Back in our hippie days -- I always feel as if maybe I should spell that latter word "daze" -- one of our touchstone books was Be Here Now, by Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert.) After chugging lots of acid with Timothy Leary, Alpert trundled off to India and found a spiritual teacher, gave up drugs, and Be Here Now was a kind of fat graphic-novel presentation of what he learned.
The upshot was, that being in the moment was the way to go -- the past was history, the future always just out of reach and all you had was the present, and that you should live in it.
It resonated with a lot of folks, still does. Can't see the future/ can't change the past/ all you have is just the moment/ and it never, ever lasts ...
I had occasion to revisit Tor Norretranders outstanding book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size this past weekend, and, strictly speaking, we don't consciously live in the moment -- we are about a half-second behind ...
This is great stuff, and in this instance, the section called "The Half Second Delay," he addresses this concept in detail. The gist of it is, the unconscious brain is aware of our intent to do things about a half second before it becomes action. There is a Readiness Potential, followed by a Conscious Wish, the initiation of Control, and finally, the Act itself. This has been determined experimentally, using assorted tools, including EKGs, and the wonderfully-named Wundt's Complexity (or Complication) Clock. (Consciousness kicks in a mere 0.20/second before the Act, not much more than a blink, but the subconscious mind knows you are going to wiggle your finger 0.35/second before you are consciously aware that you are. Which is -- not to muddy the waters or anything with the term, but -- mind-boggling ...)
It brings out all kinds of philosophical questions. The author has a wonderful line about our consciousness, that it is " ... but a little tin god pretending to be in charge of things beyond its control ..."
Norretanders is quick to answer those who hold up reaction time -- it doesn't take half a second to pull our hand off a hot stove -- as a demur. Reaction time lives in the unconscious brain -- you jerk your hand off the stove and then say "Ow!" not the other way around.
He then tosses up assorted reasoned objections to this notion, and promptly shoots them down. It's a great lesson in science, and I urge you to have a look at the book. It will make you wonder about all kinds of notions you normally take for granted.
What I find really interesting as a writer (and a martial artist) is, if there was a way to access this Readiness Potential directly, how that might be used in a fight? If I were to be a third of a second ahead of an opponent, and I had position and skills to make us of this beat, how much of an advantage would that be?
You can't outdraw the drawn gun, but if you could, boy, wouldn't that be a neat trick?