How do we actually look at pictures, and how does that affect what we see in them? I started thinking about this again when I read about the Kuuk Thaayorre, an Aboriginal society in northern Australia. Lera Boroditsky (mentioned previously on A&P) reports on The Edge that their language and culture describe space and spatial relationships not in body-relative terms, but in absolute, land-fixed terms (I wonder if this is true for many Aboriginal langiages). When given a sequence of picture cards (showing a banana being eaten, or other obvious process) to arrange in time order,
Instead of arranging time from left to right, they arranged it from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body and so on. This was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced. The Kuuk Thaayorre not only knew that already (usually much better than I did), but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time.