# Hypothetical question not hypothetical.

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 923796.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 11:27 am So I'm watching episode 8 of the H series (Hypothetical) and stephen poses this question: "You're talking to an alien in a distant galaxy by radio. How could you explain which is right and which is left?" And answers it thus: "You cant semantically. There is no explination for which is right and which is left without reference to a physical world that somone can identify. You cant, you cant explain it by language. That is, really, the point of the question." Now far be it for me to qusetion (Sir) Stephen Fry nor the fabled QI elves, but there is a way. Tell it to face north. Then instruct it to stick his eastward arm / tounge / appendage out, this is it's left appendage. Then instruct it to stick his westward arm / tounge / appendage out, this is it's right appendage. This is not a reference to a physical manifestaion, mereley a scientific manifetatrion of ions that exists around all planets that are even remoteley capable of sustaining life.

 923802.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 11:42 am How do you know what's Norf?

 923811.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 12:33 pm Or East or West?

 923845.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 5:45 pm How to explain polar directions: Get a pair of magnets, and a wire. Attatch the wire, and the ammeter together to create a "ring". You then run the wire along the magnet from one pole to the other. If the reading on the ammeter is posotive then you have ran it from south to north. If the reading on the ammetetr is negative then you have ran it from north to south. You then take a sliver of this magnet and suspend it in water, or other liquid. "North" is the direction in which the southern pole points. Though, I do not know what "Norf" is, I'm sure google will tell you.

 923848.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 6:56 pm Aliens. Distant galaxies. Assumptions of water, ammeters, of magnets. Na. We were talking words. Not assumptions of gadgets.

 923853.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 7:20 pm We've done this topic a few times on these forums, and we've never reached an entirely satisfactory conclusion. Magnets are an assumption; magnetism isn't, but there's no guarantee that the alien beings know about it. Ammeters are certainly an assumption - after all, it's less than two hundred years since they were invented on Earth. Water probably isn't an assumption - an intelligent species which lacks water seems unlikely. When we discussed the topic before, it was suggested that electroweak decay (whatever that might be) might do as a means of explaining north/south, and that optical isomerism might do for left/right. But in both cases, while the phenomena would exist in the alien civilization, there's again no guarantee that they would know about them. Even if we did manage to convey the notion of north/south - and hence east/west - The Phoenix's argument fails. How do we know that the alien beings are (approximately) bilaterally symmetrical? Sure, all mammals on Earth are so (although some fishes aren't, before we even have to think about lower creatures), but this does not imply that our aliens are. And if they're not, even up/down - which ought to be the easiest to explain, because we can define "down" with reference to gravity - may not be straightforward. Would a spherical being with one hundred eyes and one hundred anuses arranged symmetrically around its body and a dispersed nervous system have any concept of "the direction in which gravity acts"? (The mention of anuses suggests that we could perhaps explain the matter with reference to the direction in which waste matter falls when ejected from the body. But I'm not sure that a creature such as I describe would understand even that. Its one hundred eyes each have a different idea as to which direction that is.)

 923859.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 8:36 pm Though I have made assumptions these assumptions come to some explination when you realise the set-up of the question. "You are speaking to it by radio". If it has invented a radio transmitter then It would have invented magnets, and an ammeter. But even without the ammeter the chineese minvented a compass centuries ago (a spoon in a bowl of soup). The one assumption I'm makig is that it can't communicate via radio waves 'naturally'. Though I do not see your argument for bialterl symetry making any infringement on my argument. For this reason: If a being is intelligent (enough at least to speak) it must therefore have a conscious. Because it has a conscious it must have a centre-point for said conscious, an origin with which it projects itself. If your argument is that a spheroid life-form has no sense of direction then that argument is flawed as it, in theory, roll's around. Which ever eye it can see nothing but ground with is it's downward eye. And which ever way it see's the sky is it's upward-facing eye. Also it must have fluid in it somewhere, and therefore gravity would tell it which way was down. If there is no bilateral symetry then it can still say that "This direction from my projected conscious is left. And the other is right. Aren't humans weird."

 923862.  Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:56 pm You can say that again.

923867.  Sat Jul 14, 2012 12:04 am

 Quote: The one assumption I'm makig is that it can't communicate via radio waves 'naturally'.

I started counting your ifs and buts, and I'm pretty sure there was more than one. Another assumption is that they won't think that east is right.

I'll use Google to find out what "makig" means, yet another priceless advice... ;)

923871.  Sat Jul 14, 2012 1:18 am

 The Phoenix wrote: "You're talking to an alien in a distant galaxy by radio. How could you explain which is right and which is left?" And answers it thus: "You cant semantically. that somone can identify. You cant, you cant explain it by language. That is, really, the point of the question." Now far be it for me to qusetion (Sir) Stephen Fry nor the fabled QI elves, but there is a way.

The problem with this QI is that to jazz it up a bit it is often stated as a real situation. In ALL real situations there are ways to define a physical reference frame on top of which you can define left and right.
If you re-read the original QI you have
 Quote: There is no explination for which is right and which is left without reference to a physical world

Consider radio. Radio waves are electromagnetic radiation, an electric vector perpendicular to a magnetic vector, both of which are perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation. There is no requirement for the waves to be symmetrical so electrical + can be defined and magnetic + (North for us). Once you have those two (which are otherwise totally arbitrary, hence electrical + being "wrong" for us) you can then describe electro mechanical systems that can point left and right. So, to include radio communication in the example was a bad mistake, blurring the original intent.
Maybe a string telephone would have been better with the rule that there is no naughty plucking the string.

Electricity and radio were discovered before electrons and as it happened electrical + was chosen to correspond to the absence rather than presence of the responsible particle.

923874.  Sat Jul 14, 2012 1:57 am

 Quote: without reference to a physical world

 Quote: without reference to a physical world

 Quote: without reference to a physical world

 Quote: without reference to a physical world

 Quote: without reference to a physical world

 Quote: without reference to a physical world

This was the point being argued on QI and it bears repeating just in case everybody misses it again. It's not simply about being able to communicate with aliens. Magnets/Magnetism are part of the physical world.

 923880.  Sat Jul 14, 2012 2:35 am Well, my understanding of that phrase is to simply to remove things like "You see that tree over there - the branch is sticking out to the right." No reference to shared objects. Talking about magnetism and EM radiation and all that jazz is fine. The fundamental flaw is - there is no way to define "North" on a magnet. And if you talk about Faraday's law - there is no way to define the direction of flow of electricity. Oops - there is - electrolysis. D'oh. (eg Electrolyse water, and the cathode gives off twice as much gas as the anode.)

 923885.  Sat Jul 14, 2012 3:04 am MM, what are you trying to say? :)

923896.  Sat Jul 14, 2012 4:05 am

 Posital wrote: Well, my understanding of that phrase is to simply to remove things like "You see that tree over there - the branch is sticking out to the right." No reference to shared objects.

My understanding of the phrase is that there is no linguistic way to define right or left. Imagine an alien being who exists entirely in consciousness -- if we somehow had a way to communicate, even perfectly in a shared language, we could not by spoken language alone demonstrate what is left and what is right.

 CB27 wrote: MM, what are you trying to say?

I've known the secret for a week or two
Nobody knows; just we two-o-o

923905.  Sat Jul 14, 2012 4:15 am

 MinervaMoon wrote: My understanding of the phrase is that there is no linguistic way to define right or left. Imagine an alien being who exists entirely in consciousness -- if we somehow had a way to communicate, even perfectly in a shared language, we could not by spoken language alone demonstrate what is left and what is right.

There is very little you can do without reference to a shared reality beyond cogito ergo sum.

(Cor - I feel all grammar schooly)

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