Friday, September 4, 2020

the spatial ux of thinking about time itself

I've always been interested in how humans visualize and put metaphors to time ("life's like an hourglass glued to the table" I've been told) Some of my interest was sparked by recognizing how idiosyncratic my own way of spatializing the course of a year and the course of a week as counterclockwise circles (I made visualization of those timehoops a while back)

All of these are akin to synaesthesia - time isn't inherently spatial, but we find the metaphors for it useful.

This article discusses a few of those metaphors that were less familiar to me
  • I knew of the Aymara of the Andes, who reverse the more common view of marching into the future with the past at our backs - "the past is known and has been seen, and thus lies in front. The future remains unknown and unseen, and is relinquished to be behind the ego".
  • For many speakers of Mandarin, "the past is referred as above the speaker. And the future referred to as below the speaker." (I'm not sure if the metaphor is that of plummeting? That's almost as morbid as the hourglass glued to the table!)
  • For the the Pormpuraawans of Australia "time always flows from east or the past to west or the future" regardless of the current location and orientation of the speaker.
  • For the Yupno peoples of Papua New Guinea, "time is a topographical concept, time winds its way up and downhill." (The article points to speculation on how this might relate to the group's literally uphill migratory history.)
If you dig this topic, you might like the book "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman, that posits the great thinker dreaming of different ways times might behave, and how humans might respond. (If time slowed down noticeably with velocity, would people attempt to live their life always in motion in order to have more time, put their houses on wheels and go go go? Or in a universe where time slowed based on proximity to a central point, would adults with young children or old people journey to be nearer that point, while people trying to flee bad memories would head as far away from it as possible?)

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