Questions on the nature of “the present”

Is there anything special about “the present”? That is, besides the fact that each of us happens to be there? How do we define “the present” anyway? Is there some definite period of time that we can appropriately refer to, using this term? If so, how long is that period? 10 minutes? 5 minutes? 1 minute? 1 second? A half second? Is this present supposed to be “more real” than “the past” and/or “the future”? Or is it that the past was once real but isn’t anymore? And that the future is merely what can or will become real? If the present is more real, how or why is that so?

To me, it seems that if we step back and try to view things as clearly and objectively as possible it becomes evident that there is nothing at all about the present that makes it more real than the past or the future. I mean, sure, we are alive, as well as conscious—but in, say, 1953, I see the same exact thing; they are also alive and conscious. As far as I can tell, all the laws of nature and whatever fundamental rules of reality that are in play here exist there as well. I think that despite this, however, many of us will still insist that no, there is something more real or somehow special about “right now.” Is there? What argument can you put forward?

Consider this: if I am standing on a dock and a ship is somewhere out at sea in front of me out of my view, does that ship still exist despite its spatial separation from me? I think most of us would say that it does. That is, we would probably agree that there’s nothing about where I am physically that would make something that is not near me less real. Yet it seems to me that we make this sort of assumption when it comes to time. That is, let’s say that I’m on the dock on Monday and the ship arrives on Tuesday—does the event, the ship arriving at the dock, not exist simply because it is separated from me by a day? Why? What is the difference between Monday and Tuesday, besides the fact that I am personally there on Monday? Are things only real if we, personally, have an experience or interaction with them?