness exists in the present. There is nothing but the present. The past is the record in our heads (thoughts) of what we tell ourselves that has happened. The future is a projection of what will happen, our imagination (thoughts), but all we experience is the present. The rest is just thoughts, forms that appear in our consciousness that we attach to as "us".

    What I am trying to come to terms with is the relationship between reality (which only exists as the present) and the world of objects including time. In a way I am of two minds: that which identifies with my thoughts as "me" and my identification with pure consciousness which is impersonal. Since the present is the point of the intersection between the two I am striving to define what it is so I can understand the relationship between the subject and objective realities.
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