'Time' not necessarily deeply rooted in our brains

'Time' not necessarily deeply rooted in our brains

(Medical Xpress) -- Hidden away in the Amazonian rainforest a small tribe have successfully managed what so many dream of being able to do – to ignore the pressures of time so successfully that they don’t even have a word for it.

It is the first scientists have been able to prove 'time' is not a deeply entrenched human universal concept as previously thought.

Researchers, led by Professor Chris Sinha from the University of Portsmouth Department of Psychology, studied the way in which time was talked about and thought about by the Amondawa people of Brazil. Their research is published in the journal Language and Cognition.

Professor Sinha said: "For the Amondawa, time does not exist in the same way as it does for us. We can now say without doubt that there is at least one language and culture which does not have a concept of time as something that can be measured, counted, or talked about in the abstract. This doesn't mean that the Amondawa are 'people outside time', but they live in a world of events, rather than seeing events as being embedded in time."

Team members including linguist Wany Sampaio and anthropologist Vera da Silva Sinha, spent eight weeks with the Amondawa researching how their language conveys concepts like 'next week' or 'last year'. There were no words for such concepts, only divisions of day and night and rainy and dry seasons. They also found nobody in the community has an age. Instead, they change their names to reflect their life stage and position within their society, so that for example a little child will give up their name to a newborn sibling, and take on a new one.

Professor Sinha said: "We have so many metaphors for time and its passing – we think of time as a 'thing' – we say 'the weekend is nearly gone'; 'she's coming up to her exams'; 'I haven't got the time', and so on, and we think such statements are objective, but they aren't. We've created these metaphors and they have become the way we think. The Amondawa don't talk like this and don't think like this, unless they learn another language.

"We didn't expect to find this – we had studied the same language earlier and were going back to further our understanding of its metaphors. We were surprised to find that space metaphors for time and the abstract concept of time are simply absent from the language and culture.

"For these fortunate people time isn't money, they aren't racing against the clock to complete anything, and nobody is discussing next week or next year; they don't even have words for 'week', 'month' or 'year'. You could say they enjoy a certain freedom.

"It strikes us as strange that such 'time-free' cultures exist," says Professor Sinha, "but many Amazonian languages, including Amondawa, don't have numbers beyond four or five, and if you don't have the numbers, you don't have time as an abstract, measurable 'thing'.

"Time is more to do with experience than being inborn in us. The only real biological clock is the ageing of our bodies. All our complex concepts of time are cultural inventions, a kind of technology of the mind.

"The Babylonians invented the 24-hour day, and the convention of 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and we're so used to being ruled by the calendar and clock that we don't reflect on it. But our notion of time is a double-edged sword. We wouldn't have the benefits of our socially and technologically complex society without it. But it's also, as we know, a burden and a source of increasing stress in our modern 24/7 lifestyle."

Time catches up with us all in the end, though. First contacted by the outside world in 1986, the Amondawa continue their traditional way of life, hunting, fishing and growing crops. But along with health care, electricity and television has come the Portuguese language. Like many of the world's 7,000 or so languages, Amondawa is threatened with extinction.

"We are now aware of the great riches still to be discovered in the world's biodiversity, and we know we should preserve this for future generations," says Professor Sinha. "But linguistic and cultural diversity is also a treasure trove, not just for scientists, but for everyone's understanding of what it means to be human. We can't and shouldn't try to stop change, but we should help empower people like the Amondawa to determine their own future and keep their language and traditions alive. That's why work like that of Wany and Vera, who helped the community set up a native-language based school, is so important."

Provided by University of Portsmouth

4.1 /5 (22 votes)

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spectator
1.4 / 5 (9) May 20, 2011
"It strikes us as strange that such 'time-free' cultures exist," says Professor Sinha, "but many Amazonian languages, including Amondawa, don't have numbers beyond four or five, and if you don't have the numbers, you don't have time as an abstract, measurable 'thing'.


In other words, theirs is a highly ignorant culture which has been cut off from the world for entirely too long.

I'm not saying these people are sub-human, but a formal concept of time is one of the most important things in civilzation. How would you plan for the future, know when to plant and harvest, etc, without a concept of time?

This is why they are still hanging around in the woods living with pre-bronze age technology.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) May 20, 2011
When survival depends upon preparing food for winter, time becomes critical.
The Tagalog language uses Spanish words for time.
Hev
4.8 / 5 (4) May 20, 2011
Living near the equator in a rain forest, they might not need language and behaviour for the changing seasons. The same food is always available and they do not have to prepare for People in the far north could not survive unless they could prepare for the winter season and know when it was time to get ready to find another source of food. Early humans in Asia and Europe did not survive unless they were able to count the seasons, and prepare for the next one, store food, make clothes to keep them warm and dry, and shelters. People living in a place where it is always warm, the same food is always available, do not have to bother with that development. It is unlikely they always existed like that in a primaeval state since there were not humans of any kind in the American continent until those from Asia arrived there.
emsquared
5 / 5 (12) May 20, 2011
In other words, theirs is a highly ignorant culture which has been cut off from the world for entirely too long.

You know what they say about ignorance... and theirs seems to be working out for them. Their culture has probably been around longer and is less changed than most extant. Especially yours and your ancestors.

Which is to say, in terms of sociological evolution, they're thus far a successful socio-species. While they may not have spread like others, they are quite well adapted to their niche. Will ours last more years then theirs already has? That remains to be seen.

I can tell you though, if we busy ourselves with burning each other off the face of our continents, we'll be gone and they'll still be around another 10,000 years or whatever.

And don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to glorify living primitively, I'm just saying you sound like an ignorant douche.
droid001
not rated yet May 20, 2011
So less freedom means a higher level of development.
HealingMindN
3 / 5 (4) May 20, 2011
Backwoods hill billies in the US live like the Amondawa. I guess that would make them Americawans.
Nodrog
4.2 / 5 (6) May 20, 2011
"I'm not saying these people are sub-human, but a formal concept of time is one of the most important things in civilzation. How would you plan for the future, know when to plant and harvest, etc, without a concept of time?"

I'm shocked at what you say. These people are highly skilled and intelligent in their environment. Any one of us being left to survive or die in their environment would last a few days at most.

Our civilization grew from people exactly like them, they are as intelligent as any one of us. Maybe they actually enjoy much more contented lives?
Telekinetic
5 / 5 (8) May 20, 2011


"In other words, theirs is a highly ignorant culture which has been cut off from the world for entirely too long.

I'm not saying these people are sub-human, but a formal concept of time is one of the most important things in civilzation. How would you plan for the future, know when to plant and harvest, etc, without a concept of time?

This is why they are still hanging around in the woods living with pre-bronze age technology. "

This is the same arrogance that a "superior race" wreaks havoc, murder, and exploitation on their "inferiors." The civilization you come from isn't very civilized at all. The very isolated Tasaday tribe, discovered by Westerners in the 1960's didn't have a word for weapon or war. Does that mean they're missing out on something important? Respect and learn from all cultures.
frajo
5 / 5 (4) May 21, 2011
the Amondawa continue their traditional way of life, hunting, fishing and growing crops
To grow crops means to have an idea about cause and effect. The Amondawa language may not yet have reached the abstraction level necessary to generate time-related words, but their life obviously shows knowledge of cause-effect relationships. Additionally, I wouldn't assume they are very surprised every time a child is born.
Thus the article is a tiny bit misleading, as it suggests the Amondawa lead a time-less life, whereas it's only their language that lacks time related (i.e. abstract cause-effect related) terms.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (2) May 21, 2011
What differentiates humans from all other biological life forms is our unique ability to self consciously improve upon nature via scientific progress. However, most "anthropologists" are trained to ignore this distinction and like Aristotle view humans as mere talking beasts...This is why they have such a mawkish, and silly sentimental reaction to keeping their conception of the "diversity" of this "human zoo" pristine and untouched. Their mentality is that their own brand of investigation despoils humanity, which ironically happens to be true. But this says nothing about the true purpose of science, because theirs is but a sorry farce...
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (7) May 21, 2011
So the babylonians invented the 24 hour day?
Genesis is clear on the fact that God put the sun and moon[and stars for that matter] in the sky to mark out our times and seasons. And yes, the sun was created AFTER the earth. Now you can go absolutely ballistic.
damnfuct
not rated yet May 21, 2011
There are many similar cases in our cultures (or cultures' histories) where we lack an ability to describe something that future generations would find trivial. Without a way of describing time intervals, predictions from cause-and-effect relationships are much less accurate; apparently lacking a way to describe time intervals is not a huge problem when your main objective in life is hunting and foraging (which is no surprise). Personally, I would have been more surprised if they found an isolated tribe with a concept of negative numbers, infinity, the finite speed of light, or relativity.
Telekinetic
5 / 5 (1) May 21, 2011
@kevinrtrs:
Isn't He supposed to pull the plug on us later today?
thewhitebear
5 / 5 (1) May 21, 2011
@ thingumbobesquire
"self consciously improve upon nature via scientific progress"
i fail to see how any of our technological innovations improve upon nature. in terms of energetic efficiencies, waste management, and resiliency the soft redundant systems of nature beats our hard technology any day. I think the point of this article is that our technology (in this case our language) fundamentally shapes our attitude toward our environment and each other, often in negative ways. there are alternative systems of technology that create other ways of building a culture and surviving on a day-to-day basis. Given the horrific outcomes of our own cultural development (nuclear weapons, superbugs, massive pollution, topsoil loss, global warming, etc) it seems pretty clear that the scientific progress you think of as an improvement is in fact an system that is inherently destructive and oppressive. time was codified as a method of control.
Peteri
1 / 5 (3) May 21, 2011
PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO ANY COMMENTS FROM RELIGIOUS CRANKS. IGNORE THEM AND THEY WILL EVENTUALLY GET BORED AND GO AWAY. THEY ARE JUST PIOUS ATTENTION SEEKERS!
Hev
5 / 5 (1) May 21, 2011
"The very isolated Tasaday tribe, discovered by Westerners in the 1960's didn't have a word for weapon or war. Does that mean they're missing out on something important? Respect and learn from all cultures."
- no -
They were a fraud set up in 1971 by Manuel Elizalde, a government minister in the Phillipines. Who scarpered in 1983 with the millions from the foundation set up to preserve the Tasaday. After Marcos was deposed in 1986, journalists were able to get in and discovered the Tasaday living in houses, wearing jeans and t-shirts etc. like their neighbours. They explained that Elizalde had made them live in a cave and wear leaves for the visitors.
Telekinetic
3 / 5 (2) May 21, 2011
@Hev
You're an idiot and I'll explain why. A very astute investigator questioned the Tasaday children and found that they spoke a genuine language unique to them, as children are not as adept at faking as adults are. Also, the children didn't recognize a rice plant, which they would surely have been enlisted to help plant. Had you read that article completely instead of quoting bits out of context for your own agenda, you would have realized that the writer of the article believed them to be a genuine, though not a stone-age,distinct tribe. The lies that are fabricated to discredit efforts by well-meaning people are well known in the Philippines as well as everywhere else, and you're one of the dupes who spread them.
thewhitebear
5 / 5 (2) May 22, 2011
thanks Telekinetic for setting the record straight on the Tasaday, it's frustrating to hear the "it was all a hoax" line still repeated. It was my understanding that timber companies who wanted their land spread the rumor by dressing a few of the tribe up in western clothes and having them say it was all a ruse.
AmritSorli
1 / 5 (2) May 22, 2011
In quantum vacuum time is the numerical order of material change. In quantum vacuum past, present and future exist only as a numerical order of change. Numerical order on its own has no duration. Duration of numerical order of change enters existence by being measured with clocks by the observer. The observer's measuring creates "time" in a common meaning of this word. Universe itself is utterly timeless. Universe is NOW.
achinerarias
5 / 5 (1) May 22, 2011
I find this field observation very interesting, because it would seem to corroborate Phil Zimbardo's theories about the psychological time perspectives, in the sense that a present-time orientation is the default and the future-time perspective is acquired culturally, if and when. Now, the Internet and asynchronous communication may be changing the developed global culture. Are we becoming more present-oriented in a back-to-basics shift? If I can earn my living on the internet and shop and buy food whenever I feel hungry, phone up the people in my social circle and act on the spur of the moment, do any transactions online 24x7 when automatically alerted, and so on, then I can also live in a present-oriented mode...
achinerarias
May 22, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Hev
5 / 5 (1) May 22, 2011


see: BBC - h2g2 - The Tasaday Hoax - A726653

amongst other references

Telekinetic
not rated yet May 22, 2011
maxcypher
not rated yet May 22, 2011
Clocks measure clocks; not this mythological thing we call time.
Telekinetic
5 / 5 (1) May 22, 2011
One thing that hasn't been mentioned- the internal clock. I've
woken many times a few seconds before my alarm clock rings. I
suppose we can attune our biological rhythms to a mechanical
device, but I wouldn't discount the old ticker as a timepiece itself. I volunteered to be a subject in a psychology experiment where we worked on a tedious questionnaire (a deliberate distraction) while a wall clock recorded time passing. It felt like an interminable amount of time and the clock corroborated the passing of several hours. When asked how long it took to finish, we all responded that the work took several hours. The testers had sped the clock up and we actually were working for less than 30 minutes. The experiment didn't prove or disprove the existence of time, but our perception of time is highly suggestible.
tjcoop3
not rated yet May 22, 2011
Maybe this is why most humans have a difficult time with eternity. We are so stuck on time we can only see an end or becoming a part of some cosmic force.
When one learns to live with an eternal mindset one is able to see time as irrelevant in a sense.
Telekinetic
not rated yet May 22, 2011
Care to elaborate on "eternal mindset"?
postfuture
not rated yet May 23, 2011
The line-arrow metaphor of time is forced into our brains from school years. If you interested in this subject read 'Fleeing from absence,' a book about time.
tjcoop3
1 / 5 (1) May 23, 2011
Care to elaborate on "eternal mindset"?


It is difficult to describe. It is a result of intimacy with The Creator. When one is His friend, one is allowed some of His perspective.

Of course if one does not believe in The Creator this seems like lunacy. As I said it is difficult to describe.

Others who have been allowed an eternal perspective realize we live forever whether this temporary and easily broken shell dies or not.

There is an old Hymn:
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the Light of His glory and grace."

I can not say I have literally seen Him but I do keep looking inwardly which is where The Kingdom of YHWH is and I can say I perceive Him more all the time.

One can not dismiss what those who believe say out of hand since science has often revealed what at one time could not be seen to be , in fact real. e g Dark Matter and not that long ago, electricity, gravity, magnetic force...
emsquared
not rated yet May 23, 2011
When one learns to live with an eternal mindset one is able to see time as irrelevant in a sense.

Would it follow to you then that if something is outside of time, i.e. if something is eternal, it does not exist at all with respect to a reality with the parameter of time -as it is eternal after all, and eternity and time are mutually exclusive, i.e. you can't quantify one in terms of the other- and for something to exist, it must at some point not exist, with existence being a reckoning of something's state of being in time?
It is a result of intimacy with The Creator.

You do realize that -assuming you do actually feel something when you pray or otherwise commune with your Creator, and don't just hear your own thoughts echoing in your head- intimacy is just some chemical signals that you/your culture has conditioned you to interpret as something outside yourself, even though if you were honest with yourself you'd admit it's all within you, right?

'K, jus checkin'.
hush1
1 / 5 (1) May 26, 2011
Confessional:
During my rebellious youth, I directed (projected?) all my aggression on Psychology Textbooks. Determined to reverse-engineer all the bs to expose the charlatanry of pseudo science.

One day, I turned my hatred on to a harmless, hapless alarm clock and said to myself:
"I refuse to wake to the call of artificial methods"
And to this day, I still wake up on time without an alarm.
Before sleeping, I simple tell myself what time to wake.

Odds are, the smoke alarm will work and I won't be around to tell you that.
:)
blob
not rated yet May 28, 2011
What the hell are we even talking about? They have about the same concept of time than we do. We just use different words for it and use 24 hrs / day, 7 days /week, 4 weeks/month 12 months / year... based on seasons, because we have to plant, harvest and store. Many changes are required for a seed to grow up. And some more changes need to occur before the plant can bear fruit /or whatever we use from it/... and we just compare these changes to changes on a clock.

All we do is compare one set of events (e.g. cooking an egg) to a different set of events (change of the state of a clock / stopwatch... I suggest googling for "how long is 1 second: or similar). The fact that we try to squeeze as many actions as possible into a single time frame doesn't mean anything in this case.
blob
not rated yet May 28, 2011
"Time is more to do with experience than being inborn in us. The only real biological clock is the ageing of our bodies. All our complex concepts of time are cultural inventions, a kind of technology of the mind..."

Biological clock actually works and adjusts every day /day - night/... and also changes based on weather, temperature and amount and quality of light... I'm rather sure that there is a lot more I'm just too lazy to continue thinking about this too long... I have an exam to prepare for.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 28, 2011
People certainly have biological clocks, a heart beat and menstrual cycles which are coincidentally(?) about the same time as a lunar month.
Nirgal
not rated yet May 29, 2011
It is interesting that the article suggests that time does not exist apart from being merely a concept employed by the human mind. I think the "evidence" that supports this view, that being a tribe in the amazon for whom time is not spoken of within their language, is rather weak. If this evidence should be taken as legitimate then since the tribe does not posses any numbers greater than five we should conclude that numbers (at least those greater than five) do not exist.

From a Relativistic (Special Theory of Relativity) point of view time is very real measurable thing whose very existence is the cause of Gravity. From a Quantum Mechanical point of view time is a very difficult concept to understand and some physicists under the guise of philosophy question that it exists.

This article goes to far in suggesting that time does not exist simply because a culture is not aware of it. You might as well say that atomic nuclei or energy does not exist because they are not aware of those.
AmritSorli
1 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2011
time does not exists as a physical reality in which we live, time is merely numerical order of change. Duration of change enters existence when being measured by the observer. Universe is timeless.....see more on
http://www.physor...ion.html
hush1
1 / 5 (1) Jun 15, 2011
@Amrit

Acoustics has handled time as an intrinsic property.
What I am to replace the time signatures of music with?

The article's assertion is false:
"It is the first time scientists have been able to prove 'time' is not a deeply entrenched human universal concept as previously thought."

If the concept of time is not embedded into sound, then sound has no basis to exist. Life able to 'hear' are embedded with a SUBJECTIVE impression of time through sound, not day/night, sleep/wake, abstraction/real, etc. Sound enables speech. Speech is the SUBJECTIVE SUBLIMINAL passage of time. Whether this is an illusion or not is totally irrelevant. This "figment of our imagination" enables birds to sing, lions to roar, elephants to sub-harmonically grunt and people to talk.

The PERCEIVED,SUBJECTIVE, SUBLIMINAL, PASSAGE OF TIME IS A DEEPLY ENTRENCHED HUMAN UNIVERSAL CONCEPT: AS SOUND. SOUND IS EMBEDDED IN THE BRAIN, irrespective if the brain embeds this without time or not.


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