'Time' not necessarily deeply rooted in our brains news
21 May 2011

British author, H G Wells wrote the Time Machine, a science fiction novella in the 19th century, which popularised the idea of time travel using a vehicle for the purpose of travelling back and forth in time. A hundred years and more later, his time machine is still in the realm of fiction awaiting some inventor to turn the idea into a reality. But, is the concept of time itself an invention, so to speak?

The idea may sound ridiculous to us given that our life is so deeply rooted in the concept of time, 24x7x365 and 24x7x366 but it seems, for a small tribe in an Amazonian rainforest, time does not exist, at least not in the way it exists for us. Their language does not have a word for time. Yes the Amondawa people of Brazil have successfully managed to give time the slip and have thus attained the bliss of timelessness.

According to professor Chris Sinha of the University of Portsmouth's Department of Psychology who led the research, it is the first time scientists have been able to prove that 'time' is not a deeply entrenched universal concept as earlier thought.

He said it could now be said without doubt that there is at least one language and culture that does not have a concept of time as something that could be measured, counted or talked about in the abstract.

He added that this did not mean that the Amondawa were 'people outside time', but they lived in a world of events, rather than seeing events as being embedded in time.

The research team, which included 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'.

Their language, they found, lacked words for such concepts, only divisions of day and night and rainy and dry seasons. They also found community members did not have an age, instead they changed their names in accordance with their life stage and position within their society. For instance, a little child would give up its name to a newborn siblings and take a new one.

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'Time' not necessarily deeply rooted in our brains