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Explaining Left and Right to an Alien...

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bobwilson
779344.  Mon Jan 24, 2011 1:40 am Reply with quote

Don't you need a physical reference for up and down? Away from (or toward) a gravitational pull)?

 
staticstar
779482.  Mon Jan 24, 2011 8:09 am Reply with quote

but the question on the show merely said over a radio, which caused problems with a common reference point, it didn't exclude finding a way to use a physical reference, just took out the ability to see the same things

 
dr.bob
779546.  Mon Jan 24, 2011 11:03 am Reply with quote

staticstar wrote:
I explained left and right in a psychology paper when explaining why left and right is reversed in a mirror but up and down aren't, it's quite simply that left and right are subjective where as up and down are definite.


No, it's because left and right aren't reversed in a mirror. Rather front and back are reversed.

staticstar wrote:
In terms of explaining this to aliens over a radio making the assumptions that A) We are speaking the same language and therefore B) both have an understanding of the word north (after all, surely all planets have a north)
the explanation quite simply

Whilst facing North the world and objects to the west of you are your left and the world and objects east of you are your right, this turns with you so that when you are facing South the world and objects to the west is now your right and the world and objects to the East is now your left


That presupposes not only that the aliens have an understanding of the word north (which is basically as impossible to describe as left or right), but also that they understand east and west and have them in the same arbitrary direction that we do.

 
Pyriform
780795.  Thu Jan 27, 2011 5:06 pm Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
staticstar wrote:
I explained left and right in a psychology paper when explaining why left and right is reversed in a mirror but up and down aren't, it's quite simply that left and right are subjective where as up and down are definite.


No, it's because left and right aren't reversed in a mirror. Rather front and back are reversed.


Yes, and the reason we tend to think of left and right being reversed is really just because we are L-R symmetrical. You would never mistake the front of your head for the back, but it is quite easy to mentally invert left and right. I suggest if we were (sighted) jellyfish (with radial symmetry) or turbots (which have no symmetry) we would not have such misconceptions. Indeed, we would probably not have such concepts as left and right.

 
soup
781032.  Fri Jan 28, 2011 11:36 am Reply with quote

staticstar wrote:
left and right is reversed in a mirror but up and down aren't,



No they aren't; up is still towards the top of a mirror, the left is still towards the east/west side of the mirror, down is still towards the bottom of the mirror and right is still towards the west/east (the opposite of the left) of the mirror . Front and back are transposed NOT left and right.

www.cheesesoup.myby.co.uk/mirror.jpg


Oops I see Dr bob was there long before me.

 
Pyriform
781242.  Fri Jan 28, 2011 7:15 pm Reply with quote

Don't worry, soup. I have only just watched the lase episode of QI and realised that it was there before me.

 
misericords
892195.  Wed Mar 07, 2012 1:46 pm Reply with quote

It strikes me that everyone is looking for a complex solution, rather than an easy one. This requires asking 2 questions.
1. Are you bilaterally symmetrical? if the answer is no, then maybe the complex questions are the best route.

2. Trace the route of this radio transmission back to the nearest spiral galaxy. You will notice that trailing arms at the top of the galaxy trail to the left (or right dependent on the angle that we know that they are looking at it from)

Wit this method it doesn't matter if they are at the north or south pole of their planet, just that they know that top is relative to them, i.e. away from the gravitational centre of their planet.

If they can communicate over such distance they must be aware of astronomy.

 
mckeonj
892211.  Wed Mar 07, 2012 2:54 pm Reply with quote

Try explaining anticlockwise rotation of key in lock to a neighbour's four-year-old locked in your bathroom.

 
suze
892237.  Wed Mar 07, 2012 5:52 pm Reply with quote

misericords wrote:
With this method it doesn't matter if they are at the north or south pole of their planet, just that they know that top is relative to them, i.e. away from the gravitational centre of their planet.


But this still relies on a notion of top and bottom / up and down, where down is the direction in which gravity acts.

Would spherical beings which had multiple eyes and multiple anuses distributed evenly around their bodies necessarily have such a notion?

 
misericords
892245.  Wed Mar 07, 2012 6:17 pm Reply with quote

Hence the first question - are you bilaterally symmetrical.

 
suze
892249.  Wed Mar 07, 2012 6:33 pm Reply with quote

Ah, OK. I'd understood your first question to mean "bilaterally, or more" - but if it meant "bilaterally, and not more", then I'm with you.

Are there any animals which are totally asymmetrical? If there are, a left/right distinction which they can understand would probably be quite easy.

 
misericords
892252.  Wed Mar 07, 2012 6:53 pm Reply with quote

I don't know, certainly not anything that's chordate, but I suppose you could argue that an octopus having multiple brains is not bilaterally symmetrical.

Would a tripodal alien have any concept of left and right, especially if it thinks in the round, and angles of 120 degrees?

 
suze
892259.  Wed Mar 07, 2012 7:52 pm Reply with quote

I'm reading that the sponges (Porifera) are asymmetrical, although I'm not entirely sure what makes them animals rather than plants in any case.

Perhaps more surprisingly, I'm also reading that some fishes are asymmetrical insofar as their eyes are both on the same side of the head. The halibut, plaice, and sole have both eyes on the right, while the turbot has both eyes on the left. But it seems that you are essentially right, and there are no chordate animals which are not basically symmetrical.

 
aTao
892270.  Thu Mar 08, 2012 12:08 am Reply with quote

misericords wrote:


2. Trace the route of this radio transmission back to the nearest spiral galaxy. You will notice that trailing arms at the top of the galaxy trail to the left (or right dependent on the angle that we know that they are looking at it from).


This is defining a physical reference frame so does not solve the problem. The definition is hidden in "trace the route", right there you have defined a direction, and with that you can go on to define left and right easily. But thats not what this is about. Unfortunately for the QI, the television programme misguidedly included the idea of radio communication as if it were some way to isolate the 2 reference frames (alien and us) but it in fact does worse than give a link. A radio signal in itself can contain all the required information.

 
misericords
892426.  Thu Mar 08, 2012 11:21 am Reply with quote

Quote:
This is defining a physical reference frame so does not solve the problem. The definition is hidden in "trace the route", right there you have defined a direction, and with that you can go on to define left and right easily.


I have to disagree, tracing the route is just using a directional antenna to find the strongest signal, something they would be using anyway, as would we, just as we have to with satellite TV. so the direction is automatic, and not defined by semantics.

 

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