Metaphors for time and space

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have a chapter on time (Chapter 10) in their book Philosophy in the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999) that makes several points:

All of our understandings of time are relative to other concepts such as motion, space, and events. (p.137) Most of our understanding of time is a metaphorical version of our understanding of motion in space. (p.139)

They find that the metaphor systems for time either map time to space or to motion:

The Time Orientation Metaphor
The Location Of The Observer → The Present
The Space In Front Of The Observer → The Future
The Space Behind The Observer → The Past

The Moving Time Metaphor
Objects → Times
The Motion Of Objects → The “Passage” Of Time Past The Observer

The Time-Substance Variation
Substance → Time
Amount Of Substance → Duration Of Time
The Size Of The Amount → The Extent Of The Duration
Motion Of Substance Past The Observer → The “Passage” Of Time

The Moving Observer Metaphor
Locations On Observer’s Path Of Motion → Times
The Motion Of The Observer → The “Passage” Of Time
The Distance Moved By The Observer → The Amount Of Time “Passed”

The Time Is A Resource Metaphor
The Resource → Time
The User Of The Resource → The Agent (The User Of Time)
The Purpose That Requires The Resource → The Purpose That Requires Time
The Value Of The Resource → The Value Of The Time
The Value Of The Purpose → The Value Of The Purpose

Example of the latter: Time as money.

Thus in the Moving Time metaphor, times move and the observer is stationary, while in the Moving Observer metaphor, the observer moves and time is stationary. [p.194]

I have written before about how distance can be given in terms of duration, which seems to have been common in the ancient world (see here). It is possible, and seems to be the ancient preference, to map space to time and motion or action, turning around the metaphor systems above.

For example, etymologically east means toward the sunrise or morning and west means toward the sunset or evening. To go south is an American idiom to vanish or abscond, probably from mid-19th century notion of disappearing south to Mexico or Texas to escape pursuit or responsibility. To go west is a British idiom meaning to die or be killed, probably from thieves’ slang, in which to go west meant to go to Tyburn, hence to be hanged. There’s also the American idiom from Horace Greeley’s “go west, young man” in which the west (the western mountains and west coast of the U.S.) is the place where a young man might find a successful future. So the east (the east coast of the U.S. and further east toward Europe) has a sense of the past, where most Americans arrived from abroad and the main source of American culture.

The Bible in particular speaks of some places in terms of events associated with them: “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes) means in this world, which lies under the motion of the sun; the Promised Land is the area that God promised to Abraham (Genesis 50:24, etc.). Spiritual places are also spoken of this way: the “land of darkness and of the shadow of death” (Job 10:21); the outer darkness as the place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12, etc.); heaven as the place where Jesus dwells (John 14:3 etc.).

Here are metaphor systems that use temporal space:

The Sun Orientation Metaphor
Toward The Sunrise → The Past
The Sun Overhead → The Present
Toward The Sunset → The Future

The Moving Person Metaphor
The Place Where Someone Was → The Past
The Place Where Someone Is → The Present
The Place Where Someone Will Be → The Future

Commuting is an example of the latter metaphor system. At work one may speak of the route of their morning commute and how their afternoon commute has a different route. At work is the here and now. It’s different at one’s residence: the workplace is the past or future depending on whether one is looking back at it to forward to it.

In 3D space + 1D time the metaphors for time are spatial since space is dominant, but in 1D space + 3D time the metaphors for space are temporal since time is dominant.