Saturday, May 26, 2012

The future is uphill

Well if life at times seems like an uphill battle, for the Yupno, an isolated group that lives in the very rugged terrain of Papua New Guinea, it really is.

Study finds twist to the story of the number line
Inga Kidera, UC San Diego, 25 April 2012 (hat tip: NC)

When talking about past, present and future, people all over the world show a tendency to conceive of these notions spatially, Nunez said. The most common spatial pattern is the one found in the English-speaking world, in which people talk about the future as being in front of them and the past behind, encapsulated, for example, in expressions such as the "week ahead" and "way back when." (In earlier research, Nunez found that the Aymara of the Andes seem to do the reverse, placing the past in front and the future behind.)
In their time study with the Yupno, now in press at the journal Cognition, Nunez and colleagues find that the Yupno don't use their bodies as reference points for time – but rather their valley's slope and terrain. Analysis of their gestures suggests they co-locate the present with themselves, as do all previously studied groups. (Picture for a moment how you probably point down at the ground when you talk about "now.") But, regardless of which way they are facing at the moment, the Yupno point uphill when talking about the future and downhill when talking about the past.
Interestingly and also very unusually, Nunez said, the Yupno seem to think of past and future not as being arranged on a line, such as the familiar "time line" we have in many Western cultures, but as having a three-dimensional bent shape that reflects the valley's terrain.
 Given the variable speed at which events seem to pass by, the slope and valley aspect to time makes some sense to me.  In the case of the Yupno the other study that popped up real quick was one involving hookworm infection, so life might not be so easy.

Yupno farming in Papua New Guinea (from here)


kymber said...

Russell - i don't always comment because sometimes i don't know what to say....but man you find the most interesting things on the net. i love these kinds of posts!

your friend,

kymber said...

woops - me again - i also meant to say that i read every post - just so that you know!

GalaktioNova said...

w/kymber. I keep my mouth shut because I don't have much of interest to say, anyway... especially compared to posts like this one! Thanks a lot!

russell1200 said...

K & G, Thank you.

I mostly just haunt various interesting websites (note the hat tips) link-posts, and when I see something interesting, I put it in a draft post to save for a latter day.

We live our lives in cloud of assumptions, and I am always interested in items that poke holes in those assumptions.

The future is not ahead of us, but uphill (a steep hill at that) from us, seems like a good place to start.