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There is no present

  1. Dec 9, 2005 #1
    There is no "present"

    There is no "present," or is there? I was writing an essay about the relevance of history the other day when this thought occurred to me. Is there really "present?" All that we see, everything that we feel and touch, could they be considered as history? For example, assuming it takes 0.1s for the brain to receive signal that you are touching a hot plate, then that instance that you felt the burn, it is already a "history" that happenbed 0.1s ago. Another one, you are thinking. But how can you tell that it is actually present? It could be just a memory of the past, one that happened less than a second ago. Every single though that we have are considered past. So does that mean that there is a past and future, but no present. Just food for thought..I will add more later.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2005 #2
    good, dooh.

    check: J. Krishnamurti
  4. Dec 9, 2005 #3

    Les Sleeth

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    Information reaches you from various places in the universe some time after the information departs an event, so your experience of that information is always after the event occurs. However, your experience itself is always the present. Further, the events themselves always take place in the present. So really, everything takes place in the present; it's just that you can't have instantaneous access to events outside of your consciousness.
  5. Dec 10, 2005 #4
    this sentance can only exist in the past
  6. Dec 10, 2005 #5


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    However, the subjective instant actually occurs over some duration of objective time (called the specious present). If one wants to define "present" in such a way that it is an instant rather than a duration, the specious present will not do. And indeed, I think Dooh would not be satisfied to call a duration of time "the present," or else he would have been satisfied to call the duration between stimulus detection and registration in consciousness the present and would not have started this thread.
  7. Dec 10, 2005 #6

    Les Sleeth

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    I interpreted his point as that possibly there is past but no present because we perceive events after they occur. It also seemed he was inferring something about objective reality from how consciousness works (i.e., by saying “Every single thought that we have are considered past. So does that mean that there is a past and future, but no present.”) My answer was simply meant to distinguish between objective reality and our conscious experience of it. It seems you think I need to elaborate.

    Your point about the specious present is a good one, one of my favorite discussion topics because I believe it supports the theory that time is a mental “sense” rather than anything actual.

    I think it was Augustine who first suggested that time is mental. In my debate with Tournesol found here: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=77232&page=9 where we discussed if the past is real I argued, “. . . I think my view is even more radically event-dependent than his [Leibniz] because I claim the ‘time’ you speak of is nothing more than a psychological sense created by our from-birth, never-ending awareness of the incessant changes in physical events that go on around us, and to us, every moment we exist. . . . People who carry around the psychological sense of time (and I think most of us do) may project their subjective experience onto objective reality so that time to them is not in their head, but part of the fabric of physical reality.”

    My point was that physical change and rates of change are occurring everywhere in the universe; for objective sciences the measurement of the rate of physical change is what figures into physical models, but in consciousness, time (or the “sense” of time) is memory-dependent.

    In case everyone isn’t familiar with the term “specious present,” William James described it as an awareness of the present that has duration. For example, one might observe a person riding a bicycle and experience that “in the present,” yet any movement must occur over an interval, so “present” for consciousness can and often does involve an interval of time.

    Another issue is simultaneity. For example, a photon emitted four light years away four years ago and a photon emitted two light years away two years ago might reach our retina in the same instant. Although they were emitted at different times, we experience them simultaneously. To consciousness they happen one way, but in objective reality they happen another way.

    Finally, there is the fact that at any moment consciousness is receiving information from a variety of sources. A “now” I just experienced included feeling the morning coolness, a slight headache, the weight of my clothes; it included seeing sunlight, my computer screen, the books around it, my cat walking by; it included hearing birds outside, smelling an evergreen wreath, the lingering taste of orange juice. I experienced all that as a single moment even though it lasted over some relatively short period of time.

    So is it accurate to say everything occurs in the present? Doesn’t it seem like the rules are different for physical reality and our experience of it?

    I think first we have to define “present” to answer the question. We might say the present is all that exists in any given moment. Yet how long is a moment? If it has any duration, then the present is compromised. It seems the only moment that will do is if we can stop all change in reality. If there were no movement/change then we’d have a definable moment. However, as far as we know, it is impossible to stop all movement, so either there is no such thing as the present, or the present, as an aspect of time, is concept. I choose the latter.

    If no humans were around, the universe would keep burning, spinning, expanding, forming stars and exploding them etc. perfectly fine without us to define the present. One meaning of the “present,” then, is our concept for a theoretical static moment in objective reality. Let’s call that theoretical static moment a temporal point, and say rather than like a geometrical point which is dimensionless, a temporal point is timeless. It doesn’t matter if it really exists in the physical world, it is a useful concept anyway. For what it describes I believe it is accurate to say everything happens in the present; that is, all events (and all events that make up events, ad infinitum) occur at the point they occur, not before or after they occur.

    If we can define a “present” for objective reality, does it apply to consciousness too? Memory allows us to perceive continuity, simultaneity, and multiplicity for a specious present, but is there something in consciousness similar to a temporal point which is timeless? This is a profound issue in my opinion, at the core of the debate to characterize the nature of consciousness. My own opinion is that consciousness does possess a “point” which is both dimensionless and timeless, around which all conscious growth and change take place. I know it as the basis of subjectivity, the true self, the very “heart” of my being, and which when experienced keeps me steadily present. But of course, not everyone agrees.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2005
  8. Dec 10, 2005 #7
    Well, I haven't read all Les Sleeth just wrote down, but I would like to make a simple point: the fact you are perceiving something 0.1 ms after it happened, doesn't mean there is no present. It only means we have theoretically no way of perceiving the present, which is an annoying thought in itself.

    EDIT: No offence, but this is by far the most theoretical piece of philosophy I have ever seen, however I must admit I got my first lessons three or four months ago. A scientist usually won't gain anything by denying the present.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2005
  9. Dec 10, 2005 #8
    The wise sage sat and spoke, "The past and the future are the two thieves between whom the EVER-PRESENT consciousness is crucified". There is only NOW... Now being present, now being present contemplating the past or now being present contemplating the future.
    Baghawan Omy Gosh
    dates - here and now
  10. Dec 10, 2005 #9
    It seems to me that "time" is a unit of measure (like the inch) and not that which "is measured". Thus, "time" measures the dynamic aspects of reality. Now, it has been suggested (E. Poppel--see link below) that "the present" is a finite interval , measured as ~ 3 s plus-minus error of measure (e.g., measured by time). Thus the dynamics aspects of reality "pass us by" in intervals of 3 s (this unit of measure as been coined the "timetron").
    So, my answer to the thread question is, yes, there is a present, and yes it can be measured scientifically within experimental error. You can read about the work of Poppel at this link (wordy, but worth the "time" for those with an interest).http://joelorr.squarespace.com/the-neural-lyre-poetic-meter-t/
  11. Dec 10, 2005 #10
    i believe that we have spoke on this, often.

    the idea of "immediacy" (without mediation) must be of primal importance in this issue. when the mind mediates the experience of the present (stands between) the subsequent thought-form is always confined to the past.

    nazgjunk, said that this is the most theoretical idea that he has pondered, and i think that is a very close description of what we are talking about.
    it, actually, appears to me that this "reality of the present" is not merely mind-bending, but is mind-blowing. in that, the actions, of willing mind, in relation to a present, are actually in relation to a past occurence, rather than a present one.
    the present, then, can only be understood as the direct experience of being-present, wherein the movement (interpretation, analysis, examination, reference, thought) of the mind is naught, and the experience (without labeling or defining, judging or valuing, etc.) is "undefiled" by a mind-thought, and as a result, "pure".

    this would be the state of being "here, now".
    time is rightfully, perhaps, seen to be contained within the mind; and the reality of the present is, altogether, transcendent of it.

    maybe we could say, "when mind stops, experience of the immediate present is one of "pure being-ness." (or some other similar terminology)

    it is interesting to conceive of "the mind" as the mediator between the experience and the thought-about-the-experience.
  12. Dec 10, 2005 #11
    a metaphor once given, for pondering, was that, "the mind is time"....
  13. Dec 14, 2005 #12
    One cannot escape the present, for that is all there is.
  14. Dec 14, 2005 #13
    Think for second: that thought is now in the past. Move, and that moment is in the past. Everything you do can only be remembered, therfore it is esentially in the past. There is a present, it is just so fleetingly fast that we cannot expirience it.
  15. Dec 14, 2005 #14
    one need not think about experience for one to experience.
    thought is the mind, and the mind is essential for the experience of time.
    mind is the collection of thoughts about what was, projected into what will be. without disturbing the rigidity of the mind-faculty and its dominance over experiencing, which leads one into choosings, ones actions in the future are fundamentally the same as they were in the past. there is no fundamental difference between ones past thoughts as ones future thoughts, so long as the continuity of mind/thought has never been interupted. if the mind/thought is interupted, the subject is then aware of a world without description and judgement or discrimination, and the experience is, then, perpetually new and immediate. there is not even the discrmination between subject and object.

    thought is not necessary for experience to be.

    when thought is not, there is the present; the present, in its purity of experience.

    there is a present, and that present is "what is". the mind/thought is "what was" or is about "what will be" and is, therefore, always "what is not". when there is no mind, Reality (the ever-present) is, and one is then in perfect harmony with the truth of Reality. One is, at once, the Truth of oneself and the Reality of what is.

    so the wise say, "don't think you are _____. You Are already infinitely more than that! do not try to be _____. This is pretending that you are what you are not! do not think about being. You Are!"

    It Is... without a doubt; without a thought; without effort. You Are, without a doubt; without a thought about being _____. You Is What Is; You are That. Why think, when the totality of one's being IS, at once, without a thought, effort, idea?

    there is a present, but "you" cannot touch it. Lose the "you" thought, by seeing what you are, and there is only the present.

    "a student was out for a walk with his teacher. upon seeing some geese in migration, the master asked the student, "where are they going?" the student replied, "it looks like they are going over there, beyond the hill." the master, then, pinched the students nose and said, "how could they be anywhere but here? the student was thereby enlightened to the Reality."

    another said, "the mind is the footprints of a bird in flight."
  16. Dec 16, 2005 #15
    well, perhaps the notion of present is a relative term between different observers.
  17. Dec 17, 2005 #16
    The present is that which is presented to us. By considering what has past we learn to anticipate our future. Attentive awareness to events as they are presented to us shows us the relationship between our present actions, their consequences, and what we can do to influence our future.
    Experience with, learning about and understanding this relationship enables us to create and experience a present of our own design, making memories in a past we can enjoy for years to come.
  18. Dec 17, 2005 #17
    preparation is slavery.
  19. Dec 17, 2005 #18
    Yes, and as I posted above, the "time" of the present thought has been experimentally determined to be ~ 3 sec. Mathematically, I have posted elsewhere that I hold the present to be the 0 in the line of real numbers ....-2,-1,0,1,2....the present (0) is where past Reality (negative arrow of time) and future Reality (positive arrow of time) form neutral unity, a neutral monism.
  20. Dec 18, 2005 #19
    rade, how can the present be any length of "time" long? that just doesn't make sense. if we are to accept that, we accept that the present has a past present and future present. do you see?
    if we are @ ~2 secs., in between 1 and 3 secs., then the 1 is past and the 3 is future.

    the present definitely transcends the definition of it, in time. all we can say is that it is ever-fleeting. it is so fleeting that we can never say that we are thinking about the present, but always thinking about what was present.

    i have 2 questions, which are really only one question.
    where is the past? where is the future?
    they exist only in our minds. isn't that right? the ever-fleeting, ever-present, is all that "is."
    the mind is the past and the future.

    the only "thing" that exists, exists right 'Now". the mind can't touch "it"; as a thought can't think about "it". (to think about it is already to be thinking about what is not "it".)
    so, we can't know the present while our experience is mediated by a mind, but can't we know it "im"mediately, through perception? perception without a thought about perception. thought is mediation. thought is mind. no-mind is immediacy. the present is only ever immeditely known. it's slippery, fleeting nature, is only glimpsed by unmediated perception and experience; ie. that which is not mediated by mind/thought/interpretation.

    the true present is never known by mind, but is lived in, in immediacy, always. we can only ever be present (here, now) but the mind will not allow us to experience It; if it insists on interpreting everything that happens, and on having thoughts about It, continually.

    the true present is so fleeting we cannot even conceieve of it's being, with a mind. it is "mind-blowing". that is, only a no-mind can actualize "being present" without fail.
  21. Dec 18, 2005 #20
    A lack of preparation makes one a slave to fate.
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