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Aboriginal time runs east to west

Sun’s trajectory may channel time’s flow for one remote group

11:29am, November 5, 2010

Time rises in the east and sets in the west in a remote part of Australia. Aborigines living there assume that time moves westward, apparently in accord with the sun’s daily arc across the sky, say Stanford University psychologist Lera Boroditsky and linguist Alice Gaby of the University of California, Berkeley.

Unlike any other group studied to date, these hardy foragers think about the day after tomorrow as two days to the west, the olden days as times far to the east, and the progression of a person’s life from infancy to old age as running from east to west, Boroditsky and Gaby report in an upcoming Psychological Science.

Grounding time in absolute directions makes it imperative for these people, called Pormpuraawans, to know which way they’re facing at all times. For them, time flows from left to right when facing south, from right to left when facing north, toward the body when facing east and away from the body when facing west.

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