The Psychology and Physiology of The Instant


I’m reading Susan Sontag’s journals, and I couldn’t help but use this quote as our discussion topic tonight. Join us at the Thinktank! 7pmSLT

Psychology and Physiology of ‘the instant’

Everything can change in an instant – the universe may have been created in less than an instant. Time influences everything. Without time, there would be no change. There would be no progress, no aging, no understanding. But, some would argue that there is no time without the observation of the mind and space.
As individuals, we experience time subjectively. Everyone calculates time differently.
I had a friend once who said “time is throwable,” and another who says, “time is squishy.” What do they mean by that? Can you physically pick up time and throw or squish it? No, of course not. Time is not apprehended by any senses. We notice time because of change. Change of our thoughts, our environment, etc. Music is all based on time. But, time is malleable. If you’re really excited for something, time will tick slower than you’ve ever felt it go before. We can remember things that have happened in the past, and some of us claim to “see” things that will happen in the future. A lot of our personality is based on our experiences, which would not be possible without time.
This brings us to the different experiences of time within ourselves. Our right hemisphere sees only “this instant.” It deals only with feelings, senses, emotions. It is the experiential focal point of the brain. On the other side, the left hemisphere, we can remember our past and think of the future. The left side is all about information and storage. We can see here how information comes in the right brain through our immediate experiences and gets translated into the left brain as a narrative – a story of our lives and experiences. The right brain is unbiased, whereas the left brain holds judgements, assumptions and expectations based on our past experiences. So, we can see that time has a large effect on who we are right now. This affect of the left brain is called a “time paradox”, as it influences every decision you make, but that you are totally unaware of. The left brain turns time into fiction.
How does all this relate to our understanding of the instant? The right brain lives in the instant. The right brain is what we try to tap into during meditation. It is what allows us to have completely innocent, unbiased experiences. I want you all to think of a very important part of your lives – something that has happened that was a kind of turning point. What if you could take a snapshot of a single instant in that experience? What would you find there? Would you understand what was going on? What emotions would you feel? Would you be able to understand the event better? Or would it be exactly the opposite, where it would make no sense and have absolutely no relevance to the outcome of the event? If you could go back and change something in that particular instant, what would you change?
Why is this experience of the right brain important – why do meditators try to reach it? To our minds time is linear, and every instant influences the next. If we could directly perceive time, what would the world look like? What would it smell like? Feel like? Taste like?
But, we all know that time isn’t a directly experienceable subject. So, our minds must construct it. It must be dependable on our observation of it. Does time exist independently of ourselves? Is time personal and subjective? Relative?
Time is the fourth dimension. The first three are dimensions of space. Is time reliant on space, and space reliant on time?
How important is an instant in time? What can you experience in just one instant? Does time even fit into an instant, or does an experience of time have to be a larger chunk of it? If so, how large. And if an instant isn’t important, how important is time at all?
I open the floor.
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3 thoughts on “The Psychology and Physiology of The Instant

  1. Although my thinking about time is fuzzy, especially its phenomenology, I’ve always been intrigued by Bergson’s approach, which is to replace ‘instant’ with ‘duration.’ (duree; as everything sounds more profound in a foreign language n’cest pas?) So we are more in an eddy or current in time, that on a linear graph.

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