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There's no time like the present

  1. Jun 11, 2005 #1
    I dont know of this is the right forum to post this in, but I have a question about the nature of time. What is it that makes the present moment different to any other moment on the universes timeline? We can see that the present moment is happening now, but what does it mean to say that? If we were to accept that the past and future also have some kind of existence, then I cant see a whole lot of difference between the present moment and any other moment in time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2005 #2
    Conscious experience of the moment.
    It means that "we" are consciously experiencing the present moment and we refer to the moment as 'now'. But this statement begs the question of what is meant by the term 'we'. All one can say for sure is that I am experiencing the moment. And if you try to pin down exactly what 'I' means, it gets murky.
    There is no difference without conscious experience.

    Please bear in mind that these answers are only my personal opinions and may be completely wrong.

  4. Jun 11, 2005 #3
    An interesting answer, but it seems to me that your argument rests on the assumption that our conscious experience is outside of time. Every moment that we experience is the present moment when we experience it. If we think of consciousness as something changing with time, as with the rest of physical reality, rather than an external observer choosing which moment to experience, then the initial problem still holds. These are also just my thoughts on the subject, and I am not claiming them to be the right answer.
  5. Jun 11, 2005 #4
    You are exactly right. I do make that assumption.
    I agree. But think about this sentence a moment. Your use of the term 'when' implies a time continuum. Yet, the point of the sentence is that each point, or moment, on that continuum is the present moment when we experience it. It would seem to be nonsense if we claimed that each point of a time dimension was the present. But by qualifying the claim by relating each point with the experience of that moment, we can make sense of it. We can, that is, if we make the assumption that conscious experience is outside of time (at least outside the dimension of time we are considering here.)
    I agree. But it seems to me that the most straightforward way out of this problem is to assume that the time dimension in which consciousness operates and changes is a separate and distinct time dimension from the one in which the physical universe evolves.

    In my view, the physical dimension of time is analogous to the sequence of frames on a reel of movie film. Consciousness is analogous to the person who made and owns the reel of film. Conscious experience is analogous to the owner of the film running it through a projector and watching the film. The present moment is analogous to the particular frame being projected at a particular moment that the owner of the film declares to be 'now'. The time dimension in which the owner of the film loads up the projector and sets it going is analogous to the separate time dimension in which consciousness operates. Note that there is a synchrony between the "nows" in the two temporal dimensions in that given a particular "now", a unique frame in the film is identified as well as a corresponding unique point in the world of the projector.

    Last edited: Jun 11, 2005
  6. Jun 11, 2005 #5
    The present moment is time. Time is comprised of what is happening now, the only point that has any relevance. History and anticipation are both concepts used to make sense of change in our environment. So there is no real time line, just a time dot or singularity. The past and future both don't exist, there's just time. It's like that slide projector, but it's not filled. There's just the one slide that it's on and it keeps changing.
  7. Jun 11, 2005 #6
    I'm no expert on relativity so I'll let people who know more about it straighten out either you or me. In Brian Greene's book "The Fabric of the Cosmos", he goes into great detail describing time starting on page 128. On page 139 he says, "Just as we envision all of space as really being out there, as really existing, we should also envision all of time as really being out there, as really existing, too."

    I think that view is correct.

    Last edited: Jun 11, 2005
  8. Jun 11, 2005 #7
    I had also used the film analogy in a previous incarnation to suggest projections of thought onto a 4d canvas from a dimension outside of the physical universe

    I came a cross a good quote on my cybertravels

    "God is to the universe what your mind is to your brain"

    How about this ?

    There is no time it is only the background changing shape instantaneously. We percieve this as movement
  9. Jun 11, 2005 #8
    The "present" can be thought of as an event, or location in space-time. The past is all of the events that have causally affected the present. The future is all of the events that the present can causally affect. Look up information on light cones for a more detailed description.
  10. Jun 12, 2005 #9
    there are many events, or locations in space-time, with causal events before and after them. My original point is that there is no obvious difference between the present "event" and any other "event" that gives it its nowness that makes it the present moment.
  11. Jun 12, 2005 #10
    Just an opinion and nothing more. Time is a very poorly defined concept. I personally like my definition the best. Everyone seems to agree that there are three different things very closely associated with the concept of time:

    1. The past! Which is fixed and unchangeable. We are aware of only those aspects of the past which we are aware of. :biggrin: Think about it for a moment.

    2. The future! Which is actually unknown. We may have very strong expectations as to what the future will be but, when it comes down to actual fact, no one is "aware" of any aspects of the future at all. (At least I am not and I don't believe anyone who tells me they are.)

    3. The present! What we are actually consciously aware of. A very very small subset of what we know.

    Actually, from a scientific perspective, the present is almost a trivial aspect of of the whole picture. Only two things about the present are significant: first the fact, that it is the only thing we are consciously aware of and second, that the past is made up of things we have been aware of.

    Thus it becomes clear that it is the route through which we became aware of what we are aware of which defines that parameter t commonly referred to as time. Time is thus a very personal thing: an order we place upon what we know of the universe.

    Now we have also agreed that the universe is everything. If we knew it all, there would be no way our knowledge could change; the future would not exist (all would be past) and time becomes nothing but a path through the past (an order imposed upon that knowledge).

    As I said, nothing more than a different perspective.

    Have fun -- Dick
  12. Jun 12, 2005 #11
    I agree that time is the path followed by experience. But the part of it that isn't exactly clear is what you mean by 'we'. If solipsism were true, then it would be easy: there would be only one experiencer, thus only one path, thus only one time parameter. But if there are multiple experiencers of a single universe, then we have multiple paths, or world lines to explain. To what extent are these independent? Does each person carry with them a separate, personal, dimension of time maybe even running at different rates as Hermann Weyl suggested?

    What makes the most sense to me is to suppose that there is only a single experiencer in the entire universe, and using various time-sharing or multiplexing techniques, gives the illusion to each organism that it has an independent conscious existence.

  13. Jun 12, 2005 #12
    I see time as a series of events, all causally linked, and all having some kind of real existence. I see no reason to believe that any past or future event has less concrete existence than the present one other than that we are not directly experiencing them right now. However, as I previously pointed out, when these past or future events happen, I experience them as the present "now", although relative to the "real now", they are either in the past or the future. The question is what seperates the present from the past or future. Paul's answer is the only one I see as really tackling my question, however I have trouble accepting consciousness as an entity existing outside of time. In my opinion consciousness is conditioned by time to the same extent that matter and energy are. I am finding it hard to explain myself here, maybe because I dont really know what I mean. It's a complicated subject after all.
  14. Jun 12, 2005 #13
    Hi Madness,

    You say you have trouble accepting consciousness as an entity existing outside of time. First of all, you shouldn't have trouble accepting the existence of consciousness because I'm sure you experience it directly. Since the term 'entity' is usually taken to mean something very general, you shouldn't have trouble calling consciousness an 'entity'. It's no different than calling it a 'something'. So it sounds like your trouble is in accepting that consciousness is outside of time.

    But according to what you said, time is just a series of causally linked events. So for consciousness to be outside of time, it only needs to be outside of that series of events. That shouldn't be hard to imagine or to accept even though it is difficult to understand exactly what consciousness is. We only need to accept that consciousness is not among that series of events.

    In my view, consciousness is fundamentally the ability to know. So to connect it with that series of events which make up time, there only needs to be some way for consciousness to know about those events.

    Just as we can view a scene or a movie without being part of the scene or movie, I think consciousness can know about temporal events and yet not be part of them.

    I think of the information from temporal events as being transmitted or carried along a chain of physical events begining with the object being observed, and continuing through various sense organs of the body, through the nerves, to the brain, and to structures in the brain that somehow can transmit the information to consciousness. And, just as in a radio transmitting station, the signal with the information may very well leave the brain itself, and I suspect that it does.

    So in this view, consciousness is definitely conditioned by the occurence of physical events but that does not mean that consciousness necessarily is part of the physical universe of temporal events. In the same way, you can watch a movie and be conditioned by it, but you are not part of the movie. You just gained some knowledge of it by receiving some information from it.

    There are many physical parallels to the picture I am trying to get across, where a static sequence of information is dynamically and serially accessed to provide knowledge to some higher level entity. Some of these are a projector and a movie film, a read/write head on a tape recorder, the laser beam in a CD player, a ribosome clicking its way along a strand of RNA, or a person reading a book.

    In every case, there is really nothing different about the information ahead of, or behind the read/write head. The present moment, or 'now' only makes sense from the point of view of the dynamical system that is moving along the tape or film or DNA strand. I think consciousness works exactly the same way.

  15. Jun 13, 2005 #14
    to the single entity of consciousness existing outside of our 4d universe, time doesn't exist so what it then "sees/projects" is the universe refreshing and reconstituting itself instantaneously at superluminal speeds we can't detect from our frame of reference but percieve as motion

    In ultimate reality nothing moved only the background changed shape or to the single consciousness it would probably be the foreground

    Here's a question...

    Does time stand still when we sleep cos that is when i reckon we feedback into the domain of consciousness. If we all slept forever and no one knew any different no one would be able to register time passing or observe movement and the conscious domain would be the collective entity dreaming of it's own existence ?

    Interestingly this is what the aboriginal dreaming implies which somehow became misconstrued as the dreamtime which is a whole nother beast and also along the lines of what Paul Martin postulates.
  16. Jun 13, 2005 #15
    Paul. If consciousness is in anyway conditioned by time and space (which we have agreed that it is) then it is causally linked somehow, otherwise it would be impossible to effect a change in consciousness. Consciousness may not have a concrete existence in a particular point in space, but then neither does energy. As long as consciousness is causally linked to the physical world then it cannot be said to exist outside of time
  17. Jun 13, 2005 #16
    I don't follow your argument here, Madness.

    The point you may have missed in my explanation was that the term 'time' is ambiguous and may refer to one or another of multiple temporal dimensions. One of these is the familiar temporal dimension measured by our clocks and calendars and in which the events of the universe unfold (I'll call this 'ordinary time'). It is this specific dimension of time which I claim consciousness is "outside of".

    I agree that consciousness changes, and thus must exist and operate in a temporal dimension (I'll call this 'cosmic time'), but this is a completely separate dimension of time from ordinary time.

    There is a point of intersection, however, between ordinary time and cosmic time which is the present moment, or "now". The importance of this intersection is that information may pass across that intersection from the events in ordinary time to the consciousness operating in cosmic time, and I suspect that influence may pass across this intersection in the other direction as well. That influence being subtle choices in certain physical behavior deliberately chosen by the free will component of consciousness and which can influence the subsequent evolution of the physical universe.

    The information passing across the intersection in the direction from ordinary events to consciousness allows the consciousness to know about those events, and thus to accumulate knowledge of the physical world.

    You could look strictly at the dynamism of that conscious attention to the physical world and in that case it would seem as if the two temporal dimensions were at least synchronized, if not actually the same dimension. But this is just because of that viewpoint. It would be the same as saying that the sequence of frames on a movie film was the same continuum as the temporal dimension of the movie projector. That would more-or-less be true during the interval while the film was actually being projected. But there are many other "times" when the film is in the can and not being shown where the sequence of frames has nothing to do with the passage of time.

    So I think that if we expand our notion of time to include multiple temporal dimensions, and if we identify separate ones with consciousness and with physical reality, then we can say that consciousness exists outside of the dimension of ordinary time.

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