Human actions require integration of past experiences, ongoing percepts and future concepts. To adapt behavior to reality, the brain must identify mental representations of current relevance. Occasional amnesic subjects act according to invented stories ('spontaneous confabulations'), disregarding present reality. We used repeated runs of a continuous recognition task to measure the ability to distinguish currently relevant from previously encountered but currently irrelevant information. Spontaneous confabulators detected target items as accurately as nonconfabulating amnesics, but increasingly failed to suppress false-positive responses, confusing presentation in previous runs with presentation in the current run. Lesions involved the anterior limbic system: medial orbitofrontal cortex, basal forebrain, amygdala and perirhinal cortex or medial hypothalamus. We suggest that the anterior limbic system represents 'now' in human thinking by suppressing currently irrelevant mental associations.