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.
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.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.
|Yupno farming in Papua New Guinea (from here)|