Time, tide, and universal cognitives wait for no man

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 0:48 | Filed in Language, Oddities

Just one of those odd little snippets that catch your eye, but you know how people talk about the past as being behind you? And the future ahead of you? Right? Obviously time not actually interacting with the standard three dimensional model (I’m talking Newtonian physics here, before anyone gets uppity) it’s neither in front of us or behind us. Nor for that matter is it above or below us, or to our left or our right.

Yet apparently it’s standard throughout the globe that a spatial metaphor is used for time, and that the future is in front of us. Apart from South America’s indigenous Aymara people that is, who have an opposite concept of time with the past in front of them and the future behind them.

Still, when you hear that:

Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies’ orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind.UCSD News

…it makes you wonder, doesn’t it. What specifically it made me wonder was "so who said this was a cognitive universal amongst humans, anyway?". But of course we’re living in a high-tech world today. So I googled it, hoping to find out exactly who did say it.

No such bleeding luck.

Anyone, anywhere using the words "spatial", "concept", "time", "cognitive" and "universal" together were quoting from this darn article. More or less repeating it word for word in many cases (I believe that’s known as Intelligent Journalism, although many people think that theory is a load of tosh). So, what we have is an article refuting something that everyone is quite happy to believe that everyone else believed was true, despite not knowing who claimed it in the first place.

Sorry, I’m losing track here. Just because they are telling us it was a cognitive universal (what’s wrong with using real-world words?) everyone is quite happy to believe it was, merely on their say so? Well, as the great man himself might say, "Tish and Pish!" — and quite probably "Balderdash!".

And, frantically googling away into the small hours, it turns out I’m not the only one to question this either… savage minds having picked this up and pointing out that it seems like the Babylonians and the Hawaiians also shared this view of time.

Of course, if I was to leap up and down and shout "where’s your so-called universal cognitive now, eh? eh? are you looking for trouble, are you?" then I’d be guilty of exactly the same thing; believing somebody is right just because they say so. And surely the whole point is not whether or not it we thought it was a universal cognitive, but whether or not we think it is. And we don’t.

So, what have we learned? The spatial concept of time isn’t a universal cognitive, but we didn’t necessarily think it was to begin with; I can use google; I’m a fan of Stephen Fry and I don’t think you should automatically believe everything you read. Hardly earth-shattering, was it?

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1 Comment to Time, tide, and universal cognitives wait for no man

  1. Mike Cherim says:

    July 26th, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    I’d be right behind you on this one, Jack, but that’d be so yesterday ;)

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