The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Moving through time facing backwards

When I was a kid, I remember my mother once telling me that although we think of ourselves moving forward through time (facing the future), there was a tribe or culture or race somewhere that said we moved through time facing backwards (a quick 30 seconds on Google to research who it might have been didn’t throw anything up, but if anyone happens to know, please do sate my curiosity).

I only remembered this a few days back when it popped into my head in the middle of a discussion with a friend about concepts of time. Since then I’ve discovered myself mulling over it several times.

It makes an extraordinary amount of sense when you think about it. We can only see where we’ve been, not where we’re going. What has happened to us is clearly visible, but what is about to happen is pure guesswork.

Imagine we are walking backwards along a path. The only way of knowing which way the path is going is by looking at where it’s been and looking for repetitions and patterns to try and work out where it might go next.

If the curve of the path is gentle, then we can correct our course before we reach the edges as we notice the bend. But if it is a sharp turn, we will be off the expected track before we know it.

If the path has been fairly straight for quite a while, we get lulled into a false sense of security and begin to assume it will just carry on being straight forever, or at least for the immediate future. But the reality is we cannot know that for certain, and at any time it could make a sudden and unforeseen change in direction.

So many of the dramatic changes in our lives happen without warning – too quickly for us to realise the path has twisted unpredictably.

Just because we can see where we’ve been, doesn’t mean we know where we’re going.

At some point there is an inevitable cliff top waiting for all of us. We just won’t know where it is until it’s too late.

We really do need to take more time to savour this moment than assuming there will be plenty more to come.

13 comments

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Everyday is precious.

injaynesworld said...

I love this concept. Yes, it does make a lot of sense. This is going to stay with me. Thanks, Kim.

allencapoferri said...

I like this idea of time. Somehow I feel I've experienced it...like a dream.

Guyana-Gyal said...

I've only just read the first few lines, but I think [not 100 % sure] there's a group of people here who do that...I haven't written about them, I have so many stories in my note-books...I must call the former police-man now taxi driver and ask him.

kriss said...

Maybe we should walk sideways, then we can see where we've been and ahead to where we're hoping to go, to avoid falling off the cliff. Of course, if we do this and spend all our time moving our heads back and forth we won't see what's right in front of us, the now, and that would miss the real point; to enjoy what we've got and bugger the rest.

Kim Ayres said...

Gillian - very true

Jayne - it is one of those ideas that requires mulling :)

Allen - I think it's a bit like one of those pictures where you suddenly see something else in it, and then can't not see it anymore

Guana-Gyal - I hope you came back and read the rest of the lines... :)

Kriss - if we could face forwards, or sideways, that would be fine - the analogy is that we're always facing backwards, and that more accurately reflects the experience of how we move through time :)

hope said...

Very interesting!

Reminds me of a Gullah quote from the South that means, "You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been."

Kim Ayres said...

Hope - only in this case it's "You can't know where you're going, only where you've been." :)

MissLou said...

BUT...the past is forever changing, as we change,(or as time goes on), our perception of it changes. And this is more true the younger you are or the less you understand of a situation that is happening to you for whatever reason.
The past does not stay the same.
Yes, I have been thinking about this lately.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Yes, I did come back and I read it two or three times, and I've been thinking, thinking. That's why I haven't said anything. This post is so interesting, it's filled my head with so many thoughts, I have to sort them out.

I have to come back...

Oh, an interesting book that explores the concept of time is Borderliners by Peter Hoeg, a Danish writer.

LegalMist said...

Interesting concept, and does seem to reflect our experience accurately. I will remember this...

LegalMist said...

So, I ran a Google search. Your blog post is the third entry on this topic. I have heard that it is most financially lucrative if your blog or web site is in the top 3. Good job!

Here is a link to the first one, a blog post, from 2007, which attributes the concept to the Aymaras people of South America:

http://polymathicus.blogspot.com/2007/08/nayra-qhipa-aymaras-walk-backward-in.html

Can't vouch for the accuracy, of course, but it does cite a scholarly journal, as well as Wikipedia... Hope this is helpful. :)

Kim Ayres said...

MissLou - it's a good point you make - our perception of the past changes with time and experience. We then try and factor these things into guessing which way our future will go :)

Guyana-Gyal - If you have any more thoughts you wish to explore, then don't hesitate to come back and leave more comments :) And thanks for the pointer to the book.

LegalMist - Thanks for the link. I followed through to the article cited, which was written in 2006. It would have been 20 to 30 years previous to that my mother mentioned this, so I wonder where she got it from? Pre-google times... ;)

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