in-depth phil. of sci.
Article: December 20th, 2016
The Psychology Behind Awareness and Temporal Perception
The mind's experience of time differs in that subconsciously it can merely recollect or imagine static moments whereas consciously it can conceive the flow of time. To a large extent conditioning plays a role in conscious deliberation -- free will -- but our awareness of the present moment "now" is far more complex.
Chronosthesia, the study of mental reconstruction of past or future events, considers the reactive features of the brain during episodes of recall and the accuracy of a subject's declaration. Here, the question is not "why" or "if" but "How". What cognitive mechanisms are at work and, following, how then does our mind react to such stimuli?
How do we experience time? Time is an intangible, illusory beast full of misconceptions and oxymorons. It is camped between the past and the future, an invisible force, seemingly in motion and controlled by us... So that's where we begin.
Conditioned Free Will in Decision Making
To suggest you chose to do this rather than that, and therefore altered the outcome, implies that there was a future that now is different.
If, rather than doing this thing, we make a choice and decided upon a different course of action, we assume this will change our future outcome. In experiencing time, do we have this ability to freely control our destiny? What does making a choice really entail?
An evolving world does not need there to be intelligent life on board to question its validity. Apparently, progress can happen without us. So, why do we make a difference? Do we? Might we not be just as inanimate as a rock or as mindless as a mushroom?
'Free will' suggests intelligence, control, ambition. Having no ability to freely choose one's fate, puts us squarely in the bracket with invertebrate plasmids and jelly beans. Clearly, we would want to be classed above amoebas, and we have long fought to establish this fact by claiming our intelligence as an example. We have gone so far as saying that we have the insight to consider time and see both into the past and, even, somehow influence the future. This sets us apart from the likes of mushrooms and millipedes, we proclaim.
Is that so? Do we really have such magnificent attributes?
Things have to happen. Time flows on regardless of us. How many times have you been in a situation where a decision was required but you did not have the time to come up with one? So, you simply said: "To hell with it". Nevertheless, something did happen.
Excerpt from Time's Paradigm (Destiny):
"It must be said that very little, if anything, happens because one person decided as much. We are influenced by so very much in our lives that it almost appears as if we are completely entwined in every aspect of the World around us. We cannot make the simplest choice about our future without one hundred or so things pulling and tugging at our thoughts; things that we did not even know where truly influential, minor fluctuations; things perhaps hundreds of miles or many days away from our present location. Look no further than Chaos Theory."
We feel as if we live in a world of multiple choices. We have a vast range of decisions to make on a minute by minute bases. Our life is constantly bombarded by seemingly mountains of queries all at once. So, how do we process this information and how do we deal with such enormous challenges so that we can arrive at just one decision?
The answer is, we compartmentalise. But, is it free will or by obligation? Do we decide to do this, or are we conditioned to do so by habitual success? In many ways, evolution. If conditioning, then perhaps we are not as superior as we thought we were.
Four options confront us. But, rather than swirl all these choices around in our head simultaneously, we divide, then divide again as necessary, by default. We end up with a choice between the two most likely. Between A and B, for example, if we are unhappy with the performance we have been asked to asses; B and C, if the performance was average; C and D if we were happy with the performance.
This process of cutting up and parcelling the multiple options into small 'yes or no' answers, speeds up the decision making nightmare and boils everything down into a simple case; mathematically speaking, a binary function.
Once we have compartmentalised, the decision we are left with is between two similar options. Here, our personalities take over. If we have gone for the A-B compartment, is it 'really bad' or just 'not very good'? Should I be brutal, or should I consider that people make mistakes so it wasn't all that bad?
However, our personalities are made for us, we evolved into who we are, we are as it were, programmed; so, it could be said that we do not make decisions, we just follow orders. From earliest childhood we are, to a large extent, given our parents personalities. Children like to mimic their elders, learn their quirks and antics, becoming mini versions of their parents. Moreover, each child also has their own set of character traits from birth that make them individual. They develop as they grow, absorbing their surroundings, and at maturity there is little evidence to suggest the personality of an individual was created by themselves. Even a decision to better oneself is due to previous personality strengths, because not all of us have the will power to change.
Most of us make so called decisions every minute or so, with little effort and minimal delay. Many decisions require only to repeat an earlier decision, life becoming a chain of near identical choices with which we are familiar and perfectly comfortable. It worked before so it will work again.
Decisions could be considered habits. Repetitive behaviour is key to our success as a race, as it is for other creatures. We will habitually choose an apple over an orange, but just occasionally, we will take the orange because we happen to have a craving, that afternoon, for the sharper tang of citrus and that is what we always choose under those circumstances. Was any of that free will? Imagine a creature that acted unpredictably in any given situation and chose a course without regard for themselves or past familiarities. What kind of personality would simply toss a coin?
Every now and then you hear someone say they threw caution to the wind, and decided to go zip-lining, for example, because their boyfriend convinced them to have fun and try it - even though they are a bit afraid of heights. This scenario has just adequately displayed for us their personality: She is cautious and caring, but likes to take the odd adventure, and is swayed by trust; she is also affectionate and honest.
Free will it could be. We are all free to toss a coin. But we don't. And if occasionally we do, that is the kind of person we are. It feels like freedom of choice. But it isn't, really.
Do we actually make such decisions and, therefore, create an outcome that might otherwise not have occurred? It appears not! When we want to do something, the decision has been instilled, we just act it out; we don't create options we just make them up.
We commonly say, "I decided to this, instead of that." Or, "I went this way rather than that." These statements are misleading. It is not possible to say the outcome of something that did not occur, so the thought that we might have altered our future by our actions is flawed. And secondly, there are not just two options to any given scenario, there are millions.
If we are that predictable, then our future is also. This predictability stems from the past, our conditioning. There are no real choices being made, it just feels that way. By associating a choice with a particular event, we create the necessity, when actually we didn't need to imagine we were making a decision at all.
Once again, we appear to be misguided in our belief that we actually control our future and the course of time.
We all dissociate on a regular bases. We can be doing a regular task, like driving a car, and suddenly we are aware that we have been 'day dreaming' for the last few minutes and have no idea how we could have been driving without actually being aware. Likewise, we can move about in a known environment without any decision making at all, while we are thinking about what we are going to have for supper or while tussling with our mind over an algebraic calculation.
After a night of heavy drinking we wake up the following morning without remembering much of the night before. We were intoxicated, yet capable of function. Our conscious mind was not paying attention, not gathering information, and we lack memories. Nevertheless, we danced, we sang and we passed the time.
The second you start thinking about your present situation, is the second 'time' becomes a factor. When we ask a millipede which leg he is going to move next, he trips up. If we do not bother with choices and decisions we merrily meander onward to our destiny. This dream-like state is a timeless passage devoid of cognitive reasoning: an anemonoid existence.
Sensory Deprivation Reveals A Closet Mind
We make-believe our future. Our minds experience time in the past and respond to current sensory inputs by conditioning alone.
If we were deprived of our senses, being then somewhat like an anemone, we would have no awareness of time. A giant clam has light sensitive membranes around its exposed mantle. When a shadow passes over it triggers a response: The shell clamps shut! A reaction to an event but no evidence that the clam is aware of the passage of time. Receiving information like sights and sounds gives our brains the opportunity to rationalise, to relate and to merit information. That is their purpose, that is what they want to do, are programmed to do.
The greater our capacity to reason, the more it becomes necessary to do so. We find choices appealing, rewards fundamental to our well being, and we develop an enormous database of memory into which we can crawl. We need sleep, an anemone does not. Being awake, consciously aware, takes effort. It is much easier to dream.
A dream state is without fluid time: Any sense of time is staggered, skips chunks, or repeats itself. When we wake up we can remember bits of a dream and vaguely recall some sense of movement, but if you really try hard to re-play it like a video it doesn't happen. In dreams, the subconscious mind is trying to put together material gathered by the conscious mind, but unlike the conscious mind it is only borrowing thoughts from the archive, it does not need to interpret time. In fact, it cannot.
Excerpt from Time's Paradigm (Time):
"Information we receive classifies the present moment in our minds, regardless of its origin. Sensory deprivation would render us completely unaware of time's flow. If we could not smell, hear, move, feel or see, we would have no sense of now. We would be in a coma. We would be a living entity with no conscious consideration, not unlike the vast majority of creatures inhabiting this planet. We might still have our memory, our subconscious active, our inner voice the only cognitive operating process with the ability to flow through time.
Consciousness creates the present moment; it is a useful tool for life-forms that utilise movement. Many sensory deprivation experiments have found that our sense of now becomes dramatically distorted, even with just one or two inputs denied."
Sleep is a form of sensory deprivation. A dreaming mind has no use for time; though you might wake up and consider the dream you were in, it is difficult to be sure you or anyone else in that dream were actually going anywhere, said anything that you can play-back, that time was actually flowing. Test subjects on awaking during scientific experiments have sworn they were dreaming for up to an hour, whereas the monitors could see that the dreams were just a few seconds long.
Time does not flow in our closeted minds, only with a stream of external input can we visualize fluid progress.
The sub-conscious is also without time; Dr. Carl Jung with his theory of Synchronicity was a proponent of such thinking. Individually extrapolated points in linear models of progression render flow impossible, due to the manifestation of decremental infinities. That's all our memories are: points of reference, still frames, which is why a daydream does not flow. Added to which, the Uncertainty Principle is an adequate quantum analogy. If we don't know where we are we can move.
The subconscious mind experiences no time because it fixates on points within a bank of memories for the purposes of either episodic foresight or hindsight - rather like a calendar. Time thus stagnates due to the lack of incremental infinities in a closed system. Consciously, on the other hand, it is sensory input that presents us with a stream of pointless events and we become aware of progress in the present moment.
But just how does it do that?
Creative Reasoning Due To Infinite Horizons
The mind does not experience time in either the past or future tense, only the present, meaning technically 'now' is all that time must be. In order to fully grasp the enormity of this phenomenon we call "the present moment" we must head for the desert - quite literally.
The Kalahari Effect is the key to unlocking this mysterious present moment and our awareness of time.
Excerpt from Time's Paradigm (Infinity):
"As we wander across the Kalahari Desert, we see only the horizon in front of us. We look around and back and we are presented with the same vision. In our 360 degree panorama nothing exists, not a tree, not even a blade of grass. We stand in the middle of this flat and bleached landscape and decide, rationally, that we are a certain size; in fact, we make an assumption that we are somewhere in the middle of time and space: Some things are bigger than us and some are smaller; some things are in front of us and some behind; some things have happened and some things are going to happen.
Realistically, we cannot relate our position or size to anything out there in the Kalahari because there is no beginning nor end in sight, so we can only use infinity to affirm that we are somewhere in the middle... of everything. As above, we have discovered pointlessness. Somewhat similarly, we once believed that we and the Earth were the centre of the Universe."
So where exactly in the grand scheme of things are we..? Infinity on both ends comforts us, it means we are in the middle. But is this not just an illusion? The Kalahari Effect is all around us. We stand in the middle of our perceived whereabouts; even if we walk a few miles this way or that, we are still in the middle because reality's horizon seems to stretch out before us in all directions into infinity. Nothing has changed.
It is this ambiguity of 'not knowing' that allows us to pass effortlessly through our perceived existence, moving us consciously in both time and space, through a Block Universe where all of time already exists. Only if we really don't know where we truly are or anything about our relative nature, are we capable of movement. We take a step forwards and in reality nothing has changed, but we feel it has.
If we knew how far away from our horizons we were, a fixed determination would set in. Ironically, we are aware because we don't know where we are.
Being unable to determine the extent or finality of existence in any direction gives our consciousness the unfettered ability to experience movement within it. It denies us the possibility of identifying our spacial or temporal location relative to it, if we have nowhere to measure from or to. We may know where we are locally, and be able to pin point our position, say, between one tree and another, but that is all. We can pass these trees and move on beyond them to a river, but we are no nearer the edge of existence having moved, nor are we further away.
Relative movement between frames of reference is a key theme in Special Relativity; if there is no stationary reference point in the Universe, then we can never knowingly be at rest, we are all in constant motion. Likewise, a finite edge of existence, a wall beyond which nothing exists, would provide a relative point of reference to determine a finite, stationary point within. It appears the Universe does not provide fixed points of any sort, otherwise we would all grind to a halt - and our perception of time along with it.
The Relevance of Time.
Our experience of time seems to be dual: Either we recall it, in which case it is merely a passive event in our subconscious, or we can actively participate in the illusion of progress. Conditioned reflexes fulfill our need for relevance... As Time's Paradigm (Destiny) puts it: Evolution's Carrot
Most creatures on this planet are invertebrates. The few more evolved species like ourselves have a real sense of survival because we are aware. Being conscious is a means to analyse motion, protect ourselves and gather information.
If we had evolved as an anemone we would have little need for evaluating and compartmentalising defensive mechanisms, which trigger as a simple reflex. Like pollen, they scatter millions upon millions of rudimentary eggs into the ocean currents. This requires very little energy as their offspring are not complex organisms. The eggs become larvae in the plankton cloud, their success based on quantity rather than quality, with a probability that at least a tiny percentage will survive and attach themselves to the reef. Those, like us, that only produce a few multi-functional offspring must protect them, and they in turn must later protect themselves.
A species with out much autonomous mobility, that relies on ocean currents to both disperse and feed, has little need for reasoning. However, with mobility comes a need to contemplate time, because it takes time to get from A to B. Many invertebrates have mobility. Insects and crustaceans are among the most mobile. Their 'Central Complex' is very similar to our brains' 'Basal Ganglia', suggesting that such evolved invertebrates can also make use of time. For the anemone this experience of time would be akin to a whole new dimension. In contemplating time, one can thus contemplate distance, and vice-versa.
Having such awareness gives flourish and garnish to our existence. Because we can visualise time, we can use it, we can remember stuff. We are not always in the same place, whereas an anemone is most often stationary. Mobility gives us a need to gather information; the conscious self being not a decision maker, merely a tool.
We, as do anemones, have simple reflexes to fall back on to protect ourselves from danger. An anemone withdraws when a predator swims by, not however due to any thought process. We withdraw our hand from the fire, seemingly without thinking. It's all down to our primitive spinal cords, which all animals, however basic, possess in one form or another. We, on the other hand, have grown an enormous tumour on the end of ours, called a brain.
It's that ugly lump of neurons that has created a more elaborate way of protecting itself. The development of a brain was an evolutionary branch from the rest of the teaming population of immobile invertebrates and far more elaborate than the mobile ones. But it came with a price: less offspring, longer adolescence, conscious deliberation. So, it needed more than just simple reflexes to survive in a world of time and distance: it created conditioned reflexes.
When the bell rings, we salivate (or pick up the phone). When we approach the curb, we look left and right. Life is complicated when you are constantly on the move. We cannot survive and progress in that dream-like subconscious state without the conscious gatherer to collect information. Once we have memories, our brains do the rest.
We have evolved through the millennia as much as we have evolved in our own life times. This enormous tapestry we are, may seem as impossibly intricate as a Persian rug, but it too has designs following paths and patterns, repetitions and similarities. Life is about repeating patterns, habits. Everything is alive, everything grows, everything progresses, even mountains and moons, and this flow towards the future has to be reasonably well rehearsed - it can't be just a haphazard stumbling progression with random disregard - or things in the future would no longer fit together.
So, when we make a choice, it is really just a compartmentalised series of avenues with only one outcome. We call it two and become aware, but, truth is, we are programmed to follow just one course. No choice...
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