Saturday, November 26, 2011

Notes on Human Time Perception

We explain time by pointing to our memory, which holds the past, and our imagination, which projects the future. Then we say that we live in the present. Here a problem arises because we don’t really live moment by moment—unless the situation is very tense or very pleasurable. Our actual sense of time is wider. A good description of it is the “specious present.” That phrase was first offered by an American Industrialist, E. Robert Kelly (link) who dabbled in philosophy. It means the immediate past and the immediate future, both viewed rather flexibly.

It occurred to me today that our sense of time sometimes stretches even more and includes quite distant memories right in the present. One of the more popular posts here is one concerning the Neubrücke Hospital in Germany, a military hospital in my Army days in the 1960s. It hasn’t been functioning for many decades. Why are people reading that post? They are remembering back.

This in turn made me think that humans may originate in another reality, one qualitatively other than this one. And it’s not the utility of memory for Darwinian survival that gives us our sense of time but some other inner sense that we are sovereigns over time, that we are lords of past and future both, but temporarily challenged here.

Specious? Originally the word meant good-looking and beautiful. It came to mean, in the seventeenth century, something seemingly desirable but actually deceptive. Therefore the specious present isn’t really present. Arguably our life here may also be something less than Life writ large. Our current life may be a byway but not, thank God, a cul de sac.

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