Walking Backward to the Future – now ‘scientifically grounded’ :)

Last year we submitted one of our interactive, ‘exploring the futures’ concepts to the Dutch Design Ween’09 festival (you could see some sketches and a short explanation of the concept here and here). Unfortunately, due to the withdrawal of our sponsors in the last moment, we didn’t completed the project, a big regret for the team.

But we didn’t abandon the idea, and in fact currently in the talks with two possible locations where we can re-install it and play in these ‘walking futures’, together with people.

Imagine our pleasant surprise when Otto found a very interesting article published recently in the Psychological Science, about the experiments Lynden Miles, Louise Nind and Neil Macrae from the University of Aberdeen who studied the experiences of ‘moving through time’. A very short description of the paper available so far tells, that:

“Although we can’t technically travel through time (yet), when we think of the past or the future we engage in a sort of mental time travel. This uniquely human ability to psychologically travel through time arguably sets us apart from other species.

“Researchers have recently looked at how mental time travel is represented in the sensorimotor systems that regulate human movement. It turns out our perceptions of space and time are tightly coupled.

“They [researchers] fitted participants with a motion sensor while they imagined either future or past events. The researchers found that thinking about past or future events can literally move us: Engaging in mental time travel (a.k.a. chronesthesia) resulted in physical movements corresponding to the metaphorical direction of time. Those who thought of the past swayed backward while those who thought of the future moved forward.

“These findings suggest that chronesthesia may be grounded in processes that link spatial and temporal metaphors (e.g., future= forward, past= backward) to our systems of perception and action. “The embodiment of time and space yields an overt behavioral marker of an otherwise invisible mental operation,” explains Miles and colleagues.

For me the study is an excellent conformation – but of course not of ‘interlinkage of spatial and temporal metaphors’, but rather of the fact that ‘culture works’ (and did someone doubt?). This strikingly resembles the famous Alice’s “if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds”. If your culture trains people to see the future ‘ahead’ and ‘forward’, and the past – ‘behind’ and ‘backward’, then – oh, what a surprise for ‘British Scientists’ that – at the end people tend to experience the world this way.

That’s exactly the reason why our installation will work as a challenge, a provocation to that cultural nor, and that’s why it will be creating a powerful ‘transfer’ for the participants.

PS: I am curious if the team from Aberdeen would apply their methods to the native folks from Pandora. How quickly would they discover that the future is ‘up’ and above’, and the past is ‘down and ‘below’ in the minds of the navi?

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