I think that when I’m awake, I’m pretty much aware of my physical surroundings, the conversations I’m having with others, the temperature of the room I’m in, etc., in real time. Now. Yet…
Did you know that your brain will respond to the image of a person seconds before you are aware of the person? Sometimes your brain will respond to someone or something and you’ll never become aware of it. How can that be? It appears to me that I am seeing, hearing, and touching all that I am seeing, hearing, and touching right NOW.
I’ve learned, though, that my conscious awareness is not all that omniscient or present. There are huge time gaps between what is happening right now and my awareness of it. Science and my own experience agree with my assessment: conscious awareness of now may be an illusion.
How could conscious awareness of now be an illusion?
Researchers from New York University’s Department of Psychology recently demonstrated that we make judgments about the trustworthiness of a face we see without even consciously being aware that we’ve seen a face. And in those times when we do become consciously aware, awareness comes seconds after the judgment has already been made by the brain.
“Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived.” (Freeman 2014)
Light, which travels at about 300,000 kilometers per second takes a bit of time to bounce off things, contact receptors in your eyes, and be registered by your brain before you become aware of it. It seems to me that it may be impossible to experience conscious awareness of now because you are always only partially conscious of the world as it was.
“Live in the present!” – a New-age admonition that seems to me likely an impossibility given the above. You can ONLY live in the past. There may be no present.
My erroneous belief that what I perceive as now actually is now leads me to wonder what other errors I’ve made. In questioning my beliefs, might I consider letting go of some “sacred” beliefs – such as the one in which my interpretation of my world is more important than accuracy?
Just how correct am I really about my experience of the universe? How might I be incorrect about what I’m thinking now? And now? And now?
- New York University. (2014, August 7). “Our brains judge the trustworthiness of a face – even before we’re aware of seeing it.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from
- Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes, Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, April 13th, 2008. https://www.mpg.de/research/unconscious-decisions-in-the-brain