# Thread: How can we define left and right to an alien life form?

1. ## How can we define left and right to an alien life form?

Right.

So we have a hypothetical situation where we have somehow made voice contact with an alien life form far away in the universe. This life form is so far away that we cannot see anything in common - i.e. we can't see any of the stars that they can see, and they can't see any of the stars that we can see.

The challenge is for us to describe a human being using speech only.

The aliens are pretty smart. They know all about science and stuff. We can tell them how tall we are using the diameter of a proton as a measuring standard. If we wanted to we could define time using our measuring standard and the speed of light, so we could tell them how long we live. We could define frequencies of light to describe what colour we are. We could define our mass using the mass of hydrogen atoms as a measuring standard. We could define a co-ordinate system to describe our three-dimensional form.

But how could we tell them which side of the body our hearts are on? How can we teach them left and right? Any ideas?

clop

2. Pick out a noticeable object, tell them to look at it and inform then that that is left, pick out another noticeable object and inform them that is right.

Although they are probably now going to think those objects are called left and right, if you did it enough times I suppose they could figure it out if they are quite intelligent.

3. Originally Posted by Dragon Star
Pick out a noticeable object, tell them to look at it and inform then that that is left, pick out another noticeable object and inform them that is right.

Although they are probably now going to think those objects are called left and right, if you did it enough times I suppose they could figure it out if they are quite intelligent.
What noticeable object? Don't forget - you can't see anything that they can see, and they can't see anything that you can see.

clop
Last edited by clop; 2006-Nov-20 at 05:33 AM.

4. I am reminded of the scene in The Hundred and One Dalmatians (the book, not the movie) where Pongo (or was it another dog?) tries to teach Missis about left and right. It was basically a lost cause.

Fred

5. There are a few ways. I'd be surprised if anyone can think of any of them though, unless they already know the answer.

clop

6. ## Re: How can we define left and right to an alien life form?

Right is where the door was at the front of the classroom in Center School when I was in first grade. Left's the other side.

Of course, that's so long ago, it's probably changed by now...

7. Tell em how to build a stereo Reciever and encode your audio transmission in stereo and pull a "Right Speaker, Left Speaker" test signal thing?

Actually, now that I think about it, I don't see why we couldn't simulcast a video feed allong with our audio feed, but I guess that's outside of the scope of the question.

8. This is really simple. Well it will be after you tell me the answer...

I would sagest a discussion about planets and rotation and, that while facing the poles the sunrise / set could be defined as east west or left right depending on direction of rotation and which pole you are facing.

This is like asking which way is up when you are away from Earth.

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A more important question is how will the alien intelligence explain the concept of gfdbbvdsortnokxal and bleeeviabdailedooooly to us, which is the secret of the universe?

-Richard

Tell em how to build a stereo Reciever and encode your audio transmission in stereo and pull a "Right Speaker, Left Speaker" test signal thing?
But how would they know where to place the right speaker and where to place the left speaker? They might put them the wrong way round.

And it's a mono transmission. Really it's only the words that they receive.

clop

11. Originally Posted by astromark
This is really simple. Well it will be after you tell me the answer...

I would sagest a discussion about planets and rotation and, that while facing the poles the sunrise / set could be defined as east west or left right depending on direction of rotation and which pole you are facing.

This is like asking which way is up when you are away from Earth.
It's not simple, and it's not like asking which way is up. Up and down are easy to define. Down is the direction towards the ground. How could you teach an alien left and right using sunrise and sunset? You don't know which way their planet rotates, or orbits, their star. Assume you can define up and down, and also forward and backwards. How do you define left and right from these?

clop

12. Tell them aboutf a or b type DNA This is right handed in that the the spiral progresses by a clockwise or towards the right turn. DNA is not perspective dependant. The spring of a right handed will start lower on the left and higher on the right. Right handed DNA is most common with us so if the pan spermia theory is correct then they should have the same hand.

13. Originally Posted by sirius0
Tell them aboutf a or b type DNA This is right handed in that the the spiral progresses by a clockwise or towards the right turn. DNA is not perspective dependant. The spring of a right handed will start lower on the left and higher on the right. Right handed DNA is most common with us so if the pan spermia theory is correct then they should have the same hand.
They don't necessarily have anything in common with us. They might not even have DNA. And they might have evolved amino acids with opposing chirality to ours. You can't use anything that isn't definitely universal.

clop

14. Unless they have a great deal in common with us (like perhaps related through panspermia or something like that), then we would have much greater problems than just the left-right thing. How would we convince them that the squiggly lines on the plaque are meant to be *read*? In fact, how do we even know that they use reading. And if we put it on a recording device of some kind, how do we know that they have ears and will actually be able to make out what we're saying? And how can we assume that they will use some form of grammar that will allow them to understand phrases in the way that we do? Some form of pictures will be necessary, so specifying left and right would be a matter of drawing a picture and pointing arrows up, down, left, and right. The more difficult idea would be to try to figure out if they can understand a picture in the first place.

Kind of related, but suppose you were the first "civilized" person to reach a faraway island, and had not idea of how to communicate with the inhabitants? It can be done (and has been done historically) through body language and stuff like that, initially. But suppose you came across a box on the island that was making beeping sounds. I wonder if it would be possible to communicate.

15. lti
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Q. How is panspermia a proper scientific theory?

A. It isnt.

16. Originally Posted by Jens
Unless they have a great deal in common with us (like perhaps related through panspermia or something like that), then we would have much greater problems than just the left-right thing. How would we convince them that the squiggly lines on the plaque are meant to be *read*? In fact, how do we even know that they use reading. And if we put it on a recording device of some kind, how do we know that they have ears and will actually be able to make out what we're saying? And how can we assume that they will use some form of grammar that will allow them to understand phrases in the way that we do? Some form of pictures will be necessary, so specifying left and right would be a matter of drawing a picture and pointing arrows up, down, left, and right. The more difficult idea would be to try to figure out if they can understand a picture in the first place.

Kind of related, but suppose you were the first "civilized" person to reach a faraway island, and had not idea of how to communicate with the inhabitants? It can be done (and has been done historically) through body language and stuff like that, initially. But suppose you came across a box on the island that was making beeping sounds. I wonder if it would be possible to communicate.
For goodness sake, it's a hypothetical question. We are assuming that they can understand us but also that they may have nothing in common with us at all, except for the laws of chemistry and physics. How does arguing that they won't be able to understand us address the issue of how we can define left and right to them, given the assumption that they can understand us properly. The point is to define left and right to them without reference to anything that we aren't absolutely certain is universal.
clop

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Originally Posted by clop
There are a few ways. I'd be surprised if anyone can think of any of
I know an answer, and I'm not telling!

I will if I can think up another one on my own, though!

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

18. Originally Posted by Jeff Root
I know an answer, and I'm not telling!

I will if I can think up another one on my own, though!

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis
Maybe you could PM it to me.

19. ## lighten up Clop

This is really simple.
Well it will be after you tell me the answer...

I would sagest a discussion about planets and rotation and, that while facing the poles the sunrise / set could be defined as east west or left right depending on direction of rotation and which pole you are facing.

As implied by Jens; You can not assume that any alien will see, here, or think like we do. This hypothetical question has me stumped as to how left and right might be related to a strange alien life form.
There are so many variables in a question such as this
It would seem to me that the rules are yours not ours.
As for working out left right...

20. ## Re: How can we define left and right to an alien life form?

Originally Posted by astromark
This is really simple.
Well it will be after you tell me the answer...

I would sagest a discussion about planets and rotation and, that while facing the poles the sunrise / set could be defined as east west or left right depending on direction of rotation and which pole you are facing....
Twice now, you've shown you're the sagest poster on this thread.

It's about thyme someone (other than Rosemary) pointed that out...

Now on to a discussion of Bruce Lee's half-Norwegian youngest brother, who gave up martial arts to become a gourmet chef:

Pars Lee.

21. You're trying to make it too complicated. It's a simple thought experiment. Try it this way - how could you define left and right to yourself without reference to anything except that which is not specific to our biology or our region of space.

This is not a trivial field of physics. And the answer is very interesting.

Can you explain how looking at the poles of a rotating planet would work?

clop

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Stay heavy, clop!

Originally Posted by astromark
I would sagest a discussion about planets and rotation and, that while
facing the poles the sunrise / set could be defined as east west or left
right depending on direction of rotation and which pole you are facing.
The only way you could make that work is if the aliens can see the
planet, and we describe some feature on the planet that they can
identify.

The aliens can't see planets in our Solar System, so we can't tell
them to look at Jupiter, see which way the atmosphere is moving,
imagine themselves standing on the equator close to the Great
Red Spot (or the Pretty Good Pink Spot) with the wind to their
backs (if they have backs), and point in the direction of the
center of the spot with an appendage or something. (They would
be pointing to the right.)

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

23. Weak force parity violation.
Tell our aliens to align a bunch of cobalt-60 nuclei in a strong magnetic field. As the cobalt beta-decays, more electrons will be emitted towards one pole of the magnet than the other. Label that the north pole of the magnetic field, and the other pole south.
Now that they can tell north and south magnetic poles apart, get them to appropriately label the ends of a magnetized compass needle. Place this needle above a wire with current flowing through it, so that the electrons are flowing away from the observer. The north end of the compass needle will deflect to the observer's left.

Grant Hutchison

24. You already knew the answer didn't you Grant. Do you know any others? And does anyone know why there are so very, very, very, very few examples of non-symmetrical physical laws?

25. ## Re: How can we define left and right to an alien life form?

If the aliens are bilateral symmetrical chordates, and have, on opposed arms, two hands with four fingers and a thumb each, then left/right would be an easy concept for them to grasp.

If it works in Physics, it ought to work universally.

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clop, If we sent a photograph of people standing outside
in the sunshine, with grass and trees and rocks and maybe a
garden hose with water coming out of it, they would easily be
able to tell which way was up. If we sent them a hardcopy, it
would be easy for us to show them which is left and which is
right. But it would take an awful long time to get there, so I
presume that it is sent by radio fax.

-- Jeff, nutmegest in Minneapolis

27. Originally Posted by Jeff Root
clop, If we sent a photograph of people standing outside
in the sunshine, with grass and trees and rocks and maybe a
garden hose with water coming out of it, they would easily be
able to tell which way was up. If we sent them a hardcopy, it
would be easy for us to show them which is left and which is
right. But it would take an awful long time to get there, so I
presume that it is sent by radio fax.

-- Jeff, nutmegest in Minneapolis
You've only got speech for communication, not drawings. Grant has already given one of the answers, a bit too soon if you ask me.

28. Originally Posted by clop
Worked it out in school physics, um, gad, thirty years ago. (We had a teacher who knew how to capture our imaginations. )
But of course I had to look up the details of Wu's experiment again, to find out which nucleus it was and which direction it preferred for beta decay in a magnetic field.
(I'm also a bit nervous I might have got the current flow in Oersted's experiment wrong: I could never keep "conventional" current and electron flow straight in my mind.)

But the principle's the thing: the weak force is the only one that shows parity violation, so you need to use a weak-force interaction which has been given a unique axis in a magnetic field. That lets you label the magnetic field direction. Then you use the interaction of moving charges and the labelled magnetic field to give you an unequivocal left and right. The neat thing about that interaction is that with the field orientated up and down (which you can describe) and the current orientated near and far (which you can describe), you get a force that goes left and right (which you can't describe).

Grant Hutchison

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Originally Posted by Maksutov
If the aliens are bilateral symmetrical chordates, and have, on
opposed arms, two hands with four fingers and a thumb each,
then left/right would be an easy concept for them to grasp.
Chordates? We aliens are bilaterally-symmetrical, all right,
but we aren't no steenking chordates!

We have six fingers and no thumbs on each of our four hands,
and can grasp things better than you puny, wimpy humans!

Quelphzgiz, in Mxybnzopolis

30. Originally Posted by clop