Time in experience

So what’s happening now?

The question isn’t meant to be taken in the sense of a snapshot taken at the word “now”, but to point to the experience of now. The experience is nothing like a snapshot – things are always happening in the now. The fan is spinning, the birds are singing out the window, I’m pausing over a sentence, staring at the “h” key, remembering that the fan is still spinning but the birds stopped. Noticing I missed the “p” in stopped and going back to type it in… This is not a series of snapshots but units of experience.

To say that the units of experience are a few seconds long is not quite right since I don’t experience them as taking time. If I reflect on them I can divide them up into before and after, and I can even trim down slices of time as thin as I want – even to the limit case of the snapshot. I might clock each of these various nows and determine that none is longer than 5.43 seconds. But even when I do this the reflection in which this division is taking place is not divisible. It is the present in which things are happening, but is not itself happening. If I set myself to capturing the now, it lasts for as long as my attention does, and I divide out parts like before and after only within the now. At some point I find that I can only relate to the experience in memory.

We could almost certainly tell this story through various brain organs: “nows” are experiences not yet copied onto organs of short-term memory, and from there into long-term memory. Most pass into oblivion, which means that memory is never connected to the now by an unbroken stream of memory to now. There is no time line, or, if there is, it is constructed upon an awareness that is already continuous before one fills in any of the gaps. The oblivion is of forgetfulness of what was forgettable, not of non-existence or a Humean non-self, but it is an oblivion all the same. Most of myself, I suppose, is a judgment about an oblivion, sc. that it is the forgotten forgettable as opposed to non-being. The person who writes this now will also pass into the same oblivion and will be forgotten and edited out by himself in less than a week. I might remember him if he had something crucial to say.

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1 Comment

  1. Maureen said,

    June 9, 2014 at 12:36 am

    As if you have arrived at the distance of many light years via satellite pictures; Yet in that case, we are told that we have the sensation of something we an see and sense is something that is, “oblivion?” The trace of such matter is seemingly, ‘material.” Does it take all this time in the space we seem to occupy to realize that we are?


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