# A paper on the "now"

The â€œnowâ€, in laymanâ€™s terms, is viewed as a small, yet measurable, segment of time in which a perceptible event occurs. Our class discussions have yielded that the true definition of the â€œnowâ€ is an immeasurable point on a chronological line used merely as a reference to some other point. The measurable discourse between the two points is what we perceive as â€œtime.â€ With this in mind, it is quite simple to deduce that the â€œnowâ€ behaves similarly to a point on a line in mathematics: it is only existent in theory, and is merely a measuring device in which relative reference points are found (much like infinity, place, and other measuring tools we have discussed), in order to make comparisons and observations in the world we perceive.

`````` Human beings with an adequate understanding of mathematics, infinity, and place would naturally deduce that a â€œnowâ€ in time behaves similarly to a point on a line. I have found that attempting to think more deeply than that on â€œnowâ€ yields only confusion. I simply accept that some faculty in my mind is capable of piecing together the events that occur between arbitrary â€œtime pointsâ€ to allow my brain to perceive time as I know it.

What really fascinates me is the realm of discussion the class has held on these â€œpoints.â€ What gift does our mind possess that allows us to simply know that the point itself does not occupy any units of measure? As a child I used to think about infinity, and wondered exactly when numbers got so big that they became â€œinfiniteâ€. I used to wonder how long the â€œnowâ€ lasted. I grappled with these mind-boggling questions with the vocabulary and knowledge of a 12-year-old. Once I acquired an adequate understanding of mathematics and the definition of â€œpointsâ€, the nature of infinity, place, and the â€œnowâ€ must have become more apparent to me. I felt extremely satisfied reading about these â€œpointsâ€, and how it is impossible to actually perceive them. I thought, â€œWow, someone else thinks that way about time and place, and worded it way better than I ever could have.â€

If all humans are able to grasp these concepts about points (and how they do not actually possess a given unit of measure), then it strongly indicates that man has evolved with the capability to study all things in the universe. How else could all people agree on something which exists yet still has no perceptible measure? One could explain the nature of â€œpointsâ€ to any person (assuming they have a decent vocabulary), and they would simply have to accept that the points do not actually take up any space. It is an absolute, a faculty that man comes equipped with from his inception.

It is difficult to continue from this point. This is a concept where asking â€œwhyâ€ is silly. As much as I hate to say â€œThatâ€™s just the way things are,â€ there is no other explanation.
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[At this point I was to answer some questions]

`````` The â€œnow being indivisibleâ€â€¦.quite easy to explain. This is simply a matter of accepting the â€œnowâ€ as the chronological equivalent of a point on a line in mathematics. Can you divide something that technically occupies no measurable space? No.

The now being â€œin any and every stretch of timeâ€: Again, making the connection between the â€œnowâ€ and the point on the line, one must ask, â€œIs it possible for a point to exist anywhere on this line?â€ The answer is obviously yes. One can place an arbitrary point anywhere on a number line for the purpose of referencing. Thus, any point on a timeline can be similarly represented as a â€œnowâ€. I suppose that trouble arises when this term clashes with the layman view of â€œnowâ€, but that will be addressed later.

The only confusions that may arise from this would come from one trying to â€œgraspâ€ the now, and not realizing that the â€œnowâ€ is simply a reference to something that cannot be measured by the human mind. Acceptance that â€œliving in the nowâ€ is not technically possible is a healthy way to offset any confusion. In simpler terms, becoming confused over the â€œnowâ€ is usually a result of being unaware of the â€œnowâ€™sâ€ similarity to a mathematical point.

The â€œthenâ€ is actually divisible. It is merely a reference to an event that has occurred between two immeasurable â€œnowsâ€ that occurred long enough ago to be perceived as a past occurrence. A â€œnowâ€ in a layman sense is an event that is on the forefront of the mind, having probably occurred within the last fraction of a second. Most people do not think of â€œthe nowâ€ in the way it has been discussed for our intentions, and thus the confusion with â€œthenâ€ arises. The sort of â€œnowâ€ they are thinking of is actually a â€œthen.â€

The â€œthenâ€ is not in every stretch of time, however. The term â€œthenâ€ is the admittance of the existence of an event that occurred between two past â€œnowsâ€, and has been stored in our memories. The events between â€œnowsâ€ of the future have not yet been placed behind us, and cannot be referred to as â€œthensâ€.

The distinction between nows and thens is quite simple to deduce from the previous questions. If a â€œnowâ€ is an immeasurable point, and a â€œthenâ€ is a past event that occurred between two previous â€œnowsâ€, then it is easy to see that all time is made up of â€œthensâ€ and â€œwill beâ€™sâ€. The â€œthensâ€ and â€œwill beâ€™sâ€ are events that occur between specified points. Calling these points â€œnowsâ€ is somewhat of a misnomer considering there actually is no perceptible â€œnow.â€ I like to call them â€œchronological points.â€

With all this in mind, I simply accept that the term â€œnowâ€ is used by the vast majority of humanity as a name for events that have occurred within relatively recent time units. When viewing it as a mathematical point, I accept that it does not exist as anything more than a device of reference, discovered by human minds in the quest for understanding.
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Edit: I apologize for not initially citing my source. Much of what I have learned to write this paper comes from Aristotle’s Physics. I believe the section on the “now” is in book six of Physics.

The â€œdevice of referenceâ€ would be, I think, a perfect description for the laymanâ€™s meaning of the â€œnowâ€. Although, philosophically speaking, and speaking of laymanâ€™s experience philosophically, I believe this word has often been misunderstood. Is it a really a measure of time that we refer to when we talk of the â€œnowâ€? Most specifically, when we speak of the notion of perception, is it really the measurable â€œnowâ€ we think of? I would say no, it isnâ€™t quite that. Whatâ€™s implied in the notion of perception is that there are actual sensible, material objects out there the reality of which we perceive within the spatio-temporal world: we perceive the actually existing world through our sense of time and sense of space.

The sense of time here is what we call the â€œnowâ€â€”the undetachable sense of moment that make us aware of the properties of objects persistingâ€”persisting actually in space, and persisting in our memory. By â€˜undetachable sense of momentâ€™ I mean a point of reference that cannot be spoken of meaningfully as something apart from our awareness of the objective world, apart from our perception of things in space.

So, to describe the â€œnowâ€ mathematically, hence making it â€˜perceptibleâ€™, so to speak, is to speak of it as if it were something else entirelyâ€”i.e. making it the notion of â€œtimeâ€â€”detaching it from our perceiving the necessarily spatio-temporal world and giving it a measure, in your caseâ€”it is a â€˜point in lineâ€™. (Parametric equations do this beautifully, in my opinion). What we get when we attempt to do this is, we move away from philosophical speak of ordinary way of perceiving objects and confusing our sense of moment, our sense of â€œnowâ€ with our concept of mathematically describable timeâ€”time itself becoming the â€˜object of perceptionâ€™.

Just a thought.

[contented edited by ILP]

I will begin, as did arendt, in stating that now is indeed a “device of reference.” Further, it is such because of the inescapability of the temporal context of which all things are experienced in. This too, is in keeping, I believe, with Arendt’s “undetectable sense of the moment.” It is defining now as a relative marker of our general inescapable sense of time. A sense that is intimately tied to our persisting sense of the spatio-temporal world.(As Arendt pointed out as well)
However, I have another way of looking at defining the now. We will go back to Ade’s visual definition of now as a point along a theoretical, chronological line: (note: the diagrams came out goofy in preview. The “now” and “then” and “event” words are supposed to be above their respective + signs. I do not know why it clumped all the words together. It makes the diagrams more confusing than effective.)
now
…+…

This is a relative point that can also be related, and thus define, a past occurrence.
then now
…+…+…
Let’s continue to assume that the … line represents a theoretical, chronological line. Now let’s assume that this line represents our temporal context. That is, it is the context in which all events that we experience fall in, and are encoded in memory under. So a more appropriate representation would be:

event event event event event
…+…+…+…+…+…
Now each of these events relate to themselves as well as the temporal context as a whole. What elicits these relationships is the calling of these events from memory. When I construct the sentence, “John is going to the store.” each one of those subject and verbal ideas must be called from memory and their appropriate places in the temporal context. If the ideas (once in construction) of John and the store relates to each other and the other appropriate objects in the temporal context in a particular way, then that will be understood as “a lot”. Thus in the final analysis you will construct the sentence “John goes to the store a lot.” Words like “always, a lot and never” are conceptual indicators of how the ideas in the sentence relate to each other and the temporal context as a whole. In other words, they are markers of the ideas relative inter- and intra- location within the temporal context.
The other half of this is that there is a certain way that these ideas were brought from memory and put together. This action of creating an idea or relation of ideas also falls within the temporal context and so can also be related. If the brain action that puts the ideas (such as I and am and hungry) together relates to the context in a particular way it will be labeled “now” making the final sentence “I am hungry now.” This has been a bit convoluted and so I will go back to the diagrams. Words like "a lot, often, and never” deal with the relationship of events to each other:

event event event
…+…+…+…
^==================================^
as well as the temporal context as a whole

Words like “now, or yesterday” relate specifically to the action of your mind constructing that particular relation of ideas. It is really one step up from those words that just represent the relative positions of the ideas. Words like “now” don’t rely at all on how the specific ideas are encoded along the temporal context, only how they are extrapolated from it. “Now” is a secondary conceptual marker of how you created an idea in your mind. This is what makes it so enigmatic to try to analyze. You cannot try to imagine what about the way that you constructed a particular idea led you to categorize it as “now.” Yes you can relate now to the “sense of now” as arendt did, but I believe more is involved if you speak of something more than “what is the experience of now?” This answers the question arising from “He is really mad now.” “Why is he mad now?” you might ask. I might respond “Because Peter hit him.” “No, no, what makes him mad now, why now?” This is likely to devolve into “He is just mad this instant, now. It’s happening.”
What you should appropriately ask him is “What about the way you construct the idea ‘He is mad’ in your head makes you label it as now.” This of course is unanswerable, but at least it is appropriate.
This whole little diatribe of mine has been based on a significantly more complicated piece of writing I did and so I am fearful that I might not have explained it as well as I have in the past. However, I feel the main point has been made and I just wanted to talk about “now” as marker of idea construction. To my knowledge, this is not an idea that has been forwarded in the whole of philosophy.