Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Metaphors for numbers and time

An article in the New York Times on research that suggests that those who speak Aymara think of time differently from just about everyone else on Planet Earth.

But the Aymara call the future qhipa pacha/timpu, meaning back or behind time, and the past nayra pacha/timpu, meaning front time. And they gesture ahead of them when remembering things past, and backward when talking about the future.

These are not mere mannerisms, the researchers argue; they are windows into the minds of Aymara speakers, who have a conception of future and past that is different from just about everyone else's.

The authors say the Aymara speakers see the difference between what is known and not known as paramount, and what is known is what you see in front of you, with your own eyes.

The past is known, so it lies ahead of you. (Nayra, or "past," literally means eye and sight, as well as front.) The future is unknown, so it lies behind you, where you can't see.

I find it hard to believe, but lets see. Meantime, the BPS digest reports on the SNARC.
The Spatial Numerical Association of Response Codes (SNARC) effect is the observation that people are faster to make a judgment about a number if the hand they use to respond is congruous with the size of the number in question – with the left hand being quicker for smaller numbers and the right quicker for larger numbers. It suggests we automatically associate smaller numbers with the left side of space and larger numbers with the right-hand side, and it reinforces the age-old notion that mentally we represent numbers as if they are located along a line.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thats interesting. Theory of Mind research find certain Indian tribes a difficult population to test because they refuse to accept that you can have access to another's beliefs, desires, intentions etc. They have very few words in their language for mental state terms and respond along the direction of "How can I know what HE is thinking, feeling etc" to the classical 'western' tests of theory of mind