How long is the ‘now’ moment we live in?

How long is ‘now’ – you know, the evanescent moment we live in and usually let past without properly experiencing it.

Wright_AuthorPhoto2014_LoNow, like time itself, is largely seen as a philosophical issue; a personal perception that stretches or shrinks depending on what we are doing. For a kid, an hour spent in a classroom listening to the teacher drone on about stuff the kid neither knows nor care about is an eternity; yet an hour hurtling about with friends at play disappears in a flash. Adults have a different perception of time again; that same elasticity flowing from interest and enthusiasm, but metered often by a sense of purpose. Yes the job’s boring, but it has to be done.

Beyond that is the concept of the ‘moment’ itself. What is ‘now’? In Buddhist philosophy it means being mindful – fully and properly aware of one’s immediate self, immediate place, and immediate environment. It means having awareness of the fullness of the moment, even in its transience, even as we think about past or future.

But what ‘is’ a ‘moment’, scientifically? The reported research indicated that a ‘moment’, to most people, is two or three seconds. Then that perception of ‘now’ vanishes and is replaced by a new one.

If we match that to attention spans we find that the typical time spent on any one item on the internet is literally only a couple of ‘moments’. And then when we realise how shallow the internet must be.

It also underscores just how important and valuable mindfulness actually is. Because a couple of blinks, literally, and the ‘now’ moment is gone.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

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12 thoughts on “How long is the ‘now’ moment we live in?

  1. I always thought it was sort of like the “epsilon neighborhood” concept in continuity of a function. “Now” can be a moment infinitesimally small, but maybe, from a different perspective, infinitely large. Sort of depends on your focus. I guess if you can only focus on a few seconds at a time, well, that’s “now.” But when you read a story and hold the facts in your present awareness, isn’t that “now” as well? One you can enter, re-enter, and even expand at will?

    1. Yes – the research I reported was, characteristically, a single experiment. I think there’s a lot of personal perception and it does indeed flex, particularly when we flow into a concentrated ‘moment’ that might include being engulfed in a good book. To a large part, I don’t doubt, this sense of flexible self-perception with time is responsible for the popular concept of time being an ‘illusion’.

  2. This thing about time going by, so fast, and so little lived to the max… cause until we grow old we won’t realize life was for living it, for being less lazy and less sad! 😦

  3. I have found taking the time to be mindful of the moment really helpful. It doesn’t necessarily mean time passes more slowly, but it does help the experience be more prominent in my memory.

  4. Or, perhaps there is no “now” and the creation of moments is an illusion that removes us from the flowing present. I’m looking at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – for each, the premise is to distill our live experience into concrete moments that can be seen as “whole”.

    Great post, once again – very provoking!

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