Most living organisms possess a biological clock with rhythms regulated in episodic cycles adjusted to events in the external environment.
These could be alternate periods of dark and light, lunar phases, tide flows or seasons which govern things like when sleep might occur, hunger is likely and sexuality becomes mature.
It stands to reason therefore that among sentient creatures at least a sense of duration or time develops.
Thus, even in the absence of artificial devices like clocks and calendars we are able to define and internalise a past, present and future and act according to memory or extrapolation.
But what if we had no idea about these things?
What if we became incapable of remembering stuff that had already happened, processing experiences currently happening or anticipating what could happen?
Obviously it's difficult to produce people who have no knowledge or guesstimate about such things but Dr Bernard Aaronson at the Bureau of Research in Neurology and Psychiatry in Princeton, the US, did give it a try some years back.
He conducted a series of experiments in which human subjects were given posthypnotic commands to forget the existence of any past, present or future for a limited period of time.
Some results were pretty far from what he had expected.
Deprivation of a subjective past produced drowsiness, speech difficulty and a vague sense of meaninglessness symptoms often seen in people suffering from retrograde amnesia.
Elimination of the present was found to be extremely disturbing with subjects becoming depressed, disoriented and exhibiting behaviour bordering on schizophrenia.
But it was in subjects who were told they would have no future that the experiment produced its most unexpected result.
They experienced a loss of identity and a profound euphoric mystical sensation with one person reporting that he "found himself in a boundless immanent present" which cancelled all fear of death and induced a sense of serene calm.
So why should this not sound like someone who we think has become enlightened and "lives in the now"?
Well, mainly because as far as we know oysters and amoebas don't fear death either and seem to live in the present.
Meaning if there's anything the experiment highlights is that for creatures of clocks the burden of sentience becomes unbearable when faced with issues of transience. Then comes suffering.
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