View Full Version : How do you perceive or define the present?

whimsical rabbit
01-07-2011, 06:36 PM
Suppose you write a story about time-travel, and you have your MC wondering about the present, the future, the past and all that.

I'm after philosophical approaches to the present. How do you define or perceive it?

I guess I'm just looking for random phases that come to mind really. What does the present mean to you? How do you perceive it in terms of flowing time?

That kind of thing.

Thanks very much.

01-07-2011, 07:34 PM
I recently wrote a short story about the invention of time by the Creator. He was having a problem because things were piling up on what just happened, and the past events wer interacting with current events, as if the past were still happening. He created another dimension and tied everything to it, that dimension slides in one direction, so everything slides into thepast after it happens. That is much more convenient that having just stay there after they happen.

Anne Lyle
01-07-2011, 10:26 PM
I think of the present as being like a marker on a linear representation of time - a bit like one of those countdown markers that writers sometimes put in their signatures. In fact, it's a bit like a tape measure, or one of those yardsticks you use for measuring in primary school (US elementary school), with today at the midpoint and the past and future stretching out to either side.

Is that the sort of thing you mean?

Joanna Hoyt
01-07-2011, 10:37 PM
I guess I think of the present as my point of contact with actual reality--what I have of the past is my own shaded story, and I have only the haziest notions about the future, but in the present I can experience as much reality as I have attention for, and I cna actually change things.

Is that the sort of thing you mean?

01-07-2011, 10:42 PM
To me the past is the fertilizer that allows my present to bloom. Depending on the care I take with the present gives me hope in a future.

whimsical rabbit
01-07-2011, 10:58 PM
Is that the sort of thing you mean?

Yeah, guys, anything that pops to mind. Thank you, this is brilliant stuff!

01-08-2011, 12:06 AM
Suppose you write a story about time-travel, and you have your MC wondering about the present, the future, the past and all that.

I'm after philosophical approaches to the present. How do you define or perceive it?

I guess I'm just looking for random phases that come to mind really. What does the present mean to you? How do you perceive it in terms of flowing time?
Well, I suppose there is an objective approach and a subjective approach to time. The objective approach is a description of what is happening all around and a subjective approach is what is happening to the individual. The two might be regarded as indistinguishable in most cases, but not in the case of time travel.

The present is defined as the point that is neither in the past nor the future. I have heard it termed the present moment and the progression of time as the progressive present moment. I read something once where it was argued that the the subjective progressive present moment was the same as consciousness.

In terms of time and space, the observed progressive present moment is not necessarily the same as the progressive present moment at a given point. For example, the light from distant stars shows how they were perhaps even before the earth was created. It is difficult to conceive an instance where the observed progressive present moment is after the actual progressive present moment and that is one argument against
time travel to the future.

01-08-2011, 12:24 AM
I think of the present in terms of immediacy. In other words, there are degrees of "present".

Literally present -- I perceive my buttocks stuck to this chair, the warmth of the plastic keys under my fingers and the clacking sounds they make as I'm typing this response. I can hear an airplane's engines thrumming overhead and the gusting wind. I can smell the air freshener I just sprayed and feel the particles from the aerosol can floating down and coming to rest on the back of my hand (Ew, btw). Then there's what happened this morning, today, and what will happen tonight, and then all of this week - back to Sunday and on until this coming Sunday evening. I could even stretch it out to this year, and all of it has a connection to a slightly wider concept of "present" to me -- like the infamous movie subtitle "Present Day" -- which soon enough becomes laughably dated. :D

Hope this helps, and isn't too literal or weird. It's just what I think.

ETA: Or what Kenn said, only he said it better. :D

Drachen Jager
01-08-2011, 12:57 AM
That's kind of funny, I was just writing a section in my novel explaining a theory of how time worked. Essentially the theory said that our universe travels through time. Time travel is impossible because if you were to travel to a different time you'd find the universe wasn't there any longer. Essentially it's travelling in the fourth dimension on a steady course, since there is nothing outside of the universe except for aether, which is not truly matter or energy, it is the substance from which our universe was created (whether by intelligence or accident is up for debate). Since there are no outside forces to change our universe's course in the sea of aether it will continue on it's path down the timestream, presumably forever.

whimsical rabbit
01-08-2011, 12:59 AM
Thank you so very much everybody for your input in this. This is brilliant. :)

01-08-2011, 01:01 AM
My entire undergrad Metaphysics class centered on this. (I was a Philosophy minor. ;) ) The class might as well have been called "Metaphysical perceptions on time." I have no clue why it was filed under a blanket term, but oh well.

Probably the most popular philosophical musings on time came from John McTaggart, who proposed two alternative and interchangeable theories: the A-series and B-series. The A-series espouses that time is a fluid state in varying degrees of past and future, divided by a single point in the present which fleetingly transforms into the very recent past until it soon fades into the distant past. The B-series considers time only in an infinite number of fixed points, perceived as coming before and after one another.

Another mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead, posited a combination of both theories where memories of previous senses and perceptions serve as building blocks to the present. Only what comes after exists in flux, as the future doesn't quite exist yet.

Whitehead's Building Block theory always brought to my mind literal building blocks, maybe even Tetris-style formations, (:P) fitting together to create a very person, because what are we if not an amalgamation of what we have experienced throughout our life? Now imagine everyone, no, every living thing like this, even every non-living thing since Whitehead's theory included the sense-memory of inanimate objects. A very visual thought, yeah?

01-08-2011, 01:11 AM
Normally I think of the past as unreachable, not really real. The past is a theory about what happened and why, which we use as a basis for our current identity, morality, plan of action, etc. The far future is a dream, the near future just one slice of the present after another. If you became able to go to the past it would become the present, it wouldn't seem like the past while you were there. The present is where you are, and you can't be to places in time at once, so you can't ever be anywhere but your own present, even if it's technically the past of something you remember already living.

01-08-2011, 02:36 AM
My degree is in science, but I don't think of the present in terms of physics or metaphysics. I think of it selfishly, in terms of me.

My perception of the present is what I am doing now, will do ten minutes from now, and even ten hours from now. It's the general 'piece' of time I am existing in, or moving through, or however you wish to phrase it. But along with me, six billion other humans, and various other life forms are also existing in the present, too.

Depending on what I'm thinking about or doing, it's also all the time behind me, probably up to a year or so, because those things color the way I think, the politics going on, the fashion trends, music trends, and anything and everything newsworthy that is happening. It's also the 'small world' I live in: who's had a baby, who's getting married, who's living where or buying what or taking classes and so on. To sum up, the present is the existence of real things around me and my place in it.

01-08-2011, 10:25 AM
I remember reading a novel in which most characters were four-dimensional; they tried to explain the life of the three-dimensional MC by saying it was like he was on his back on a railway car, tied down, wearing blinders. Really, I don't know if a four-dimensional person would describe it exactly this way, but it makes sense.

I see the past as memories; unchangeable except through our faulty imaginations and the desire to make things that we can no longer affect fit more into our worldview. The first meeting with a future love could, upon reflection, seem even more and more idyllic, while the first meeting with a future enemy might, upon reflection, seem more and more foreboding.

Then there's the "Hotel California" effect, where you tell a story so many times that you become detached from it, and your ability to process the emotional aspect of the memory becomes lost.

The present is what I'm doing right now and the effects of what I'm doing. The future consists of things I have no control over and no knowledge of.

01-08-2011, 11:13 AM
In this split second, certain futures are open. In the next split second, some past futures will have been subsumed.

01-08-2011, 04:36 PM
Read "Flatland".

This will give you perspective on the discussion itself.

01-17-2011, 07:39 PM
My degree is in mathematical physics, so I think in terms of special relativity where every point in spacetime is called an "event" (that means a location in space together with a moment in time). At any given event (call it A), you have a structure called a light cone, which divides into a future light cone and a past light cone. The past light cone is the set of all events which are able to influence event A causally (and since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, this is the set of all events from which something traveling at light speed or less could reach event A). Similarly the future light cone is the set of all events which event A can causally influence. It is the set of all events which could be reached by something taking off from event A at light speed or less. If you draw a pair of axes of which the horizontal one is a space dimension and the vertical one is time, the past and future light cones will indeed be graphed as conical structures (see at wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_cone; note that their terminology is slightly different than mine because I described to you the solid cone of all events causally influenced by or influencing event A, and they use the word "cone" just to refer to the boundary of this same solid. That's why they define the future light cone as the path of a flash of light from event A. This is the outer boundary of events which can be causally influenced by A).

So the present, I would say, is where the points of these two cones touch. I guess that means I define it in terms of causality.

01-17-2011, 09:16 PM
I always remember the saying, "Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never, ever jam today."

I also feel similar to jaksen and mtrenteseau. I think of the present as a very personal thing. I think it is best expressed in a Bible verse, even if you are not Jewish or Christian. Exodus 3:14 " I am what I am, or I will be what I will be" The verse is meant to be the voice of God, but for the purpose of philosophical discussion and because I would never proselytize, here I think it applies to me (or you or whomever is in the moment).

I see reality as something that is very different for each person. Our emotions color it. Our vision is only 20% actual data and 80% fill-in-the blanks. Reality is unique to each individual. So the present, past and future is YOU. It is what you were, what you are, and what you will be.

To take it further, our memories change as we relive them. New experiences change how we feel about the past and may deepen the images or blur the lines. Some memories disappear and some small things become large. The future is often a tangible thing, fantasized or nervously anticipated. Whether we fear it or embrace it, it can occupy our present state as if it were a companion in our thoughts.

Both memory and hope are never far from what is NOW because all of it is a part of ME.

01-17-2011, 11:01 PM
I view the present as sort of like the cursor on a slide rule. It's part of it, but only to mark your current place. A key difference, however, would be that our place in time can only go forward.

Read "Flatland".

This will give you perspective on the discussion itself.

Flatland is a great read.

Rufus Coppertop
01-18-2011, 04:40 PM
The present is now and ever becomes then as soon becomes now.

01-18-2011, 09:00 PM
I have a short story to this effect: I am walking on a desert that disappears into nothingness right at my heels. If stop the nothingness remains immediately behind me. If I turn it remains always just behind my feet, such that I am constantly emerging from nothing into reality.