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Left and Right - Definitely defineable

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758389.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 7:44 am Reply with quote

It is more quite disappointing rather than quite interesting that the interest in the left/ right problem relies solely on a premise that is never appropriate to real life. This premise is so finicky that to make an interesting programme the topic needs to be embellished somewhat, unfortunately such embellishment, or story telling usurps the premise.

In the programme the problem was introduced to include radio transmission, immediately he requirement to remove the concept from any frame of reference is destroyed, rendering the interest to semantics and extreme specifics. Almost as dull as spiders hearing through their legs.

So much of the latest series seems to fall foul of similar situations that I spend a lot of time screaming at the telly because the Elves have led Steven astray.

758391.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 7:47 am Reply with quote

teramut - you are right, of course, to say that that is quite interesting. But you are not right in saying that my statement is
not quite true!

because the method you describe is a demonstration, and my statement was that you can't convey the meaning of these words without using a demonstration.

758496.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:44 pm Reply with quote

As Flash says, it's clearly Quite Interesting. Otherwise we wouldn't be discussing it at such length. :)

758544.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 4:49 pm Reply with quote

Without a common reference point, there's not much to talk about - except maths...

Even The Weather would be off limits...

Ion Zone
758557.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 5:23 pm Reply with quote

I'm wondering what the original usage of these words came from, but I would say that you are defining the sides of an object based on an imaginary (or not) longitudinal line (Even the aliens should get that).

758561.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 5:41 pm Reply with quote

Ion Zone wrote:
Even the aliens should get that

But not which is which, is the point.

758567.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 6:32 pm Reply with quote

I'm aware this is a question based on semantics, so lets put that to one side to explore how you could do it,

If you used maths, this would be how you could do it:

Tell them to pick a point, we call this the origin.

Draw a straight line from that point to infinity, call it the x-axis. Draw another straight line orthogonal to the x-axis to infinity, call it the y-axis. Take the cross product of those two vectors, and that would give you the z-axis.

Orient this co-ordinate system so that the positive Z-axis direction points up (this can be defined arbitrarily, so long as the alien aligns its view with the co-ordinate system)

Now, there is a plane formed by the Y and Z axis, call this the ZY plane.

If you are looking down the y-axis in the positive y-direction, everything which is on the positive x-axis, is to the right of the plane ZY, and everything negative x-axis is to the left of it.

758581.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:27 pm Reply with quote

I was thinking about this question and wondered if the alien knew fluent english and if they did then they must know how to spell words as well as speak them.
Then I thought if I told the alien to spell a word and write it down or imagine a word spelt out, such as the word "right". I could tell the alien that the letter "G" was right of the letter "I" and that the "R" was left of the letter "I".
So after knowing this I could get the alien to pretend that they were the letter "I" and get them to lie on the floor and face down.
Then say all things in the same direction as the "I" to the "G" was right and that all things in the same direction as the "I" to the "R" was left. I think this covers the question using only language and makes a part of the language the common reference between us.
Please tell me if im mad but I think this would be a good way of explaining right from left.

Last edited by Sham on Mon Nov 08, 2010 3:27 am; edited 1 time in total

758582.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:33 pm Reply with quote

Using that method, you could teach someone to say the word 'anencephalous', but I don't think they'd necessarily be any closer to understanding what the word actually meant.

758590.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 11:04 pm Reply with quote

The property of Cobalt 60 can be used to devise a scientific diagram which could be reasonably understood by any species capable of interstellar communication which would only be correct if aligned one way, thus allowing the definition of left and right.

This is (and other similar subatomic phenomenon) are really the only way to do so though as on a macroscopic level, physical laws appear to be mirror symmetrical.

Cross products would not work as they presuppose a standard definition of left or right handedness.

Spelling out words and reading left to right? Really?

758638.  Mon Nov 08, 2010 5:22 am Reply with quote

Qczhao, your idea depends on defining the "positive" direction as "to the right", so you're deploying a circular argument: it only works if you know which way is "right" before you start.

758681.  Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:30 am Reply with quote

There is right & left in the universe!

There's even been a Nobel prize for this.

Please have a look at some of these sources on the topic of "parity violation." (scroll down to "parity violation")

Cobalt-60 can definitely be used to distinguish left from right.

758686.  Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:44 am Reply with quote

Yes it can, but you can't distinguish left and right by means of language alone, which is the point being made.

758691.  Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:55 am Reply with quote

The problem is, if you go down that path, there's a whole lot of things that can't be defined by language alone and "left and right" become a trivial item in a dizzying array of concepts. Unless you're communicating pure mathematics with these supposed aliens, you're pretty much up the creek without some common reference points. The only common reference points it's safe to assume are the physical properties of our universe.

758733.  Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:52 am Reply with quote

Well, that's got potential as a way of developing this discussion. I was trying to think of other examples and could only come up with left/right analogues like east/west and clockwise/anti-clockwise. Might be fun to see what else we can think of. RichyT will get us started ...


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