The Time Traveller’s Life
University of Aberdeen
The ability to travel mentally through time sets humans apart from many other species, yet little is known about this pivotal social-cognitive capacity. Guided by the viewpoint that higher mental activity can have a sensory-motor grounding, recent work in our laboratory has explored whether thinking about abstract concepts such as time can be revealed in more concrete (e.g. spatial) domains. Across a number of studies, we have demonstrated that episodes of prospection and retrospection impact the manner in which people move through space. Moreover, it appears that this mental conflation between space and time may be bidirectional, such that just as thinking about time entails associated movements in space, so too moving through space shapes the temporal locus of mental activity. Building on these findings, the current talk will explore: (i) the neural correlates of mental time travel; (ii) how cultural factors shape temporal thinking; and (iii) the embodiment of prospection. Consideration will be given to the functional origins of space-time mapping.