The Space of Now

space-of-now-varies-by-perceptual-modeThe other night I was having dinner with my wife and my neighbor, discussing the concept of “living in the now”. Bah! My cold physicist brain immediately dismissed such new age nonsense.  We cannot possibly live in the “now” because all of the sensory input of our surroundings comes from the past, not the present. Information travels at a finite speed, be it via light (300,000 kilometers per second, or roughly 1 foot per nanosecond1), sound (340 meters per second, or about 1 foot per millisecond 1), or someone’s very strong perfume (about 3 millimeters in an hour if it is simply diffusion, but nearly instantaneous if you are on a plane). Looking at my wife, I was seeing her as she appeared 3 nanoseconds in the past; listening to my neighbor, I heard a story she told 3 milliseconds ago; and the full moon bearing down on us was merely a mirage from the distant past – all of 1 second ago. My experience at that dinner table was a hodge-podge of the asynchronous past.

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