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The Varieties Of Temporal Experience

By Allan Eastman

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Time On My Mind

Old home film projector, running and projecting blank movie on a screen with visible beam of light.

Our Mind views the present like the individual still frames that make up a strip of motion picture film.

©iStockphoto.com/Darko Novakovic

Time is something we seem to perceive – it feels real to us. Our five human senses interprets the electrical emissions reaching them and sends signals to the brain where they are interpreted as certain kinds of things – the color Red, the odor of Asparagus, the sheen of silk, the rustle of wind, the sting of a chili pepper. It matters not that our human senses are limited to particular narrow spectrums and that they are far less acute in some areas than in other animals inhabiting this Earth. The conception of reality that they create may be totally inaccurate on any kind of universal objective scale but it is “our” reality so for these purposes at least, we must accept it as being real.

Key to this sense of reality is our personal definition of the present. Modern research indicates that we receive our sensory inputs over a short but measurable period of Time – some 1/100’s of a second – and that information is exchanged through the brain’s neurons within a similar kind of duration. But essentially what we are receiving is a series of static impressions, not unlike the individual still frames that make up a strip of motion picture film. And our brain does something quite like a film projector which must run at at least 16 frames a second to deceive our eye into interpreting the still images as moving. Our brain blends together the incoming impressions with a little over 2 seconds of stored memory to give them duration and to put everything into motion. It is the change of events over this brief interval which roots us in time and space and allows us to hear that tremendous piano chord at the end of A Day in the Life or appreciate the beauty of a curling wave coming on shore.

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The driver of our sense of Time seems to be the human ego – that conscious central manager of our mind that interprets our inputs, that makes our decisions and plans and that gives us the self definition of who we think we are as individuals. And as it is processing everything else, it is also managing our sense of Time. On the Objective scale, it reads the clock and places us within the temporal framework that civilization has agreed upon. On the Subjective side however, the linear durational Time we perceive is much more subject to the idiosyncrasies of the human mind itself.

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