X-Message-Number: 14143
Date: Sat, 22 Jul 2000 15:41:13 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott Badger <>
Subject: Re: survival and continuity, the present-moment self

"Brook Norton" wrote:

> So survival really just becomes a more vague 
> idea that life and some specific, important 
> qualities of an entity continue over time (not 
> that a soul or absolute identity continue over
> time)."

I'm not sure what you mean by "absolute identity" (I
have even less of an idea what you mean by "soul" but
let's not go there). If by "absolute identity" you
mean an exact duplication of Self-A into Self-B (i.e.
A = B), then from the perspective of Self-B, no time
would have passed. Any experience at all results in
the processing of information and a physiological
change (albeit small) in brain and thus identity.  I
argued that survival occurs when the current self
accurately "perceives" itself to be equivalent to or a
very close approximation of a recent previous self.

> Our consciousness and emotions and drive to be 
> happy seem to only exist at the present moment.  
> Our past and future selves are only important 
> in that we have memories of the past and
> anticipations of the future that affect our 
> happiness at the present moment.  Only in the 
> present moment do we survive. Beyond this 
> connection to the past and future, I don't see 
> any special significance to our continuity over 
> time.

I was exposed to a similar argument when I read, "The
Wisdom of Insecurity" by Alan Watts. He argued that
humans are anxious creatures because we spend so much
mental time in the past and in the future. He even
suggests that our ability to move back and forth in
mental time contributed to the formation of our sense
of "self" (i.e. the one who recalls and the one who
predicts, the coherent "thing" that seems to be moving
through time is given the name   "me").

But the notion that there is only meaning in the here
and now is a curious one to me. 

Now maybe this is a strained argument to some, but
what is meant by, "now" or "in the moment"?  After
all, when it comes to discriminating between time
units, our perceptual abilities have their limits. For
example, I cannot discriminate between one nano-second
and the next, but I can discriminate between one
second and the next.  So how much time are you talking
about when referring to words like "now"?  A second? A
few minutes? A day? 

Then Mr. Norton used the analogy of a baseball in
flight, saying:

> A baseball only moves through the air when you
> compare several time frames to each other.  
> Movement is meaningless if you only look at the
> present moment.

I'm not sure I follow you now. I thought you were
arguing that the meaning is in the "present moment",
and now it sounds like you're suggesting that one
cannot derive meaning by only looking at the moment.  

If the latter is your position, we agree. There is
little meaning to be derived from a single time frame
without taking the context of the other moments of the
ball's flight into consideration. The meaning is in
the movement, not in the moment.  Similarly, meaning
does not exist in the moment for us. It is the
perception of the self over time that gives us the
context from which we construct meaningfulness.

> I believe that evolution has conditioned our 
> brains to cherish memories (memories provide the 
> information needed to live long enough to pass on 
> the genes to the next generation) and to feel
> happiness when working toward a happier future
> (again, planning for a happy future is very 
> helpful in living long enough to pass on your 
> genes).  

I see problems with this paragraph as well.  In the
first place, plenty of animals don't have anywhere
near our capacity for memories and they live long
enough to pass on their genes.  Secondly, not all
memories are cherished   many memories are actively
repressed and there is probably an evolutionary basis
for understanding why that is.  Thirdly, our memories
are often distorted at the time they are formed due to
strong emotions associated with the event.  Plus, over
time, our memories become even further distorted for
various reasons. 

Our enhanced ability to recall the past (e.g. where
food was, where danger was) and our concomitant
ability to anticipate the future (e.g. where the food
will be, where the danger will be) is perhaps one of
our greatest assets in terms of survival.  

> And so through evolution, we find ourselves very 
> occupied with contemplating the past and future.  
> But again, we only really exist at the present
> and to say that our future selves are somehow a 
> survival of our current self seems without meaning
>... a  word game.  We are who we are right now.  
> Past and future versions of ourself will have their 
> moment to be conscious and no more.

Again, I don't think it's possible to live in the

No one really does that.  

No one can.  

The moment is already past.

Meaning is in the movement, not in the moment.

The closest you can come to living in the present is
concerning your self with your very near-term future. 
And the difference between you wanting to survive in
the near-term vs. wanting to survive in the
longer-term is simply a matter of degree.  How can
there be meaning in the former and no meaning in the

Best regards,

Scott Badger

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