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Backs to the Future

July 31, 2006

A South American culture has the future behind it and the past ahead.


Looking back on the future. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The indigenous Aymara people of South America have no future ahead of them. That’s because unlike any other known culture, they refer to the future being behind them, and the past ahead. According to research by University of California at San Diego cognitive scientist Rafael Nunez, this metaphorical reversal goes beyond figures of speech to gestures and body language, suggesting the Aymara have entirely different concept of time.

RAFAEL NUNEZ (University of California at San Diego):
It’s kind of a deeper understanding of the flexibility and the potentials of the human body and brain, to provide the basis for abstraction.

He adds that Aymara culture and language emphasize the eyewitness point of view — which may explain why they visualize their past experiences right before their eyes, and the future, which they haven’t seen, behind them.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.