December 22, 2004

Why Is It Always Now?

You are beginning to read this sentence two seconds ago, and you will not be finishing it until now.

I knew that missing that bus by thirty seconds would cost me an hour and a half getting into work this morning. (I sure wish they'd let me write the schedule.) As I stood at the corner waiting for the next bus, and about to light a cigarette, a funeral procession passed by. I'd never done it before, but, I took off my hat.

After the line of cars had passed I started to think about something. I realize now that, normally, I probably would have started pondering life and death, or death by cigarettes. But, this time, something else piqued my whimsy: the procession itself. First it began to pass by; then it was passing by; then it had finished passing by. But, it all happened at the same time: now.

I've thought about it from time to time before -- the nowness of our experiences. But not like I did today. (I jotted down a few notes at work and I'll try to make this as coherent as possible -- though I may just end up talking to myself.)

Is Thomas Jefferson sitting in a room in Philidelphia in 1776 writing the Declaration of Independence just as much as I'm sitting in a room right now writing this post? And I don't mean in some parallel universe, I mean in this one.

But, Thomas Jefferson is dead. Yeah, now he is. But when 1776 was "now" he wasn't dead. Well, that was then, and this is now. But, then it was now, and this is only "now" now. Can one now be anymore "now" than any other now?

Okay, lemme try again.

Hypothesis: Our experience of time is like watching a parade. We see one bit of it at a time. The majorettes are in front of us now, but the elephants have already passed and we can't see what's still to come yet.

But the parade itself, as a whole, is intact already. The paraders will pass in one particular order. Even though we don't know yet what the future of this parade will hold, it is already there. Not here now, but there just as much as the here and now are here now.

Question: Does the past exist?

That's a weird question. Of course the past exists. We were there. We took pictures.
But, wait. Does the past exist, or, did it used to exist, only formerly, as the present?
And what in blazes is the difference?

If I ask myself if Maine exists then I have no problem answering "yes". (And, just in case my memory might be playing tricks on me, I have the photos to prove it.)
If I'm certain that places I've been to still exist even though I'm not there anymore, why am I not so certain that moments still exist even when I'm not then anymore? What can possibly be so special about our now now that isn't also special about all of our previous nows?

Spacetime. Space and time are like male and female. They're two distinct things only until you realize that without each other there's neither. Space can change over time, but it doesn't disappear. By the same token, I submit, time doesn't disappear; moments in time don't cease to exist.

Spacial dimensions are infinite. Time is also a dimension. Question: Would time being a dimension require that there be a past, not that there was a past?

Maybe it's a subtle distinction, or none at all. Could this just be rhetorical nonsense?
Maybe. But, if the past is not as real as the present, would time still be a dimension?

But, how can Thomas Jefferson be writing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 when, clearly, it's now 2004?
He wont be writing it in the future, and he isn't writing it "now". He'll always be writing it in 1776.
But it'll never be 1776 again.
No, but it's always 1776 in 1776.
But 1776 is gone. Outta here. Kaput. The money's on the dresser, we're done with it.
No, it's just in the past, for us.
It's in the past...
For US.
Okay, fine. In 1776 it was 1776...
No, in 1776 it IS 1776. It's the past for us now, but, for the people of 1775, it hasn't happened yet.
Do you know that you're speaking of the people of 1775 in the present tense?
Do you know that you're not supposed to eat mushrooms that you find outside?
Shut up.

So, even though my grandfather died several years ago, somewhere he's chopping wood in 1972?
Well, we know where... and we obviously know when. Yes.
It didn't just happen then, it is happening then. Now and then are like here and there: There is not just one "now" any more than there is only one "here".

So, from where we stand, bombs fell on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941. But, in the complete picture, bombs also are falling on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941.

Is our now more real than their now?

If so: how and why? Please be specific.

Past, present and future -- and here and there -- are how we experience time and space. But spacetime itself is whole and complete, and "nowness" is experienced only by the matter-energy in it.


Next time (maybe): Does the future already exist just as much (and unchangably) as the past?.

Posted by Tuning Spork at December 22, 2004 10:33 PM

You're freaking me out, Spork. Are you suggesting that there are an infinite number of me's and and infinite number of you's, one for each moment in time -- whatever a "moment" is? And that right "now" one of the me's and one of the you's are sitting in your bedroom on Garfield in 1979 writing and recording Joe Reed tunes? Excellent. It's a nice thought but I'm too linear to wrap my mind around it.

Holy shit -- I just looked to the right and happened to see "Message for Freedom's Slave." Sorry for being away so long. I'll get right on it. (YOU lost stuff??? But you're "The Archivist!" If The Archivist loses stuff, all is lost!)

Posted by: at December 23, 2004 12:11 AM

Oops. Neglected to identify myself in the last comment.

Posted by: Freedom's Slave at December 23, 2004 12:12 AM


My head just exploded.

Posted by: david at December 23, 2004 02:27 AM
Are you suggesting that there are an infinite number of me's and and infinite number of you's, one for each moment in time -- whatever a "moment" is? And that right "now" one of the me's and one of the you's are sitting in your bedroom on Garfield in 1979 writing and recording Joe Reed tunes?

Slave, Yes. No. Sorta. You were right to put the word "now" in quotes. 1776, 1941 and 2004, by definition, are not happening at the same time. But they all happening. "Now" is always now and all the now's are equally "now"! Read it again, you'll wrap yer mind around it. Just think outside the clocks!

David, here's some duct tape! :D

Posted by: Tuning Spork at December 23, 2004 09:32 PM

My brain hurts NOW.

*hugs ya*

Posted by: Stevie at December 23, 2004 10:13 PM

At least three of me think you're full of crap, but I think the rest of me's believe you're on to something here.

Posted by: Ted at December 23, 2004 11:34 PM

Sudennly Spaceballs comes to mind...

Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
Colonel Sandurz: You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.
Dark Helmet: What happened to then?
Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We're at now now.
Dark Helmet: Go back to then.
Colonel Sandurz: When?
Dark Helmet: Now!
Colonel Sandurz: Now?
Dark Helmet: Now!
Colonel Sandurz: I can't.
Dark Helmet: Why?
Colonel Sandurz: We missed it.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now.
Dark Helmet: When will then be now?
Colonel Sandurz: SOON.

Posted by: Squire Trelane at December 23, 2004 11:37 PM

I'm glad someone was ~dumb~ enough to post something like this - one of my favorite conundrums. What makes it a favorite is that any number of possibilities open, none of which are provable, so what's the harm in liking one or more?

What if "dimensional" means that without prior "dimensions" a single dimension exists in much the same way that a 1 dimensional point exists? What if time, without relation to any other "dimension" is, itself, a point. Our perceptions are related to other "dimensionalities" or dimensional characteristics and therefore we see the "point" proceeding through our dimensionalities as the parade, when in fact the point "knows" all about itself. In other words, we paint the point with our "space-time continuum" (what a GREAT phrase...rolls of the Dell guy's tongue like he knows what it means), but everything that it is exists at the point that it exists (great circular nonsense here...). Can you see what I'm trying to say (through the verbal masturbation)?

Basically, we paint the point as a series of occurrences, a line, when in fact it may just be a point.

My head hurts...need to get back to programming now...

Posted by: Tommy at December 27, 2004 01:19 PM

First off, just to be nit-picky ;), a line is 1-dimensional, a plane is 2-dimensional and a cube, sphere, pyramid etc, are 3-dimentional. So, time being a point would make it non-dimensional. But, time, being a dimension, is a line.

Other than that, what you said actually makes sense in that a moment in time is as non-dimensional as a point in space. That's also, I think, how most people think of it on a day to day basis. We see time as a line with moments and dates as points along that line. In our heads the line exists apart from the nowness of the points. It's only when we try to understand time as a dimension that we forget that we naturally see it that way, and start to think of it as a point without a line.

I haven't read a whole lot of books that even address the nature of time (other than how it's effected by gravitational fields and accelerations of bodies). But, I suspect that most theoretical physicists don't seriously consider that all moments of time exist equally as "now", i.e., that bombs are falling on Pearl Harbor.

I'm gonna pursue this idea some more, though, not just because it's an interesting one, but because I think it might actually help to clear up some mysteries about space-time/matter-energy's playground: gravity. And then I shall win the Nobel Prize for physics, mwah hah hah hah!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at December 27, 2004 08:15 PM

Thanks for the reply (and the correction). Sometimes I get ahead of myself. A point only exists in relation to itself, whereas a line exists as a series of points. If (to get stupid about it), we were to "rotate" the line 90 degrees about its midpoint, we would have the totality of the line present in a single discernable point.

Again, thanks!

Posted by: Tommy at December 28, 2004 03:44 PM
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