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Swedish researcher defines 'now'

Rebecca Martin · 24 Nov 2011, 11:59

Published: 24 Nov 2011 11:59 GMT+01:00

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”Imagine that you are listening to a song with the notes 'do re mi' at the beginning, if it continues for another minute, you can't hear all of the music at the same time. It is only a short sequence that you can hear in one go. Every such experience is always two seconds long,” researcher Jan Almäng told The Local.

And that moment; that experience, is defined as a ”now”, according to Almäng.

It is impossible to actually measure the moment "now", while in a physical sense, ”now” has no duration, but there is another type of ”now”; the so called ”lived” or ”experienced now”.

And that is generally said to last for two seconds. While this is not Almäng's invention, he has done extensive research into how the moment is built up.

"Even within the sequence 'do re mi', there is a perception of time. When I hear 'mi', it is as the present, with 're' as the past and 'do' as even further away," he told The Local.

In order to further demonstrate the ”experienced now” Almäng retells a story of an accident a few years back, when he collided with an elk on the motorway, an incident which he remembers as a series of related moments.

First the driver called out, then he saw the animal on the road, then he heard the bump as they crashed, and lastly he saw two or three other animals pass by behind the vehicle. This series is a collection of remembered moments, of experienced nows.

”When I replay this to myself it may take ten to fifteen seconds, but in every given moment of the memory I only experience one to two seconds of the whole,” Almäng said in a statement.

It is the same when we recall an incident from our past.

"When we reactivate a memory, we reactivate a previous perception. Memories are characterized by us putting ourselves back into a previous 'now'," Almäng explained.

Story continues below…

And according to researchers of the human brain, the same brain cells are activated when we experience something first hand as when we replay the memories in our heads, just like a simulation. All these simulations are built up by several ”now” relived.

But although there is a two-second limit to an experienced ”now”, Almäng thinks that there are no limits to how long it is possible for a person to live for the moment, to live in the ”now”.

”All through one's life, I'd say. We are always living in the 'now'. But at the same time, we always have a past and a present to relate to,” he told newspaper Metro.

Rebecca Martin (rebecca.martin@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

12:55 November 24, 2011 by Already in use
And the neuroscientists say it's 80 microseconds. Who do you think makes more sense?
13:45 November 24, 2011 by star10
What is philosophy anyways? Long ago, philosophy was about everything. But now, we have deeper understanding of different things that specialized scientists are needed to answer different questions. I don't know what place philosophy takes in today's world.
14:59 November 24, 2011 by zircon
Interesting. In slowmotion that would be 6 seconds.
15:26 November 24, 2011 by John.Smith
If e=mc(2)..... (i.e. time is relative), then this must prove that a definitive 'now' does not in fact exist as 'now' is a moment in time that is dependent on space. So in other words 'now' 2 trillion light years away is not 'now' here on Earth.

The muppet should have figured this out and saved some valuable space on TL for more interesting articles about boobs and stuff....
17:13 November 24, 2011 by SimonDMontfort
...the article seems a tad imprecise to me. After all, time is usually measured by clocks (whether on a mobile phone, or a clock on the wall at home) and clocks are affected by motion.

If I set my mobile phone clock to the same time as this clock on the wall at home - and then took a journey on a fast space ship, by the time I returned there would be a difference of a minute because of 'time dilation', as a result of special relativity.

Pretty obvious stuff really
22:18 November 24, 2011 by RobinHood
Mrs RobinHood defines now as ten seconds ago. So when she tells me to do something "now", I,m already ten seconds late in getting it done.
01:36 November 25, 2011 by BritVik
Is that a reason for the current long-winded expression 'at this moment in time' instead of the original now?

I wonder how long it has taken this man to come up with this load of old cobblers. These learned scholars seem to spend their time, a lot of deep thought and the taxpayers' money, on a wad of useless information.

How long, at this moment in time, is a piece of string? Now THAT would take some answering - and a lot of deep thought.

Anyway, time is of the essence, and you will have Mrs. Robin Hood coming down on you like a ton of bricks ! !
06:29 November 25, 2011 by Douglas Garner
The discussion of NOW is probably timely (ha) for a couple of reasons...

As we age, our perception of time changes. I remember summer vacations that seemed so long that we could hardly wait for school to start again... yet today they are over in a blink. (although part of that could be the short Swedish summers) Time truly does fly. My older children stayed young for quite a while, while my youngest seems to grow up before my eyes...

The other is the speed with which technology has changed life. No longer does life remain similar from generation to generation. Now it changes with each new Iphone version!
08:07 November 25, 2011 by karex
I think that studying time - the relativity of it, atempt to understand physical time and perceived time can be a very useful tool in understanding how to deal with dementia, selective memory such as fragmented memory displayed by people suffering from Alzheimer's, for instance. All of this can be helpful to understand and perhaps improve the conditions of people who suffer from these ailments. Who knows, it may even eventually lead to medications which can help extend the productivity of these people. The first step to solving any problem is first understanding what you're up against, the mechanisms that set it in motion and how it works.
09:44 November 25, 2011 by John.Smith
@Robin Hood

Your missus gives you 10 seconds?? I get two weeks ago.
15:49 November 25, 2011 by Ron Pavellas
There is no objective "now" which is a human construct. Therefore "now" is in the mind (whatever and wherever that is) of the beholder.
19:25 November 25, 2011 by tadchem
Almäng may have defined the word "now" to his own satisfaction, but that in no way obliges the rest of us to adopt his definition. What *really* counts is the use(s) of the word that are understood and accepted by the majority.

Communication requires a 'sender' and a 'receiver', so no one person's definition can ever be adequate.

Language is always perfectly democratic. The dissenting minority is wrong.

American President Abraham Lincoln used to describe the case of the boy who, when asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, replied, " Five," to which the prompt response was made that calling the tail a leg would not make it a leg.
20:01 March 2, 2012 by Felse
Please, just don't ever believe a summary of someone's opinions in the media.

Jan Almäng actually holds that the "now" has no extension at all. His research is nothing to do to and doesn't make any claims to do with the length even of the so called specious present.

Here's the abstract of his paper "Two Kinds of Time-Consciousness and Three Kinds of Contents":

«This paper explores the distinction between perceiving an object as extended in time, and experiencing a sequence of perceptions. I argue that this distinction cannot be adequately described by any present theory of time-consciousness and that in order to solve the puzzle, we need to consider perceptual content as having three distinct constituents: Explicit content, which has a particular phenomenal character, modal content, or the kind of content that is contributed by the psychological mode, and implicit content, which lacks phenomenal character. These notions are then further clarified and related to each other.»
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