Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 30 of 69

Thread: Why is North up?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Posts
    419

    Why is North up?

    Is there any scientific, psychological, anthropological or historical reason why North is Up on a modern, western map or globe? Why isn’t South Up?
    Perhaps something to do with compass design?


    I believe the origin of the term ‘orientate’ is that prayers from the “west” were said facing east toward jerusalem.
    The name Benjamin means son of the right hand... meaning son of the south.. for the same reason.

    So presumably other/ older cultures orientate differently.

    Were there any cultures that navigate differently eg non-cartesian such as angle + distance (other than bees?)
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Very near, yet so far away
    Posts
    270
    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    Is there any scientific, psychological, anthropological or historical reason why North is Up on a modern, western map or globe? Why isn’t South Up?
    Perhaps something to do with compass design?


    I believe the origin of the term ‘orientate’ is that prayers from the “west” were said facing east toward jerusalem.
    The name Benjamin means son of the right hand... meaning son of the south.. for the same reason.

    So presumably other/ older cultures orientate differently.

    Were there any cultures that navigate differently eg non-cartesian such as angle + distance (other than bees?)
    I would say mostly historical. The early Western explorers were also able to use more advanced technology so their view is the one that has prevailed. Other cultures used the magnetic field in varying ways but the modern map is a western invention.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,500
    What headrush said.

    But, additionally:

    I think the question isn't so much 'why is North up?' but 'why is up North?'. As in: why West or East isn't up.

    Most of the world's population is in the Northern hemisphere.
    From anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, Polaris the Pole Star is a fixed point in the sky, making it a logical point of reference.
    (The Southern Hemisphere has no such Pole Star.)
    So, anyone, anywhere in the N. Hemisphere can and must look 'up' to see the Pole Star.

    If 'up' were West or East, the stars would constantly change, meaning up has no fixed reference.


    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    I believe the origin of the term ‘orientate’ is that...
    There is a fair bit of contention about whether that word exists at all.

    Google:
    "The noun form of this kind of orienting is orientation. Sometimes people in their speech will form an imagined verb from orientation and say orientate. At best, orientate is a back-formation used humorously to make the speaker sound pompous. The correct word is the verb orient."

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Nowhere (middle)
    Posts
    37,112
    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    Is there any scientific, psychological, anthropological or historical reason why North is Up on a modern, western map or globe? Why isn’t South Up?
    Because the northern hemisphere has more of the population and landmass? Also as headrush says, history. The Colonial powers wanted North at the top of their maps, so it's still up.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    The beautiful north coast (Ohio)
    Posts
    49,209
    Survey any of our members from the South of the equator about this.
    At night the stars put on a show for free (Carole King)

    All moderation in purple - The rules

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    17,965
    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    There is a fair bit of contention about whether that word exists at all.

    Google:
    "The noun form of this kind of orienting is orientation. Sometimes people in their speech will form an imagined verb from orientation and say orientate. At best, orientate is a back-formation used humorously to make the speaker sound pompous. The correct word is the verb orient."
    My, that's a pompous quotation, and apparently widely copied around the internet. Shame it's completely wrong.
    "Orientate" has been around for close to two hundred years in British English. And, given that "orientate" and "orientation" came into common usage at pretty much the same time, the chance that the first is an ignorant back-formation from the second is slim.

    The original use of the verb "orient" referred the alignment of Christian churches, with the altar and chancel to the east; rare churches with the altar to the west are said to be "occidented".

    Arab geographers used to put south at the top; Christian geographers used to put east at the top. I've seen it suggested that "north at the top" only became standard when European travellers started using a magnetic compass.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2019-Oct-30 at 09:04 PM. Reason: Duplicate sig

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    a long way away
    Posts
    10,742
    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    There is a fair bit of contention about whether that word exists at all.
    Of course it exists. Someone just used it. It follows the standard English rules of morphology and phonology. The meaning is clear (and defined in dictionaries).

    A words that "doesn't exist" in English would be something like "ngjusrkjk". But, of course, such a word could exist in English (the word mxyzptlk exists, for example).

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Falls Church, VA (near Washington, DC)
    Posts
    8,791
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Of course it exists. Someone just used it. It follows the standard English rules of morphology and phonology. The meaning is clear (and defined in dictionaries).

    A words that "doesn't exist" in English would be something like "ngjusrkjk". But, of course, such a word could exist in English (the word mxyzptlk exists, for example).
    This reminds me of a chapter in Language in Thought and Action by S. I. Hayakawa, professor of English and former U. S. Senator. He illustrated the concept of meaning and definition of words with the hypothetical word "shrdlu". He developed a definition by describing tasks that could be done with it, and it became apparent to me that he was describing a chisel. Someone who had never done any woodworking might not have recognized it.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    a long way away
    Posts
    10,742
    Quote Originally Posted by Hornblower View Post
    This reminds me of a chapter in Language in Thought and Action by S. I. Hayakawa, professor of English and former U. S. Senator. He illustrated the concept of meaning and definition of words with the hypothetical word "shrdlu". He developed a definition by describing tasks that could be done with it, and it became apparent to me that he was describing a chisel. Someone who had never done any woodworking might not have recognized it.
    And some of us would recognise Shrdlu from the easy AI work of Terry Winograd in the '70s. (And the full form, Etaoin Shrdlu, from various contexts.)

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,500
    Yes, well, this is why I equivocated with "There is some contention".

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Metrowest, Boston
    Posts
    4,754
    I think it has to do with the celestial sphere...the map of the night sky. There is a pole star in the Northern Hemisphere, Polaris, and although not spectacularly bright, it's pretty close to the celestial North Pole. That meant for early maritime navigators, if you left western Europe, and set sail Westward, you only had to keep the Pole Star at the same height above the horizon, to maintain a path of equal latitude. That meant, if you sailed to the Azores, you could return to your point of departure by reversing course, and keeping the pole star off the port side, at the same height above the horizon.
    Not so in the Southern Hemisphere, where no distinct pole star was used. So, when mapmakers put their maps on a globe, the Northern hemisphere's trade routes located destinations at equal lines of latitude. Christopher Columbus is said to have carried the Piri Reis map that included the Easternmost points of Brazil, Columbus having been shipwrecked off a Portuguese village and recovered in the family of a mapmaker. Similar technique worked in the Mediterranean. Knowing the night sky, in clear weather, is a good skill for outdoors people, for when your tech stuff goes down. (I am at a loss for how some 2500 people a year disappear in Alaska)


    Piri map SEE:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piri_Reis_map

    pete
    Last edited by trinitree88; 2019-Oct-30 at 09:43 PM. Reason: link

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Nowhere (middle)
    Posts
    37,112
    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    Yes, well, this is why I equivocated with "There is some contention".
    There is some contention as to whether the Earth is round. Some say yes, some say no.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    17,965
    Quote Originally Posted by trinitree88 View Post
    I think it has to do with the celestial sphere...the map of the night sky. There is a pole star in the Northern Hemisphere, Polaris, and although not spectacularly bright, it's pretty close to the celestial North Pole. That meant for early maritime navigators, if you left western Europe, and set sail Westward, you only had to keep the Pole Star at the same height above the horizon, to maintain a path of equal latitude. That meant, if you sailed to the Azores, you could return to your point of departure by reversing course, and keeping the pole star off the port side, at the same height above the horizon.
    Not so in the Southern Hemisphere, where no distinct pole star was used. So, when mapmakers put their maps on a globe, the Northern hemisphere's trade routes located destinations at equal lines of latitude. Christopher Columbus is said to have carried the Piri Reis map that included the Easternmost points of Brazil, Columbus having been shipwrecked off a Portuguese village and recovered in the family of a mapmaker. Similar technique worked in the Mediterranean. Knowing the night sky, in clear weather, is a good skill for outdoors people, for when your tech stuff goes down. (I am at a loss for how some 2500 people a year disappear in Alaska)


    Piri map SEE:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piri_Reis_map

    pete
    And yet Arab cartographers, who lived in the northern hemisphere in plain view of Polaris, but south at the top of their maps. And the ancient Egyptians (ditto) put east at the top of theirs.

    Grant Hutchison

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Posts
    13,829
    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    Yes, well, this is why I equivocated with "There is some contention".
    Yeah, I think it was just the way you put it that was strange. You wrote:

    There is a fair bit of contention about whether that word exists at all.
    But I think you really meant to write:

    There is a fair bit of contention about whether that word should be used.
    And that I think it completely legitimate. There are other words like that, where people say "administrate" instead of "administer" (though in that case there is the justification that "administer" has another meaning, so it removes the ambiguity). But in general I think people use those words to sound important. Also "necessitate".
    As above, so below

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    17,965
    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    And that I think it completely legitimate. There are other words like that, where people say "administrate" instead of "administer" (though in that case there is the justification that "administer" has another meaning, so it removes the ambiguity). But in general I think people use those words to sound important. Also "necessitate".
    In the UK, "orientate" is just what we say. As is "necessitate". What do you say instead of "necessitate"?

    Grant Hutchison

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Posts
    13,829
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    In the UK, "orientate" is just what we say. As is "necessitate". What do you say instead of "necessitate"?
    I think I would usually say "needs" or "requires". But actually that's a good point. A word that sounds pretentious in one dialect may well be the normal word that is used in another dialect of the same language. Just like for an American, using "bloody" as a emphasis word or using "love" to refer to somebody that you've just met is weird, but in other dialects it may be normal.
    As above, so below

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Posts
    419
    OK forget I ever wrote 'orientate'... but we all accept the words Orient, Oriental, Orientation... my point was that in some cultures the 'cardinal' compass point was toward the "east" with everything else referenced to that point.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    17,965
    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    A word that sounds pretentious in one dialect may well be the normal word that is used in another dialect of the same language.
    Yeah. Which is what makes the quote found by DaveC426913 so insufferably naive and pompous.

    Apparently it originated (sorry, origined) with some people called English Plus, who are not inspiring me to buy whatever it is they're selling.

    Grant Hutchison

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Posts
    419
    just found this :

    http://journal.media-culture.org.au/...icle/view/1276

    Indeed, many of the words for ‘north’ around the world are etymologically linked to the left hand side (for example Cornish clēth ‘north, left’)

    So maybe 'North' is 'Left' when you are facing "East"??

    From wikipedia:

    The word north is related to the Old High German nord,[1] both descending from the Proto-Indo-European unit *ner-, meaning "left; below" as north is to left when facing the rising sun.[2] Similarly, the other cardinal directions are also related to the sun's position.[3][4][5]
    Last edited by plant; 2019-Oct-31 at 03:00 AM.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Depew, NY
    Posts
    11,857
    My artsy-fartsy brain wants to flip everything around. When you render something, "top/up" is generally above the subject of the drawing and further away, so you can pack in the most detail about what you want to be seen. That portion on the bottom of rendering is interpreted as closest to the viewer and should have more detail. So if you build your city north of a point, you want to make SOUTH the top of the map so people can "see through the city". If you went the other way and most of your country is south of a point, then NORTH has to be the top. It's no so much up and down or north and south, but what point did you pick as the center.

    I posted a video of me drawing upside down in the Share Your Art thread. I was doing that because I needed the important details closest to my eye (or at least in field of my bifocals), therefore upside down. Obviously, when completed, I simply flip the drawing right side up. I was stippling person where the light source is behind their head and above them, so the chest of the person will end up being very dark. With stippling, the general outline is laid down, then darkened. At that point in the drawing, I was laying down the absolute darkest points before shading the rest. The portion you see in the video will be almost black when done. But I need to start with details before depth of black.
    Solfe

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Posts
    419
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    a long way away
    Posts
    10,742
    Street maps in Japan (and by this I mean maps on the street showing the surrounding area - there must be a proper name for these) are orientated with the direction you are facing, when looking at the map, at the top. Which is very, very sensible and it annoys me that everywhere doesn't do this.

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    17,965
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Street maps in Japan (and by this I mean maps on the street showing the surrounding area - there must be a proper name for these) are orientated with the direction you are facing, when looking at the map, at the top. Which is very, very sensible and it annoys me that everywhere doesn't do this.
    Big neurocognitive divide, there. I find maps like that infuriating. I used to set the satnav in my car so that north was always at the top, to the annoyance and occasional bafflement of my wife.
    We were once in a bookshop and I noticed a road atlas of the UK printed with south at the top, for use "when driving south". I genuinely believe this was a joke (like McArthur's Universal Corrective Map, but without a political edge) and pointed it out to my wife - who immediately bought it, as a signally useful item.
    I wonder if, with the increasing use of electronic mapping which can dynamically label any map in any orientation, "north at the top" mental navigators like myself will gradually become extinct.

    But then again, there's a book about language (IIRC, The Unfolding Of Language, by Guy Deutscher) in which it's pointed out that some Australian aboriginal languages use absolute direction (north, south, east, west) in situations where Europeans would use relative direction (left, right, front, back). It includes a story about an aborigine giving directions to a European, concerning where to find something in a large local shop that the European was going to visit later in the day - "You'll find it over on this side [hand gesture]." The aborigine was pointing in the correct compass direction, but misled the European, who expected the gesture to indicate the relative direction for someone walking in through the doorway.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2019-Oct-31 at 05:06 PM. Reason: Clarity

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Nowhere (middle)
    Posts
    37,112
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Street maps in Japan (and by this I mean maps on the street showing the surrounding area - there must be a proper name for these) are orientated with the direction you are facing, when looking at the map, at the top. Which is very, very sensible and it annoys me that everywhere doesn't do this.
    That would confuse the Heck out of me!
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Very near, yet so far away
    Posts
    270
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Street maps in Japan (and by this I mean maps on the street showing the surrounding area - there must be a proper name for these) are orientated with the direction you are facing, when looking at the map, at the top. Which is very, very sensible and it annoys me that everywhere doesn't do this.
    I think that's great, and I'm one of those "map - North up" navigators.
    One thing I hate about posted maps like you describe but in the UK - they very often neglect to include the "You are here" pointer, which, when in unfamiliar territory, is pretty useless.

  26. #26
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    1,875
    What the BBC says is interesting: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/2...been-different

  27. #27
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Posts
    26,790
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    and pointed it out to my wife - who immediately bought it, as a signally useful item.
    Or just to get your goat?

    What I like about relative, versus absolute, directions is that the former is essentially more true-- in the sense that it respects and embraces the fact that directions are one of the most fundamentally subjective thing among that which often gets treated as objective. I fell into that trap myself, when I mused that the fact that our eyes invert everything we see means that the world is in some sense upside down from how we see it. That mistake involves thinking objectively about something that only has subjective meaning. Of course a universal referent for directions is still subjective, but not in quite as clear of a way-- it tends to promote the idea that "up" actually means something on its own.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2019-Oct-31 at 09:57 PM.

  28. #28
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Posts
    13,829
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Street maps in Japan (and by this I mean maps on the street showing the surrounding area - there must be a proper name for these) are orientated with the direction you are facing, when looking at the map, at the top. Which is very, very sensible and it annoys me that everywhere doesn't do this.
    Actually, echoing what others have said, that’s something that bothers me. And it’s not because they’re not facing north, but because they’re not consistent. It often takes me some time to find a feature I’m looking for because the shape looks different when it’s rotated.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    As above, so below

  29. #29
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Posts
    419
    I guess once you have fixed "up" on the globe of the Earth... the whole universe becomes orientated in relation to that.

    other thoughts:
    1. I am fascinated that many people (e.g. my kids) intuit incorrectly that North and South are somehow equivalent to East and West... when they are qualitatively different. If we lived on a planet that was 'tidally locked' (is that the correct term?) or rotated very slowly... would that have affected our mapping system? I assume we wouldn't need to preference the north/south pole as an origin?

    2. I wonder why 'clockwise' has the direction it does? Were there early mechanical clocks that went 'anti-clockwise'?
    Last edited by plant; 2019-Nov-01 at 01:24 AM.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

  30. #30
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,500
    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    2. I wonder why 'clockwise' has the direction it does? Were there early mechanical clocks that went 'anti-clockwise'?
    I recall that there were. They were in almost as common use as clockwise clocks. But a convention was inevitable, and it just happened to fall in favour of the clockwise clocks.


    But...

    wiki has this to say:

    "Clocks traditionally follow this sense of rotation because of the clock's predecessor: the sundial. Clocks with hands were first built in the Northern Hemisphere, and they were made to work like horizontal sundials."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clockwise

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •