Would it be possible for you to define terms such as “the present” and “the present condition”? Doesn’t it ever occur to you that wherever you may go, wherever you may be, and no matter when, you feel that you are always at “the present time”? What’s more, doesn’t it ever occur to you that you are consistently experiencing “an always changing present condition”?
The Present Time
A little boy, nibbling a piece of cake, asked his mother, “Mummy, what does ‘the present’ mean?” “The present? Well, it simply means now,. . . this very instant when you are doing what you are doing there,” was the mother’s reply. Though obviously puzzled, the boy said nothing. Five minutes later, however, after having eaten up his cake, the child once again asked his mother the same question, “Mom, can you tell me what ‘the present’ means?” Annoyed by what she thought was just a puerile naivety, the mother instantaneously retorted, “Didn’t I tell you? It means now, this very moment when you are standing there right in front of me.” To this the child innocently responded, “Mom, could I then possibly have the ‘the present’, I had when I was eating the cake?”
At a glance this might seem to be just a commonplace anecdote. But could you possibly come up with a true definition of the phrase “the present”? Is it not true that no matter where you are, the phrase “the present” keeps tailing you? Is it not a fact that regardless of where you are and what you are doing at the instant, you will always say, “‘At present’ I am here doing this and that”?
Let’s now have a more in-depth discussion of this phrase “the present”
According to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the phrase “the present” can be defined as “‘the present time’—at present,” “during this time,” or “NOW.” Such is the definition, “the present” can of course be interpreted as that instant when the condition of both our very selves and our surroundings are as what they are then. In other words, it is that very moment when we are in our “present condition,” both internally and externally.
But is it possible for us to have an exact definition of the phrase “the present condition”? Unfortunately, however, there is no way by which we could establish an accurate definition for the phrase “the present condition.”
Remember, the whole content of the universe is made up the same basic matter, among which are the sub-atomic particles, most of which combine to form atoms. Inside these atoms there are electrons circling their nuclei at a tremendous speed. This means that the change of the position of the electrons when they move on their respective circuits also takes place at an extremely high speed. And what this further means is that all those contents of the universe that we see before us, some seemingly slow-moving while others seemingly static, have in fact within them those tremendously rapid movements of the electrons, not to mention those of the various other sub-atomic particles. Thus, any mention you make of the phrase “the present” simply means “the present” and nothing else! Why? Because the instant you say “pre. . .,” and before you can even finish saying the whole word “present,” the whole content of the universe, including our selves, has undergone tremendous changes. Consider how the sub-atomic particles in our bodies and our surroundings subject themselves to changes by circling their nuclei approximately a hundred million billion times a second. The time an electron takes to rotate around its axis once—meaning, that a change has by then already occurred—is obviously much less than the time we need to say the word “present.” Even if you are to use complicated scientific calculations instead of this simple layman’s analysis, you will still not be able to come up with a really accurate definition of the term. Because no matter what the time span of the present you have in mind is—perhaps close to zero second or perhaps as short as one-millionth of the time an electron takes to circle its nucleus—the change in the atoms must within this period have already taken place. And as this happens to all of the atoms in the universe, we are certainly justified in saying that the whole content of the universe is moving at a tremendously high speed. Obviously, therefore, all of us are at “the present” undergoing a variety of changes at a speed so tremendous that we can’t even feel them. All we can feel about our selves is that we are experiencing “the present time” on and on throughout our lifetime. Could all this possibly be a result of the fact that the basic matter that forms the contents of the universe is “always present” and that all it experiences is but a change of position?
Apparently the first law of thermodynamics—the law on mass and energy conservation, which states that matter never decreases and neither does it ever increase in this universe—is absolutely true. In other words, the contents of the universe exist in eternity, that is to say, it is “always present.”
Indeed, there is a theory of the Second Law of Thermodynamics—the Law of Entropy—that says that the universe is decaying. But then, even if this theory is true, the process must have required an extremely long time that it simply does not have any effect on all the things explained in this article. One more thing: the statement that the universe is decaying itself implies that the universe is in the process of transforming itself from one that is “existent” into one that is “non-existent.” It is quite possible that the term “non-existent” has come into play here only because men have to date not yet been able to discover the why’s and how’s of the disappearance of a particular “existence.” Is it not possible that this “existence” had—at a particular point of time when the characteristics of its “basic matter” had not shown themselves up yet—undergone retransformation, whereby it resumed its original form as the pre-Big-Bang “basic matter” of the universe, and thereby causing men to think of it as “non existent”? This is a rhetoric question worth asking, because the Big Bang, as it is commonly assumed, was an aftermath of the development of the various basic characteristics of the sub-atomic particles. Prior to the Big Bang the universe was but a homogenous unit. The sub-atomic-particles-to-be had then not had any characteristics yet, which consequently has led men to think of them as being “non-existent.”
It is for this reason that we have kept hanging onto to first law of thermodynamics in which it is implied that the whole content of the universe is “always present” in eternity. Of course, what we are talking about here is the basic matter, not its “combinations” that later appear in the form of men, animals, plants and the various other objects—all these combinations are never eternal.
It is therefore natural for man, whose body is made up of the “always-present” basic matter, to feel that he is “always present,” or that he is always in the present condition, or that he is always “at the present time” the whole of his life. Because the contents of the universe keep changing, man, who feels that he is always “at the present time” or “at the present condition,” also undergoes various changes. In other words, man is always in an ever-changing “present condition.” Given all this, it becomes obvious that there is no way by which man can ever come up with a true definition of the word “now” or “the present time,” or “the present condition.”