7/31/11

In Response to Adam Frank's "Where is Now? The Paradox of the Present"

In a recent blog post on npr.org, Adam Frank writes that “your present is at the mercy of many overlapping pasts.” Because it takes time, however infinitesimal, for a light wave to bounce off an object, be detected by your retina, and speed across your optic nerve to the sensors in your brain, nothing you see is in real time. What’s more, because light travels at a constant speed—300 million miles per second—objects farther away in your view are older than the ones closer to you. Rearview mirrors should carry the disclaimer, objects are older than they appear. The stellar bodies we gaze upon in the nighttime sky emanated their glow light years ago, and today we perceive them as equal parts of a coherent skyscape, when in fact each star is of a different era. Only the coherence demanded by human rationality can maintain the illusion of simultaneity between objects set in spacetime.

Frank says that these “multiple, foliated pasts” seem to disprove Presentism, a philosophy of time that states the past and future do not exist—the Now is all there is. Although I agree with Frank when he purports that efforts to inhabit the present moment, whether through meditation or mindfulness or drug use, will reveal an all-pervading oneness, wholeness, and unity with the ceaseless Now, I find it hard to place the isness I've felt at times in the same arena as the time-lag of perception. Interconnectivity exists in a different valence from the now-narrative of our senses. True, we can only ever perceive the past. True, the present is an illusory concoction in the cauldron of our senses. But being present with yourself occurs beyond the senses, in that Emersonian oversoul, and when you inhabit the Now, you inhabit a negative space of infinite possibility where picayune distinctions fall away. A space in which time collapses and the past and future converge.

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