Aymara people’s “reversed” concept of time

This is a really interesting example of how the study of linguistics can give us great insight into human cognition in general. The notion that the past is ‘in front’ of you seems totally foreign at first, until you realize that what’s in front of you is what you can perceive and understand, whereas what’s behind you is obscured and unknowable.

David Pescovitz:
The Aymara, an indigenous group in the Andes highlands, have a concept of time that’s opposite our own spatial metaphor. A new study by cognitive scientists explains how the Aymara consider the past to be ahead and the future behind them. According to the study, this is the first documented culture that seems not to have mapped time with the properties of space “as if (the future) were in front of ego and the past in back.” From UCSD:

The linguistic evidence seems, on the surface, clear: The Aymara language recruits “nayra,” the basic word for “eye,” “front” or “sight,” to mean “past” and recruits “qhipa,” the basic word for “back” or “behind,” to mean “future.” So, for example, the expression “nayra mara” – which translates in meaning to “last year” – can be literally glossed as “front year…”

The Aymara, especially the elderly who didn’t command a grammatically correct Spanish, indicated space behind themselves when speaking of the future – by thumbing or waving over their shoulders – and indicated space in front of themselves when speaking of the past – by sweeping forward with their hands and arms, close to their bodies for now or the near past and farther out, to the full extent of the arm, for ancient times. In other words, they used gestures identical to the familiar ones – only exactly in reverse.

“These findings suggest that cognition of such everyday abstractions as time is at least partly a cultural phenomenon,” (University of California, San Diego professor Rafael) Nunez said. “That we construe time on a front-back axis, treating future and past as though they were locations ahead and behind, is strongly influenced by the way we move, by our dorsoventral morphology, by our frontal binocular vision, etc. Ultimately, had we been blob-ish amoeba-like creatures, we wouldn’t have had the means to create and bring forth these concepts.

“But the Aymara counter-example makes plain that there is room for cultural variation. With the same bodies – the same neuroanatomy, neurotransmitters and all – here we have a basic concept that is utterly different,” he said.


Originally from Boing Boing by (David Pescovitz) reBlogged by micah to linguistics on Jun 13, 2006, 11:05AM

new york

The Viele Map of Manhattan was made in 1865 and shows the original boundaries and waterways of the city

Hooray for old maps.

The Viele Map of Manhattan was made in 1865 and shows the original boundaries and waterways of the city. Here’s a thumbnail view (with prints for sale) and the David Rumsey Map Collection has a zoomable version that you can explore. (thx, meg)

Old maps are almost as exciting as typography –L.N.R.

Originally posted by jkottke from remaindered links, ReBlogged by LNR on Jun 12, 2006 at 10:07 AM

Originally from Eyebeam reBlog by jkottke reBlogged by micah to map on Jun 12, 2006, 8:07AM


Responses to Jaron Lanier’s crit of online collectivism

I would like to see a steel cage death match amongst these net thinkers.

David Pescovitz:
Two weeks ago, published Jaron Lanier’s essay “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism,” critiquing the importance people are now placing on Wikipedia and other examples of the “hive mind,” as people called it in the cyberdelic early 1990s. It’s an engaging essay to be sure, but much more thought-provoking to me are the responses from the likes of Clay Shirky, Dan Gillmor, Howard Rheingold, our own Cory Doctorow, Douglas Rushkoff, and, of course, Jimmy Wales.

From Douglas Rushkoff:

I have a hard time fearing that the participants of Wikipedia or even the call-in voters of American Idol will be in a position to remake the social order anytime, soon. And I’m concerned that any argument against collaborative activity look fairly at the real reasons why some efforts turn out the way they do. Our fledgling collective intelligences are not emerging in a vacuum, but on media platforms with very specific biases.

First off, we can’t go on pretending that even our favorite disintermediation efforts are revolutions in any real sense of the word. Projects like Wikipedia do not overthrow any elite at all, but merely replace one elite — in this case an academic one — with another: the interactive media elite…

While it may be true that a large number of current websites and group projects contain more content aggregation (links) than original works (stuff), that may as well be a critique of the entirety of Western culture since post-modernism. I’m as tired as anyone of art and thought that exists entirely in the realm of context and reference — but you can’t blame Wikipedia for architecture based on winks to earlier eras or a music culture obsessed with sampling old recordings instead of playing new compositions.

Honestly, the loudest outcry over our Internet culture’s inclination towards re-framing and the “meta” tend to come from those with the most to lose in a society where “credit” is no longer a paramount concern. Most of us who work in or around science and technology understand that our greatest achievements are not personal accomplishments but lucky articulations of collective realizations. Something in the air… Claiming authorship is really just a matter of ego and royalties.

From Cory Doctorow:

Wikipedia isn’t great because it’s like the Britannica. The Britannica is great at being authoritative, edited, expensive, and monolithic. Wikipedia is great at being free, brawling, universal, and instantaneous.

From Jimmy Wales (italics indicate quotes from Jaron’s original essay):

“A core belief of the wiki world is that whatever problems exist in the wiki will be incrementally corrected as the process unfolds.”

My response is quite simple: this alleged “core belief” is not one which is held by me, nor as far as I know, by any important or prominent Wikipedians. Nor do we have any particular faith in collectives or collectivism as a mode of writing. Authoring at Wikipedia, as everywhere, is done by individuals exercising the judgment of their own minds.

“The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.”



UPDATE: Jaron Lanier writes us that he’s received a lot of negative feedback from people who he thinks may not have actually read his original essay:

In the essay i criticized the desire (that has only recently become influential) to create an “oracle effect” out of anonymity on the internet – that’s the thing i identified as being a new type of collectivism, but i did not make that accusation against the wikipedia – or against social cooperation on the net, which is something i was an early true believer in- if i remember those weird days well, i think i even made up some of the rhetoric and terminology that is still associated with net advocacy today- anyway, i specifically exempted many internet gatherings from my criticism, including the wikipedia, boingboing, google, cool tools… and also the substance of the essay was not accusatory but constructive- the three rules i proposed for creating effective feedback links to the “hive mind” being one example.

Originally from Boing Boing by (David Pescovitz) reBlogged by micah on Jun 10, 2006, 11:07PM

design interwebs videos

Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright

This is really amazingly good stuff. You should take a few minutes out of whatever you’re doing to watch it.

Tyger is an amazing short animation from Brazil featuring a giant, Godzilla sized Tiger stalking the streets of Sao Paulo, bringing a bit of the forests of the night to the urban jungle. More on the project here. Loosely inspired by the Blake poem. First link goes to direct download of the movie in quicktime format

Originally from MetaFilter by jonson reBlogged by micah to pretty animation video on Jun 10, 2006, 12:31AM


spike jonez rad video

Don’t try to tell me you’ve never wanted to see a Gap store torn apart by its customers. ‘Cause that would be a huge lie.

Watch also Spike Jonze’s TV commercial for GAP. It’s even better.–“et”

Originally posted by emmettjez from, ReBlogged by eteam on Jun 9, 2006 at 07:39 PM

Originally from Eyebeam reBlog by emmettjez reBlogged by micah on Jun 9, 2006, 5:39PM

humor web

Get Rich or Die Tryin’

New business model.

Give us all your money

Originally from MetaFilter by Blazecock Pileon reBlogged by micah on Jun 9, 2006, 4:11PM