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Thread: Why is North up?

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    "A Man walks 1000miles North, 1000miles East, 1000 miles South and 1000 miles West... yet he doesn't end up where he started. Why?"

    Yes, that's a good question to ask people to make them realize how the shape of the earth does "funny" things.

    And it reminders me of the riddle, though, which is related to the same issue.

    A man walks a kilometer south, a kilometer east, and a kilometer north, and he is back where he started. He sees a bear. What color is the bear?
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  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    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.
    I think that modern clocks still go counterclockwise (if you look at them like this).
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  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    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?
    First, I kind of understand what you mean but I'm not sure if they are not equivalent. It's certainly true that on the earth, there is some kind of difference, because there is a limit to how far north or south you can go, whereas you can go east or west as long as want and you never get to an end. But in our general experience, they are just terms for saying left, right, forward, and backward, but without it being relative to which direction you are facing. And I won't think being tidally locked would change that, because you would still want to make maps...

    What is also a bit interesting is that for the other dimension, (not left or right or forward or backward), we use "up" and "down," which are never relative. Even if you do a handstand, "up" still means "away from the center of the earth." I won't think we have words to mean the direction your head is pointing or the direction your feet are pointing.
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  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I won't think we have words to mean the direction your head is pointing or the direction your feet are pointing.
    Superior and inferior are technical terms for relative up and down.

  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    2. I wonder why 'clockwise' has the direction it does?
    Because the first clocks were built in the northern temperate zone, where sundials go clockwise.

    Grant Hutchison

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I won't think we have words to mean the direction your head is pointing or the direction your feet are pointing.
    Cephalad and caudad. Literally "headwards" and "tailwards".

    Grant Hutchison

  7. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    Superior and inferior are technical terms for relative up and down.
    In a sense, I guess. But I would never say, "Please look superior" to a person standing on their head asking them to look down.

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Cephalad and caudad. Literally "headwards" and "tailwards".
    Thanks. So I guess we do, then. But I've been on this planet for five decades, and you're the first person I've ever heard use those!

    If someone ever asked me to look cephalad, I would imagine they wanted me to put on a squid costume.
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  8. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    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.
    Maybe more generally, even if there isn't a star there, maps were started in the northern hemisphere, and if you are in the northern hemisphere, then in a sense north is "up" because the point in the sky that the north pole points to is always above the horizon, while the one that the south pole points to is always below the horizon.
    As above, so below

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    First, I kind of understand what you mean but I'm not sure if they are not equivalent. It's certainly true that on the earth, there is some kind of difference, because there is a limit to how far north or south you can go, whereas you can go east or west as long as want and you never get to an end. But in our general experience, they are just terms for saying left, right, forward, and backward, but without it being relative to which direction you are facing. And I won't think being tidally locked would change that, because you would still want to make maps...

    What is also a bit interesting is that for the other dimension, (not left or right or forward or backward), we use "up" and "down," which are never relative. Even if you do a handstand, "up" still means "away from the center of the earth." I won't think we have words to mean the direction your head is pointing or the direction your feet are pointing.
    If you are at the north pole, you canít go in any direction but south. Travelling east or west or north makes no sense.
    I disagree that NSEW are equivalent to up/down/left/right.
    My point is without rotation of the Earth, there should be no reason not to put Ďnorth poleí at (for example) Grenwich?
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

  10. 2019-Nov-01, 08:50 AM

  11. #40
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    yes... sundials....of course! didn’t think of that.... makes sense but is it the actual reason?
    if we were Venutians.... would our sundials/clocks go anticlockwise? (from our perspective)
    what would happen on Uranus with axial tilt nearly 90 degrees?
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

  12. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    yes... sundials....of course! didnít think of that.... makes sense but is it the actual reason?
    if we were Venutians.... would our sundials/clocks go anticlockwise? (from our perspective)
    what would happen on Uranus with axial tilt nearly 90 degrees?
    If you consider the apparent movement of the stars from the Northern Hemisphere when facing south, they move from left to right in an arc. I suspect that direction has become ingrained as "forward" in time.

    If we were Venutians we probably would have no idea there was anything outside the atmosphere. Perhaps digital clocks would have been invented?

    The uranians (?!) would probably have a different marker for their day as the sun would be much fainter and more like our pole star.

  13. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    What is also a bit interesting is that for the other dimension, (not left or right or forward or backward), we use "up" and "down," which are never relative. Even if you do a handstand, "up" still means "away from the center of the earth." I won't think we have words to mean the direction your head is pointing or the direction your feet are pointing.
    Up and down are relative to the nearest gravity source. On Mars, the center of the Earth is Up.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  14. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    But I've been on this planet for five decades, and you're the first person I've ever heard use those!
    I get that a lot, for some reason.

    Grant Hutchison

  15. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    yes... sundials....of course! didnít think of that.... makes sense but is it the actual reason?
    I'm not aware of a historical record in which a clockmaker states that they've copied the movement of a sundial, but it's difficult to believe that there was no connection. A sundial is a round thing with numbers around the edge and a moving indicator that sweeps clockwise across its face. And skeuomorphism is very common in the development of technology, because it offers the user a familiar interface.

    Grant Hutchison

  16. #45
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    Interestingly, the current issue of New Scientist features a report from a mathematics professor that he's increasingly seeing Gen Z-ers drawing little diagrams in the margin of their exam papers, to remind themselves of the direction of "clockwise".
    Forty-odd years ago I had a cartoon on my wall featuring two children looking at their watches - one was saying to the other, "But where's the intellectual rigour in learning to tell time with a digital watch?" Maybe that's finally become a problem; but it does mean we could go back to saying deasil and widdershins without causing any more confusion.

    Grant Hutchison

  17. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I think that modern clocks still go counterclockwise (if you look at them like this).
    There was a 2005 episode of Doctor Who in which Big Ben (ok, the tower of Big Ben) was hit by a spaceship. It was apparently going anti-clockwise at the time, based on the numbers.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

  18. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by headrush View Post
    If you consider the apparent movement of the stars from the Northern Hemisphere when facing south, they move from left to right in an arc. I suspect that direction has become ingrained as "forward" in time.

    If we were Venutians we probably would have no idea there was anything outside the atmosphere. Perhaps digital clocks would have been invented?

    The uranians (?!) would probably have a different marker for their day as the sun would be much fainter and more like our pole star.
    No, it would be more nearly like our view of the Sun during a solar eclipse, a minute or so just before or after totality. It would be a round spot instead of our sliver, and it would still be overwhelmingly bright relative to the stars. With an atmosphere like ours we would be able to see the brightest stars, but they would be pipsqueaks alongside the Sun.

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    Quote Originally Posted by headrush View Post
    The uranians (?!) would probably have a different marker for their day as the sun would be much fainter and more like our pole star.
    Actually, the axis of Uranus won't point toward the Sun for another 9 years or so, so right now their Sun rises and sets much like ours does. I don't know what Uranus' pole stars are, but they'd be among the zodiacal constellations. But your point is well taken that even in human cultures that have long lived at very high latitudes, one might imagine less of an interest in the 24 hour span we ourselves are so obsessed with!

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Because the first clocks were built in the northern temperate zone, where sundials go clockwise.

    Grant Hutchison
    Which is why the opposite of widdershins is deiseil.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Interestingly, the current issue of New Scientist features a report from a mathematics professor that he's increasingly seeing Gen Z-ers drawing little diagrams in the margin of their exam papers, to remind themselves of the direction of "clockwise".
    That followed a report saying that many young people can't tell the time on an old-style clock (the term "face clock" was used, which I hadn't come across before). As well as many older women not knowing how to use the telephone (their husbands had always done things like that).

    Forty-odd years ago I had a cartoon on my wall featuring two children looking at their watches - one was saying to the other, "But where's the intellectual rigour in learning to tell time with a digital watch?" Maybe that's finally become a problem; but it does mean we could go back to saying deasil and widdershins without causing any more confusion.
    Ah, you managed to get those words in before me.

  22. #51
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Ah, you managed to get those words in before me.
    You get an extra point for using the original Scottish Gaelic spelling of deasil, though.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    You get an extra point for using the original Scottish Gaelic spelling of deasil, though.
    Maybe because I grew up thinking that the opposite of widdershins was *antiwiddershins, until a Scottish friend put me right.

  24. #53
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Maybe because I grew up thinking that the opposite of widdershins was *antiwiddershins, until a Scottish friend put me right.
    Etymologically, the opposite of widdershins should be just plain shins.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    But your point is well taken that even in human cultures that have long lived at very high latitudes, one might imagine less of an interest in the 24 hour span we ourselves are so obsessed with!
    I wouldnít dispute that with clocks and regimentation it has become more of an obsession, but people living at high latitudes still have a circadian clock of 24 hours, so itís partly an evolutionary thing.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Up and down are relative to the nearest gravity source. On Mars, the center of the Earth is Up.
    So what? By your definition north and south are also relative because north on Uranus isnít the same direction as north on the earth... What was the point of your comment? I thought That it was fairly clear that I meant to say that we donít have a term to mean relative to our body position... And Grant graciously corrected me. But honestly, I donít understand the point of yours...


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  27. #56
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    If you are at the north pole, you canít go in any direction but south. Travelling east or west or north makes no sense.
    I disagree that NSEW are equivalent to up/down/left/right.
    My point is without rotation of the Earth, there should be no reason not to put Ďnorth poleí at (for example) Grenwich?
    I think I understand what you mean, and I donít disagree with your characterization. I just meant to say that although there is a difference in how we map the world regarding NS and EW, on a local level, so for example when making a town map, they are basically equivalent.

    I think itís interesting to consider a planet with no rotation. Not only would there not be a reason to put the North Pole in any specific location, but there would perhaps not be an idea of poles. So you could map it so that latitude and longitude are similar, and that you could travel north forever just like you can keep going west forever.


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  28. #57
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    And just because I have a feeling that someone might call me out for suggesting life on a non-rotating planet, let me be clear this is just a thought exercise.


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    As above, so below

  29. #58
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    So what? By your definition north and south are also relative because north on Uranus isn’t the same direction as north on the earth... What was the point of your comment? I thought That it was fairly clear that I meant to say that we don’t have a term to mean relative to our body position... And Grant graciously corrected me. But honestly, I don’t understand the point of yours...


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    You said in post #33, up and down are never relative. I was just responding to what you said.

    Sorry if my clarification was unclear.
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  30. #59
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I'm not aware of a historical record in which a clockmaker states that they've copied the movement of a sundial, but it's difficult to believe that there was no connection. A sundial is a round thing with numbers around the edge and a moving indicator that sweeps clockwise across its face. And skeuomorphism is very common in the development of technology, because it offers the user a familiar interface.
    and whose purpose is to tell time.

    Obvious, I know, but in pondering whether they're connected or not, one must note that they're actually the same tool, just different machinery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    and whose purpose is to tell time.

    Obvious, I know, but in pondering whether they're connected or not, one must note that they're actually the same tool, just different machinery.
    That's kind of implicit in the skeuomorphism.

    Grant Hutchison

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