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Where Is Now? The Paradox Of The Present

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  • medit8ionsociety
    by Adam Frank From the NPR website: The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you look back in time. But this time travel by eyesight is not just the
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 27, 2011
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      by Adam Frank
      From the NPR website:

      The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you
      look back in time. But this "time travel by eyesight"
      is not just the province of astronomy. It's as close
      as the machine on which you are reading these words.
      Your present exists at the mercy of many overlapping
      pasts. So where, then, is "now"?

      As almost everyone knows, when you stare into the
      depths of space you are also looking back in time.
      Catch a glimpse of a relatively nearby star and you
      see it as it existed when, perhaps, Lincoln was
      president (if it's 150 light-years away). Stars
      near the edge of our own galaxy are only seen as
      they appeared when the last ice age was in full
      bloom (30,000 light-years away). And those giant
      pinwheel assemblies of stars called galaxies are
      glimpsed, as they existed millions, hundreds of
      millions or even billions of years in the past.

      We never see the sky as it is, but only as it was.

      Stranger still, the sky we see at any moment defines
      not a single past but multiple overlapping pasts of
      different depths. The star's image from 100 years ago
      and the galaxy image from 100 million years ago reach
      us at the same time. All of those "thens" define the
      same "now" for us.


      The multiple, foliated pasts comprising our present
      would be weird enough if it was just a matter of
      astronomy. But the simple truth is that every aspect
      of our personal "now" is a layered impression of a
      world already lost to the past.

      To understand how this works, consider the simple
      fact, discussed in last week's post, that all we
      know about the world comes to us via signals: light
      waves, sound waves and electrical impulses running
      along our nerves. These signals move at a finite
      speed. It always takes some finite amount of time
      for the signal to travel from the world to your
      body's sensors (and on to your brain).

      A distant galaxy, a distant mountain peak, the not
      very distant light fixture on the ceiling and even
      the intimacy of a loved one's face all live in the
      past. Those overlapping pasts are times that you —
      in your "now" — are no longer a part of.

      Signal travel time constitutes a delay and all
      those overlapping delays constitute an essential
      separation. The inner world of your experience is,
      in a temporal sense, cut off from the outer
      world you inhabit.

      Let's take a few examples. Light travels faster
      than any other entity in the physical universe,
      propagating with the tremendous velocity of
      c = 300,000,000 m/s. From high school physics
      you know that the time it takes a light signal
      moving at c to cross some distance D is simply t = D/c.

      When you look at the mountain peak 30 kilometers
      away you see it not as it exists now but as it
      existed a 1/10,000 of a second ago. The light
      fixture three meters above your head is seen not
      as it exists now but as it was a hundred millionth
      of a second ago. Gazing into your partner's eyes,
      you see her (or him) not for who they are but for
      who they were 10-10 of a second in the past. Yes,
      these numbers are small. Their implication,
      however, is vast.

      We live, each of us, trapped in our own now.

      The simple conclusions described above derive,
      in their way, from relativity theory and they seem
      to spell the death knell for a philosophical stance
      called Presentism. According to Presentism only
      the present moment has ontological validity. In other
      words: only the present truly exists; only the
      present is real.

      Presentism holds an intuitive sway for many people.
      It just feels right. For myself, when I try and
      explore the texture of my own experience, I can't
      help but feel a sense of the present's dominance.
      Buddhism, with its emphasis on contemplative
      introspection, has developed a sophisticated
      presentist stance concerning the nature of reality.
      "Anyone who has ever mediated for anytime" the
      abbot of a Zen monastery once told me "finds that
      the past and future are illusions."

      Yes, but ...

      The reality that even light travels at a finite
      speed forces us to confront the strange fact that,
      at best, the present exists at the fractured center
      of many overlapping pasts.

      So where, then, are we in time? Where is our "now"
      and how does it live in the midst of a universe
      comprised of so many "thens"?
      -------------------------------------------------------
      Shared here for non-commercial and for educational
      purposes only and thus under the Fair Use Statutes.
    • schatzman
      awesome post. ... look back in time.
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 28, 2011
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        awesome post.

        >The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you
        look back in time.<

        I don't believe that. I just see points of light. Now what?


        --- In meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com, medit8ionsociety <no_reply@...> wrote:
        >
        > by Adam Frank
        > From the NPR website:
        >
        > The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you
        > look back in time. But this "time travel by eyesight"
        > is not just the province of astronomy. It's as close
        > as the machine on which you are reading these words.
        > Your present exists at the mercy of many overlapping
        > pasts. So where, then, is "now"?
        >
        > As almost everyone knows, when you stare into the
        > depths of space you are also looking back in time.
        > Catch a glimpse of a relatively nearby star and you
        > see it as it existed when, perhaps, Lincoln was
        > president (if it's 150 light-years away). Stars
        > near the edge of our own galaxy are only seen as
        > they appeared when the last ice age was in full
        > bloom (30,000 light-years away). And those giant
        > pinwheel assemblies of stars called galaxies are
        > glimpsed, as they existed millions, hundreds of
        > millions or even billions of years in the past.
        >
        > We never see the sky as it is, but only as it was.
        >
        > Stranger still, the sky we see at any moment defines
        > not a single past but multiple overlapping pasts of
        > different depths. The star's image from 100 years ago
        > and the galaxy image from 100 million years ago reach
        > us at the same time. All of those "thens" define the
        > same "now" for us.
        >
        >
        > The multiple, foliated pasts comprising our present
        > would be weird enough if it was just a matter of
        > astronomy. But the simple truth is that every aspect
        > of our personal "now" is a layered impression of a
        > world already lost to the past.
        >
        > To understand how this works, consider the simple
        > fact, discussed in last week's post, that all we
        > know about the world comes to us via signals: light
        > waves, sound waves and electrical impulses running
        > along our nerves. These signals move at a finite
        > speed. It always takes some finite amount of time
        > for the signal to travel from the world to your
        > body's sensors (and on to your brain).
        >
        > A distant galaxy, a distant mountain peak, the not
        > very distant light fixture on the ceiling and even
        > the intimacy of a loved one's face all live in the
        > past. Those overlapping pasts are times that you �
        > in your "now" � are no longer a part of.
        >
        > Signal travel time constitutes a delay and all
        > those overlapping delays constitute an essential
        > separation. The inner world of your experience is,
        > in a temporal sense, cut off from the outer
        > world you inhabit.
        >
        > Let's take a few examples. Light travels faster
        > than any other entity in the physical universe,
        > propagating with the tremendous velocity of
        > c = 300,000,000 m/s. From high school physics
        > you know that the time it takes a light signal
        > moving at c to cross some distance D is simply t = D/c.
        >
        > When you look at the mountain peak 30 kilometers
        > away you see it not as it exists now but as it
        > existed a 1/10,000 of a second ago. The light
        > fixture three meters above your head is seen not
        > as it exists now but as it was a hundred millionth
        > of a second ago. Gazing into your partner's eyes,
        > you see her (or him) not for who they are but for
        > who they were 10-10 of a second in the past. Yes,
        > these numbers are small. Their implication,
        > however, is vast.
        >
        > We live, each of us, trapped in our own now.
        >
        > The simple conclusions described above derive,
        > in their way, from relativity theory and they seem
        > to spell the death knell for a philosophical stance
        > called Presentism. According to Presentism only
        > the present moment has ontological validity. In other
        > words: only the present truly exists; only the
        > present is real.
        >
        > Presentism holds an intuitive sway for many people.
        > It just feels right. For myself, when I try and
        > explore the texture of my own experience, I can't
        > help but feel a sense of the present's dominance.
        > Buddhism, with its emphasis on contemplative
        > introspection, has developed a sophisticated
        > presentist stance concerning the nature of reality.
        > "Anyone who has ever mediated for anytime" the
        > abbot of a Zen monastery once told me "finds that
        > the past and future are illusions."
        >
        > Yes, but ...
        >
        > The reality that even light travels at a finite
        > speed forces us to confront the strange fact that,
        > at best, the present exists at the fractured center
        > of many overlapping pasts.
        >
        > So where, then, are we in time? Where is our "now"
        > and how does it live in the midst of a universe
        > comprised of so many "thens"?
        > -------------------------------------------------------
        > Shared here for non-commercial and for educational
        > purposes only and thus under the Fair Use Statutes.
        >
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