Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Nayra qhipa: a walk through time facing backwards?


I have started writing a book on Time (in the same spirit of these ramblings), so I am collecting a conspicuous bulk of material on the old god Chronos, from every imaginable quarter: phenomenology, physics, high-brow literature, pulp fiction, anthropology and comparative linguistics.

In a recent surf I have stumbled upon this article, by Núñez and Sweetser: it describes the way in which the Aymaras denote past and future. As it turns out, the term for past is nayra – which means “eye,” “front” or “sight”. They use qhipa – meaning “back” or “behind” – to denote the future.

I find all this fascinating: after the initial shock, it makes perfectly good sense: futurum semper incertum, or, in the immortal dictum of Yoda on Dagobah -Impossible to predict, the future is-.
We see the past (to some extent), but the future is out of sight (except for our boring, restless imagination, and our arrogant reason).

What is even more intriguing is the following thought that dawned upon me a bit afterwards: perhaps Aymaras walk through time facing backwards.

In other words, suppose your attention faces only the past, and you reject all attempts to anticipate the future. Then, you are walking through time a' rebours, a bit like squids.
And why not? What is the point of facing the future if it is totally invisible?

Somewhere, as if by magic, I hear a tune singing the enchanting words:

-Que Sera, Sera,Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours, to see. Que Sera, Sera-

15 comments:

galanlama said...

Hey, Polymathicus,

I just found your blog this morning while searching for tags on Julian Barbour's ideas. I'm also fascinated by the question of time. I'm writing my dissertation on a postcolonialist critique of the modern historiography of ancient Israel (Old Testament studies). It seems that your comments here will be quite helpful.

It seems that, though our language does not acknowledge it, we also live looking backwards: we can only learn from "the past" but we seem to move toward "the future." The idea that time is not a dimension but a construct, while not new, it's innovative in physics.

To make it more interesting, I'm also trying to connect Barbour's ideas with Lakoff's ideas of the "embodied mind," which might help explain a bit what Barbour merely posits. Don't have anything concrete, just ramblings of a non-polymath! :)

I look forward to your book on time. Cheers!

galanlama

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