Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More on Time Ain't

Ezra points us to Der Spiegel for a discussion of Piraha linguistics.

Eventually Everett came up with a surprising explanation for the peculiarities of the Pirahã idiom. "The language is created by the culture," says the linguist. He explains the core of Pirahã culture with a simple formula: "Live here and now." The only thing of importance that is worth communicating to others is what is being experienced at that very moment. "All experience is anchored in the presence," says Everett, who believes this carpe-diem culture doesn't allow for abstract thought or complicated connections to the past -- limiting the language accordingly.

Living in the now also fits with the fact that the Pirahã don't appear to have a creation myth explaining existence. When asked, they simply reply: "Everything is the same, things always are." The mothers also don't tell their children fairy tales -- actually nobody tells any kind of stories. No one paints and there is no art.

Very hard to conceive of a world without numbers. A world without stories. A world without art. But try to conceive of how full the present must be to leave no room for such essentials of our lives.
-- ml

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