Now – A Canticle of Reality (17)


All that exists is now. But glimpses of now are fleeting. The mind clouds now with the past and the future. Emotion fortifies the fog.



All that exists is now.

What is indisputable is that all of existence is always and only data about the present moment.

But glimpses of now are fleeting. The mind clouds now with the past and the future.

Now is not what it seems. Our senses are not up to the task of rendering high fidelity. Vision is exemplary.

Your mind has you believe that your eyes are capturing a detailed video of the proceedings before you. The science of sight tells a different story.

From a particle perspective, light comprises photons. A photon is a packetized field. We see when our eyes catch photons that have bounced off objects.

Every time a photon encounters a fermion (matter quantum), its story changes. If an atom does not eat a photon whole as an energetic meal, it selectively snacks on specific photonic wavelengths. The photons that get away can tattle about a distant object that they met. By what light data was not absorbed, object luminance and color are conveyed.

The human eye can detect a single photon, though it takes 3 to sense a flash of light. A little light goes a long way in conveying enveloped photonic data.

Sight is reflective absorption and translation. That simple statement masks an astounding real-time transformation of intricate data into a visual map of mind-boggling complexity in its construction. “Our perception of the world seems so effortless that we take it for granted. But think of what is involved when you look at even the simplest visual scene. You are given 2 tiny, upside-down images in your eyeballs, yet what you see is a unified 3-dimensional world. This phenomenon is nothing short of a miracle,” write Indian neurobiologists Chaipat Chunharas & Vilayanur Ramachandran.

“If we actually saw what our eyes take in, the world would be a chaotic place,” observe American cognitive psychologists Michael Hout & Stephen Goldinger.

Every incoming spray of photons is bent by the eye’s lens, and then strangely splayed on the retina, which is at the back of the eye. The retina comprises the rounded plane of light-sensitive tissue which absorbs the photonic impressers that enter your eye. The retina is the basis for rendering imagery. “Your retina is a terrible imaging device. Your only high-resolution vision is in the very center of your eye – about 0.1% of your entire visual field (the macula). You are legally blind to objects more than a finger width or 2 from the center of your vision,” explain American neurobiologists Stephen Macknik & Susana Martinez-Conde.

Before being absorbed by the cells that transmit image data, photons must first pass through the nerve tissues that act as signal transmitters. The specific cells that absorb light are at the back of the retina. Whereas cone cells capture color, rods are only sensitive to luminance (relative brightness).

Given that a photon’s story changes with every fermion it encounters – the very nature by which vision works – how light patterns that strike the cornea make their way to the back of the retina unmolested is inexplicable. While retinal tissue layers are largely transparent, cells that sit in front of the backplane rods and cones obstruct incoming photons, doubtlessly altering photonic field data.

The physiological construction of our eyes has a “blind spot,” where the optic nerve goes from the retina to the brain, leaving a hole in the fabric of sensory input. “Our perception in the blind spot is unreliable,” notes German cognitive psychologist Benedikt Ehinger.

Only vertebrate eyes have the oddity of an optic nerve creating a blind spot by running in front of the photoreceptors. Other animals do not have this design defect.

So, how do we see so well? In mere fractions of seconds, the mind collates innumerable visual impressions and fabricates a colossal collage of stunning detail using memory and imagination. “It is quite clear that many aspects of our visual system are subconscious,” notes American neurobiologist David Berson. “A large part is illusion. For many basic visual features, this ‘filling in’ is a general, and fundamental, perceptual mechanism,” furthers Dutch psychologist Marte Otten.

This instantaneous impressionist painting has a compelling veracity. Experiments by Benedikt Ehinger and colleagues revealed that “generated information is sometimes treated as more reliable than sensory information from the outside world.” Vision illustrates how effortlessly the mind’s fabrications are believed.

A paucity of data from all our senses are massaged and augmented by the mind into compelling artifices that we naturally take as fact. Memory and imagination are lavishly employed to fill in gaps. The patterns heard in sound are a fabricated temporal collage.

It is hard indeed not to believe your own eyes. Therein lies the problem. Sight highlights that belief is a slippery slope. Perception completes the picture of deception.

Perception is generalization: seeing uniqueness and then categorizing novelties into mental schemas that inform how “the world” works. Perception fabricates concepts by subconsciously tailoring experience: pruning details by interest and level of awareness. These experienced abstractions are naturally taken as fact.

Once concepts of any sort are believed true, what bars the door to falling for fantasy wholesale? Nothing at all.

All knowledge comprises cerebral sandcastles of ideas. Such fabrications are accepted as Nature, with clouds of concepts providing the nourishing rain of “facts” that keeps knowledge growing. Amid this inner bustle, “glimpses of now” are indeed “fleeting.”

Emotion fortifies the fog.

Emotion is monkey-mind’s strongest stratagem. Take an intuitive feeling that may be informative. Amplify that feeling. Let the mind be overwhelmed with it, and even reverberate the body with it. Such is emotion.

Lost amid emotion is the bit of now which sparked it. Like a cerebral beast, whatever productive use a feeling may have had transforms into a rampaging monster with emotion. Emotion is a fog that blots out now.

Those in iğnorance are most in thrall to nattermind precisely because emotions are exhilarating. Performers in the arts are adored because they evoke emotion.

To one in iğnorance, entertainment is exciting. Calm is abandoned. Now is routed for thrill.

To a sage, entertainment is at most amusement. Calm remains.