So, syntironomy.com has a logo. What is it? A capital sigma – the Greek letter which starts syntiro, the root word of syntironomy – with arrows added to the top and bottom bars. Sigma not only stands for the word syntironomy, but also consists of four lines, standing for the four syntironomic Methods. And the arrows signify continuity over time.
But, hang on, why do the arrows point to the right? The form of the letter sigma lends itself to rightwards arrows, of course, but it’s not just that – in fact, one of the main reasons I opted for a sigma-based logo was that it lends itself to rightwards arrows, and rightwards arrows suggest (to me) continuity over time.
Well, I read and write English, which runs from left to right. So ideas and narratives expressed in words continue rightwards; numbers in ascending order ascend rightwards; and timelines generally progress to the right (if they’re horizontal). The latter point is probably the crucial one here: because I effectively think from left to right, I naturally imagine time progressing from left to right. Rightwards is forwards. The ‘play’ arrow on audio-visual devices points to the right, and re-wind to the left: cassette tapes (if you remember those) were constructed to run that way, at least in the UK. The ‘show more bookmarks’ button in my internet browser also points, arbitrarily, to the right. Not to mention the forward-one-page and back-one-page buttons.
All this seems natural and effortless (even when inconvenient, since I’m left-handed), but presumably the reverse would be true if I read and wrote Arabic or Hebrew, which run the other way.
This isn’t my idle speculation, it’s an active field of research in linguistics and cognitive science. Just see, for instance, this interview with Lera Boroditsky, Associate Professor at the University of California. She not only discusses the English/Arabic contrast, but also the ‘vertical time’ of Mandarin:
The “up” month is the last month and the “down” month is the next month, so the past is up and the future is down, and what we find is that when Mandarin speakers are imagining time, they’re much more likely to imagine a vertical timeline.
And this blog here cites a study by Boroditsky and Alice Gaby (of Berkeley) of the Kuuk Thaayorre language of the Pormpuraaw people in Australia, who apparently conceive of time running from east to west, regardless of which direction they happen to be facing. In other words, time runs with the sun: strikingly logical and, for the Pormpuraaw people, intuitive. But not really applicable in writing or drawing.
So it goes on. In the Yupno language, in Papua New Guinea, the future is uphill (another capital blog post). And for the Aymara people of the Andes (as studied by Rafael Núñez and Eve Sweetser), the past lies ahead – the longer ago, the further ahead. The future is behind you, and the word for future even means ‘back’, while the word for past means front or sight. There’s a logic here, too. You can see the past retreating away from you, while the future comes unseen up behind you. This is the Aymara view, except when the timespan in question is very long and independent of the speaker, in which case it runs from left to right… that sounds familiar!
And that’s where we come back to syntironomy. From the syntironomic perspective, time is like the left-to-right version of the Aymara: it is not seen ahead and behind, even if ‘ahead’ is pictured to the west or the right, or ‘behind’ conceived as to the east or the left. Syntironomically speaking, I am not ‘going forwards’ in time – I am persisting in time – and the same goes for you, too. So the direction of the arrows in the logo is completely arbitrary: they do not really represent directions in time, they represent a kind of motion in time.
That is the key.