AskDefine | Define presentness

Dictionary Definition

presentness n : the quality of being the present; "a study of the pastness of the present and...of the presentness of the past"- R.E.Spiller [syn: nowness] [ant: futurity, pastness]

Extensive Definition

The present is the time that is perceived directly, not as a recollection or a speculation. It is often considered as a hyperplane in space-time, often called now, but it may also be viewed as a duration (see specious present).
When comparing time in places separated by great distances, the notion of present becomes unclear. For example, we visually perceive stars to be where they were when the light now reaching our eyes was emitted, because even though light travels at approximately 3 x 108 m/s it takes many years to reach us from distant sources.
When used in the term "Before Present" (BP), as used in expressing ages or dates determined by radiocarbon dating, "Present" is defined as AD 1950.
Modern physics has not yet been able to explain what we normally understand by 'now'. Furthermore, there is no demonstrable reason why time should move in any one particular direction. This has led to the conclusion that the idea of a present is illusory and does not reflect the true nature of reality. The notion of "now" may be better understood as an unrealistic concept that has evolved in humans and animals to give us an understanding of reality useful only to the extent necessary for survival.

The present according to Special Relativity

It follows from Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity that there is no such thing as absolute simultaneity. Therefore, if we define "present" to be the collection of events that are simultaneous with a given event, then "present" takes different meanings for different observers. Instead, with "present" defined as the events perceived directly, not as a recollection or a speculation, for a given observer "present" takes the form of the observer's past light cone. The light cone of a given event is objectively defined as the collection of events in causal relationship to that event, but each event has a different associated light cone. One has to conclude that in relativistic models of physics there is no place for "the present" as an absolute element of reality. Einstein phrased this as: "People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion".

A philosophical problem

"The present" also raises another difficult question: "How is it that all sentient beings experience "now" at the same time?" There is no logical reason why this should be the case and no easy answer to the question. For example, say somebody named John is experiencing a great deal of pain. John's friend Fred takes pity on John because of John's situation. The problem is: is it logical for Fred to feel bad for John at present, when there is no way to prove that both John and Fred experience the same temporal existence? (See also Solipsism and Philosophy of mind.)

The present in Buddhism

Buddhism and many of its associated philosophies emphasize the importance of living in the present moment — being fully aware of what is happening, and not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. This does not mean that they encourage hedonism, but merely that through constantly focusing on one's current position in space and time (rather than future considerations, or past reminiscence) will aid one in relieving suffering. A number of meditative techniques aim to help the practicer live in the present moment.

Christianity and eternity

God is viewed as being outside of time and from the divine perspective past, present and future are actualised in the now of eternity. Saint Thomas Aquinas used the image of a watchman, representing God, standing on a height looking down on a valley where past present and future, represented by the individuals and their actions strung out along its length, are all visible simultaneously to God.

Eternal now

Eckhart Tolle, in his book The Power of Now (1997), argues that only the present moment exists. Tolle argues that time is an illusion, and that the past exists only as a memory stored in the mind, while the future is imagined, a projection of the mind.

Quotes

References

  • Greene, Brian, (2004). The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41288-3
  • Stepath, Katrin, (2006). Gegenwartskonzepte., Würzburg. ISBN 3-8260-3292-6
presentness in Afrikaans: Hede
presentness in Tosk Albanian: Gegenwart
presentness in Czech: Přítomnost
presentness in Danish: Nutiden
presentness in German: Gegenwart
presentness in Estonian: Olevik
presentness in Spanish: Presente (tiempo)
presentness in Basque: Orain
presentness in French: Aujourd'hui
presentness in Korean: 현재
presentness in Italian: Oggi
presentness in Hebrew: הווה
presentness in Dutch: Heden
presentness in Japanese: 現在
presentness in Norwegian: I dag
presentness in Portuguese: Hoje (dia)
presentness in Quechua: Kunan pacha
presentness in Russian: Настоящее
presentness in Slovak: Prítomnosť
presentness in Slovenian: Sedanjost
presentness in Finnish: Nykyhetki
presentness in Swedish: Nutid
presentness in Yiddish: היינט
presentness in Contenese: 今日
presentness in Chinese: 今天
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