How We Make Sense of Time
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Humans are different from animals in that we don't sense time only as passing. We dice time into units or think of time to go beyond our lifespan, such as millennia. We rely on time concepts that allow us to make plans, follow recipes, and discuss possible futures.
Recent research suggests that across all cultures, the concept of time depends on metaphor, known as a conceptual metaphor. We build our understanding of duration and sequences of events out of familiar spatial ideas such as size, movement, and location.
But the "time is like space" metaphor takes on very different forms from one culture to the next.
Time is difficult to explain, yet we deal with it every day. All people talk of time as "motion on a space," and think of time as linear.
People of all cultures lean on spatial concepts for understanding time, but exactly which spatial metaphors they use can vary.
The parts of the brain used for thinking about space are also used for thinking about time.
Time as space metaphor shows up in our language and gestures, but also in depictions of external sequences of events.
The concept of time reveals the human's capacity for abstract thought. But time is not the only abstract domain, nor the only one we understand through metaphor. Spatial metaphors are very common, structuring how we think about kinship, politics, and power. ("She has the upper hand.")
The particular metaphors we use, however, rely on our culture, not biological evolution.
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