1. We always experience the past condition of our surroundings.
When we look up at the sky, especially at night, the stars we see in the sky are in their past condition—the lights radiated by these objects need time to reach our eyes. If, for instance, the light of a star takes one year to get to our eyes, then the star that we now see is not what it really is at present, but rather what it was a year ago. The stars that we see at this very moment could be in their condition of one year ago, or ten years ago, or perhaps even millions of years ago. In fact, it is also possible that among these numerous celestial bodies that we see as tangible objects, some may have either utterly changed, or moved elsewhere, or completely diminished.
Similarly, all those things around us need time to get to our eyes and further to our brain. An object a meter away from us needs 1/300,000,000 of a second to get to our eyes. Thus, we can say that this object that we see is in its condition of 1/300,000,000 of a second ago. This holds true not only for those external conditions transmitted by light but also for those transmitted by the air. When, for instance, a gun two miles away from us is fired, it will only be about eight seconds later that we will hear the gunshot—not to mention the time that the impression of the sound takes to reach the brain, which must certainly be also taken into account no matter how short it can be. Obviously, at the time we hear the gunshot, the gun itself has already finished its shooting eight seconds ago. Similar is the case with the feelings captured by the skin, the various compounds tasted by the tongue, or the various molecules that enter our nostrils. All these take time to reach the brain, don’t they? Viewed in the sense of experience as defined above, it could, therefore, be said that we are always belated in our knowledge of the external conditions, though this could be only as short as 1/3,000,000,000 of a second. However, since different people have different body conditions, the rate of this belatedness rightly varies from person to person. Other factors that are also determinative of this rate of belatedness are our locality and the medium being used in the delivery of the external stimuli. As such, whatever our definition of the word “experience” is, we can still say for certain that at present human beings are always experiencing “the past of everything around them.” It is as if we were experiencing/undergoing different periods of time, or a number of pasts in the present, simultaneously. Apparently, compared with the other senses, our eyes are the ones that play a greater role here. This means that what we see around us at present is not the present state of things, which makes it reasonable for us to say that those things around us are but mere illusions. If according to the physicist these are just common natural phenomena, where then does this term “to experience” fit in? Doesn’t one of the definitions above imply that a man is said to be experiencing something when his eyes receive stimuli from some external condition? That external condition is the image of the stars several years ago which we receive only at the present time. Why are we able to see the “past” of the various celestial objects and also of our surroundings? Could it be that the word “past” has all this time been misinterpreted and misused? Certainly it would simply be ridiculous to think that those scientists of today are just incognizant of the whole issue. There probably are other things that have caused them to be in such a dilemmatic position. Anyway, let’s just leave this for a while and carry on to another issue.
1. Man feels that he always exists at “the present.”
It is said that because we are here as a form of “existence,” we ourselves must, therefore, be able to feel our very existence. Is it not a fact that even at this very moment we feel that we exist? This is what we precisely mean when we say that we have “the feeling of existence.” Please note that the “feeling of existence” discussed here is by no means the same as those feelings produced by our senses or emotional feelings. A look at only one simple movement that man normally makes in his daily life could perhaps provide the reader with a clearer picture of the whole idea. Imagine that at this very moment our arms are at rest, hanging down by our sides. Now, the instant we raise our arms, what could possibly be said of them would be that seconds ago they were hanging down by our sides. Why is it that in either situation, arms up or arms down, our feeling of existence seems to tell us that we are consistently at the “present”? You can try this, if you like, and then take some time to ponder! Perhaps, because the time span between arms down and arms up is extremely short you may come to think that there’s nothing unusual about it and can readily accept such an explanation. The same thing holds true even for movements that require a longer time span, perhaps an hour or a day, or a year: You will always feel that your existence is consistently at the “present.”
It is only because we are constantly experiencing different conditions, and due to the fact that our external and internal conditions keep changing, that we feel as if our existence is being subject to the alternate periods of “time.” We are being carried by the rotation of the earth, now facing the sun so that we have day, then turning away from the sun so that we have night, yet still feeling that “we are always at the present.” Since our childhood we have always felt that we “consistently exist” at the “present.” Even with the entry of external substances into our bodies which turns us into adults, we keep feeling that we consistently exist at the present (relate this to the feeling of existence elaborated below). To say that childhood is a condition of “the past” would, therefore, seem to be contradictory to the existing “feeling of existence.”
It is an irony though that while on the one hand we are “always belated in our knowledge of the actual condition of our surroundings,” on the other hand we feel or realize that we “consistently exist at the present.” It sounds as if we are now being faced with a bigger question mark on the use of the word “past.” This, of course, is an issue that is inseparable from the “assumptions” man has of his surroundings and also of his self.