ELI5 Why is left and right often confused but up and down never are?

ELI5 Why is left and right often confused but up and down never are?


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Because left and right are relative to the observer's position. So it is different for two people talking face to face. Up and down are relative to the earth. So they are the same for people talking face to face.


I like how you're so specific about it being a thing relative to the earth/ground because in space, up and down are just as confusing as left and right


Exactly. This is why nobody confuses up and down. Up is always going to be the sky and down is always the ground.


Fun fact: among the Aymaran people in the Andes, when they talk about the *future*, they gesture *behind* themselves, not ahead. And when talking about the *past*, they point *in front of* themselves. Reason being, just as the past is known/experienced with certainty, so too is the vista ahead of you that you're looking at in that moment. The future is what's behind you because it's just as uncertain. Edit: grammar


Huh, there are people on earth backing up into the future... Aren't there also populations that never use forward, backwards, to the side etc, andinstead use north/sounth/east/west?


Yep; it's common among a bunch of the indigenous Australian languages; the position of an object is always referred to by objective directions, not subjective ones like left/right. Really funky. Was speaking with a linguist today about it actually! There's also even languages that apparently encode information such as edible/not edible or venomous/non-venomous in the words in much the same way other languages have genders (in the grammar sense). See e.g. [Dyirbal](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyirbal_language).


Are people edible or non edible?


Non-edible, officially. But female is in the class of "dangerous things".


I recall reading that Navajo had different weird, for example, for grasping something depending of whether that object is solid, malleable, etc. There are also some languages that have different pronunciations for men and women.


Same in Chinese. Previously is literally “in front”, afterwards is “behind”.


No, down is always the enemy's gate


Surprise Ender's Game.


Came here for this comment


Still pissed about the movie.


Yet another example of an entire fandom insisting there is no movie.


There is DEFINITELY no movie in Ba Sing Se.


Colonel Graff has invited you to Lake Laogai.


Should have been like at least three 90 minute segments. I can't talk about this anymore.


Any book adaptation should be done in a mini series. No changing things to open it up for more seasons or anything. However I feel like it is hard to do any sort of adaptation of Enders Game because so much of it is about how he thinks and his strategies and that's something that is very hard to covey in film.


What are you talking about? Avatar: The Last Airbender never got a movie. There's nothing to deny. I feel like it could make an awesome movie! One season per movie for a cookie-cutter trilogy.


Down is the enemy's gate mentioned in passing with practically no context or relevance is a perfect example of what made the movie suck.


The issue to me comes from the fact a good chunk of what makes it interesting is what's going on inside Ender's noggin, like the desk game with the tower, or the way he approaches handling his various bullies. It feels like half of the story is an internal monologue, and while that works brilliantly as a book trying to translate it to another medium really doesn't work.


It might've worked as a film, just never as a big budget commercial film aimed towards children.


You gotta shoot your legs, too. Gives you cover so you're still able to fight.


Sigh... Time to read the entire series again... Fucking loved it all.


What is your opinion on book 3? I couldn’t get into it Book one is a great action/growing story. Book two was amazing in ways I didn’t expect. But never finished three


No, down is where you’re going at SATURDAY NIGHT RAW


I like you


It's as simple as gravity. There is no mistaking how that works but left and right is just human disorientation thing. With left and right you have to snap choose with up or down it's a given.


If you lie on your side then left or right can be down or up.


But your senses are still defining down, and by contrast up, constantly. You feel down no matter which side you're lying on.


>You feel down no matter which side you're lying on. Too real 😔✌🏻


Uncanny, really.


ain't that the truth :(


if it is that hard to figure out no matter what position you're in then you have bigger issues.


I nearly died in a diving accident. I was all fucked up bleeding, lost mask, flippers, gear bag, and tank had pulled out of it's strap and I couldn't reach the mouth pieces anymore. I ditched my weight belt with the quick release buckle and it hit my chin as it sunk away from me. I remember thinking well at least I know what way to start swimming. Because at that point I had no idea what way was up and I had no spare air to blow a few bubbles.


Except inside an avalanche or when you get vertigo underwater. Reference points can change things up.


Also, if you are standing, up is your head and down is your feet, while left is a hand and right is the other hand. In other words left and right are symmetrical while up and down are not. Edit: punctuation


Spaceship fights. They are always, always, *always* oriented the same way. Whether it's Jean-Luc Picard or Justy Ueki Tylor, the bottoms of everyone's ships are oriented the same in the completely arbitrary void of space. It's not only possible, but I should think *probable* that while one person is (to them) right-side up, their enemies in their other ship would be goof-tacularly upside-down in relation to them, like they came flying in from Space Australia. They never are. I think the mind passively recoils from it, when making up such situations in a space story. Might also be why we handwave psuedo-gravity in with no explanation. *Up* and *down* are so fundamental as to be completely unspoken almost all the time.


Spaceship battles in _the Expanse_ are the **best** for this sort of thing.


Soya Beltalowda!


Okay that does it. I'm watching this fucking show. You're the 10th person to suggest it's amazing.


If you like sci-fi even a little, you're going to love it. First season does take a couple of slow episodes to start rolling though.


I hear people repeat this sentiment on this website often but I *loved* the space-noir first season. It built such a rich, complex yet plausible future for humanity. It's my favorite season until the most recent.


The pilot episode is garbage. The sex scene feels very out of place and unwarranted. It very nearly put me off of the series. But holy shit once you get past that it is amazing. Once the "main event" for Holden takes place it really takes off and never slows down.


Episode one: space ship flips around to do a counter burn to decelerate. SO: Yes! The impossible has happened, good space physics.




They get that part right. But, every time you hear thruster, main drives, and weapons firing outside the ship drives me nuts!


Yeah, but the sound adds to the *atmosphere* of the show! Jokes aside, it’s the one concession I give them. They get everything else *so* right about space combat that you know the production team knows it’s wrong and they did it deliberately for the sake of storytelling. Plus they’ve managed to make the sound still *feel* “spacey” since it’s still silent unless the camera is close to something and even then all the sounds are kind of muffled/tinney. The first time you see them getting ready for a fight and they suit up to vent the atmosphere from the ship because they know they’re about to get a bunch of holes poked in the ship was mind blowing.


Well most of the time it's from the characters' perspective inside the ship where you would be able to hear them (only your own weapons and engines, and when you get hit). True that there are some scenes where we see the outside of the ship in combat and still hear the sounds, which I didn't like either, but I guess it makes sense for cinematic effect. Having scenes that go from sound inside the ship to silence outside could be interesting, but I assume that didn't work in keeping the excitement of the battle.


When you're done watching the show head over to the books, I've been listening to the audiobooks and they're pretty much the best thing ever. Different enough from the show to where you don't feel like you're rehashing plots. To me it's almost like the show is the dolled-up "based on a true story" movie version of events and the books are the bleak, gritty autobiography where everyone fucks up constantly, nothing ever goes the way they want, and space travel means spending huge swaths of time cooped up with your crew in a tiny metal death bubble instead of the cute fun buddy road trips in the show. Also the dude reading the audiobooks is just giving it 110% at all times - voice changes, accents, everything. It's delightful.


The show is amazing, but it does take a few inconsistent shortcuts when it comes to things like time, the effects and required duration of acceleration, communication delays, etc. The worst is ships intercepting other ships. The books are relatively much more accurate with weeks of burning to slow down enough to match the speed of a target and engage them or whatever. In the show it's more like full speed at them and then all the ships are in the same spot so local dog fight! I'm splitting hairs here though. Show is great. Books are great. It's like the best possible combination of realism and storytelling and if they went more realistic the story would suffer. The story, despite all the accurate scifi aspects, is also somehow easily accessible airport paperback adventure fiction. It's really cool so get on board.


Heads up, its amazing


The first battle where they bust out the rail gun is one of my all-time favorite TV moments ever.


I dunno. As amazing as they portray the actual ship movements they failed to study [Newton's First Law](https://youtu.be/OPRIUJzmkC0)


Bruh. BRUH.... I'm so jealous of you right now.


One of the many things I love about that show.


I'm on book 7 of the audiobooks and I'm eagerly looking forward to watching!


I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for this show but this might be the one to get me to commit


Well, to be fair, in space shooter video games you can usually orient your ship any way you like, so it's indeed possible to come at another ship from any direction, and have your up be their down and vice-versa. But even in video games, players usually orient their ships to the solar system ecliptic, because it makes navigation easier (even though space is 3D, planets orbit their star in more or less 2D orbits relative to each other). So at least initially, they are likely to have the same up and down as others, and only break out of that alignment during a fight.


> So at least initially, they are likely to have the same up and down as others, and only break out of that alignment during a fight. Well, they could be upside down.


Playing a lot of space ship sims lately, I find that often times I wind up oriented similar to my opponents anyway. Mostly because we are generally fighting near a planet and so there is generally what vaguely looks like an up and down, it feels easier to track.


Layman view: I'd agree but then gyroscopes and all that stuff comes into it. It's like when some airplane pilots can't see anything in really bad foggy conditions or night, they still have the right axis alignment due to those scopes. Before them, there'd been disasters from the tilt being all wrong and them not even realising because of how much we use our eyes for perception. They could've been upside down without even realising! That being said, there'd be way less reason for spaceships to bother too much being on the right alignment all the time unless it had something to do with navigation or relative exit from a earth.


It wasn't until DS9 that we got to see anything like the 3-axis combat that you'd expect. Even then, often it was limited to rolls or other temporary maneuvers which eventually returned them to the galactic TV plane.


Yes!!! And they seem to fly within a narrow band of space along the x or z axis, instead of moving greater distances along the y axis. I guess this is because our galaxy is disk-shaped vs sphere -shaped. But there’s some room to move along y, “up/down.” Edit: added z axis


I've been playing star wars squadrons and through rolling you can orient your starfighter ship any which way to make what's up or down switch. Although for the bigger capital ships its always going to be in a set orientation for all capital ships for each for some reason. I just supposed it had to do with artificial gravity running on the bigger ships in sci fi universes for that but I agree it is a little weird with how all ships are always in the same vertical orientation.




But everyone knows that in space [the enemy's gate is down](https://explainxkcd.com/241/).


Exactly my first thought when I read this comment.


But I guess if you are in a still position you can just raise your head up for up and look down for down (only in a still position)


Left and right are relative, but gravity is always right in your face.


We should have words that mean "your left, my left, your right, my right". People forget the importance of the "your" or "my" and I guess assume the person they are talking to can read their mind. It also annoys me when people say left of right in terms of turning things. "Lefty loosy righty tightly" or whatever the phrase is for tightening screws. I still have know idea what it means! Am I turning the top bit left or the bottom bit left? I eventually figured out and now remember it by "clockwise=closed, anti=open" Edit: thanks to everyone offering solutions to my problem that I already solved. To summarise for others, here is what I have learned. - Only use Cardinal directions. "Turn the screw east to tighten it" - Assume everyone knows specific other terminology, like boat "port and starboard" - Assume everyone knows how stages work. "Just put the box stage left" "...you have a stage in your house?" - "If you have trouble remembering something, have you tried not having trouble remembering it? That works for me!" - Be aboriginal Australian


I had a seventh grade teacher who preferred “Clockwise is lock-wise.” Also, in one of my linguistics classes we learned about a people who describe directions in terms of “north, south, east, west” instead of “left, right”.


We do this often in Hawaii, directions given as mauka for mountain side or makai for ocean side.


So basically rimwards or hubwards?


And one side is noticeably drier. Funniest thing I had happen when a guest visit me when I lived there was her first question driving to my house (before we got away from the airport) was: Which way is the ocean"?


The Guugu Yimithirr in Queensland, Australia! Studies have shown that they have an uncanny ability to always know which way the cardinal directions are. The prevailing theory is that of Linguistic Determinism, that the language you speak somehow determines parts of your personality, your memory, how you perceive/categorize things, and even how well you are able to navigate the natural world. There's some other groups that have been used as case studies for linguistic determinism but I can't remember off the top of my head. Source: communication sciences and disorders grad student


> There's some other groups that have been used as case studies for linguistic determinism but I can't remember off the top of my head. Isn't there a people who have better colour perception because their language distinguishes between colours more profoundly? Linguistic Determinism is the backbone of Ted Chiang's short story *Story of Your Life* which was adapted (inaptly, in my opinion) into the movie *Arrival*.


There's a tribe in africa that differentiates more between the shades or hues or something of the colors. In english we distinguish color identity based on the wavelength of that color. So one might be red, another might be yellow. They administered a computer test which showed 4 panels of what we would consider identical colors, 3 were identical, 1 was a slightly different shade of the same color. The people of this tribe quickly saw the difference and as a result were quicker to answer and were much more accurate than english speakers. I tried taking the test at home and did really poorly.


Yeah. What is the website. I wanna know how I do. I can see differences in color tone a lot better than my GF, so I am interested to try


It should probably be noted that the monitor you're using to do this test can greatly effect how you perform. The color range on an IPS vs TN vs VA varies a lot so you might not be seeing that minor change on your setup. You'd need an IPS style panel to get the truest representation of those colors.


do you remember the website for that test?


[I read an article](https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2009/04/06/102518565/shakespeare-had-roses-all-wrong) which said that people who speak languages with gendered nouns will use different adjectives when describing something with opposing genders. Like how "bridge" is masculine in Spanish but feminine in German. So germans are more likely to describe a bridge as "beautiful" or "elegant", while hispanics will probably describe one as "strong" or "sturdy".


Well an instance like that is that Russians are better at identifying differences in shades of blue than English speakers because they have separate words for light and dark blues whereas English only has one word for the whole spectrum!


Unless you’re an artist Edit: Indigo, Azure, Cyan, Cerulean, Cobalt, Turquoise, Teal, Navy, Sapphire, Midnight blue, Slate blue, Baby blue, Sky blue, Tiffany blue, Robin’s Egg blue, Ocean blue (vs ocean green),


Are English speakers better at identifying shades of red by comparison? Since we have red and pink


It's possible as red and pink are seen as semantically distinct like light blue and dark blue in Russian. However, I'm not aware of any research on that, so I can't give a definitive answer


Another thing about the Guugu Yimithirr is that it's the original language where the word "kangaroo" comes from. It refers specifically to the eastern grey kangaroo (*Macropus giganteus*), and contrary to myth, does not mean "I don't know" or anything like it


Or like the piraha tribe of the Amazon who don't have words for specific quantities. It's either just a few, many or none.


One, two, many, lots.


I’m American and a native English speaker with a few other languages to varying degrees. Although I don’t use cardinal directions in the way this group does, I actually often more easily recall things I hear, see, or learn by remembering what direction I was facing when I experienced whatever I’m trying to remember. If I’m indoors without windows, I base it on my position in a room or building. I can’t explain why it is and I didn’t consciously try to create this system of memory, but there it is.


This is fascinating. I’ll probably be mulling on this for quite a long time.


Yeah for whatever reason, I pretty much always know what cardinal direction I'm facing. I think it's partially because the house I grew up in had it's walls facing exactly north-south-east-west


That's interesting, I tend to keep direction of which way is South but I notice not enough other people do for it to be useful! I think I picked the habit up when I was in America people kept giving us directions on terms of the compass and it confused me how people just always seemed to know which direction was which off the top of their head!


I grew up in a city where virtually all of the roads were in a grid and were either N-S or W-E. It was always pretty easy to give directions based on cardinal directions. In places with roads that don't align with cardinal directions it would be a lot harder though.


Virtually every city develops around some sort of "epicenter" for the local economy... The largest business in town, a port, a mining site, or a natural landmark. I think its pretty easy for (most) people to learn the cardinal direction towards that location. Unless they're out in South Dakota and it's entirely flat. In that case they're likely to get used to 'cold north wind' and 'sun is to the south'


Salt Lake City is good at this. The Temple is the center, and every street name and cardinal direction originates there. Even if it’s your first time visiting, look at a map and you’ll know exactly where to go; the directions are effectively built in to an address. Eg: 205 West 400 South With the Base and Meridian marking the coordinates 0 East, 0 West, 0 North, and 0 South, their grid system expands in increments of 100.


My city has two rivers and two train tracks twirling around the epicenter. For us it’s “go over the second bridge until you get to the second underpass”.


Sounds like it could be wonderfully confusing if you miss the first. In my small town people usually refer to "the old clothing store" or "the old postoffice" meaning where that establishment used to be years ago. Never mind its moved twice since the time they're thinking of. Yeah, it's so backwards it is charming.


In New Orleans it’s always upriver or downriver and river side or lake side.


Highways are also odd for north-south and even for east-west (in general, the beltway around here is a circle so idk about that).


Beltways are an even number followed by the highway they start at. As you get more concentric beltways you go up so 295, 495, 695 etc.. Spurs that are not loops are the same but start with an odd number.


The main highway where I live runs diagonally from Northwest to Southeast. When I first moved here, I found it so confused that the entrance ramps are all labeled North or South....


I generally know what compass directions are because I live in Wisconsin right on Lake Michigan so if I remember the lake is East I'm golden.


I live in an area where there's a lake to the East as well, so East is always toward the water. But when I moved out towards the Pacific, the water was toward the West. I was constantly getting directions backwards.


I was never good at my cardinal directions until I moved to Milwaukee. Once I had the lake for guidance, I "locked-in* my sense of direction. Now I don't even need to be in Wisconsin to know which way is East


Also a Wisconsinite, and my family in Colorado Springs and Boulder both use similar orientation but with the mountains (always West).


Compass directions don't work here bc our roads are labeled wrong and make turns


I grew up rural but near a large body of water. Knowing the body of water was to the west was my grounding point. Now I live near the gulf of Mexico. That is my anchor for south. That's the only way I can explain it. Sun moves from east to west. Water is on the side that the sun's arch (south) traverses. If you know the time of day, it's pretty easy to figure out were south is.


For me, I can kinda visualize where I am in relation to the nearest interstate and know they either run roughly east-west or north-south and then can work it out from there. I would imagine a lot of people kinda do something similar where they know where they are in relation to a landmark and know their direction because of that. Or maybe everyone else can look at the sky real quick and know exactly what direction they are facing and I'm the only one doing the visualization.


Thats exactly how I figure out which way I'm facing. Downtown is north


How do you know where downtown is though? Like...when I'm in my house, I have to act like im driving from my front door to the highway, and keep track of every curve and turn to try to guess which way I'm facing. I'm usually fairly wrong. I've never understood how people know which direction is which without paying attention to the sun. And I can't even do that because i ALWAYS forget if the sun rises or sets in the west.


The trick is that, unless the surrounding area is very well organized (e.g. a downtown area), you don't actually necessarily always know where you're facing 100% of the time. You develop a sense of where things are by looking at a map, and locating major landmarks (e.g. a big shopping center, building, etc.). If you know the locations of many landmarks, and have some sense of where they are relative to each other, then you can infer the direction you're moving in. Keep in mind that it also comes down to your frame of reference. I may not always be facing east, but if I'm headed to a place that I know to be roughly east of the place I was at, then I can say I'm headed east even if I'm currently angled north or south.


> i ALWAYS forget if the sun rises or sets in the west. Sun rises in the (y)east. Yeast rises bread. Sun rises east.


In always say "wait, my right or stage right?" whenever my wife gives me directions.


I think there is an Australian aboriginal people that use the cardinal directions. I think a few peoples in that part of the world do it. It sounds like nightmare fuel to me. If i'm talking to someone and they say my east shirt sleeve has a stain on it, I'd just have to take off my whole shirt or something.


> Clockwise is lock-wise What does this mean?


Turn a bolt clockwise to tighten it. Tightening a screw is effectively locking it in or locking down the part you are fastening.


Is that my north, your north, magnetic north, or true north?


Galactic north, obviously


Lot of kids don't know clockwise/counter though. It's getting to be rare for many to use a clock with hands.


I remember reading a study with aboriginals where they were locked in a room without windows, no signs to point what direction they are facing, yet they always get north, east, west, south correctly. it seems they've developed an internal compass or something.


Yes but it would be incredibly confusing because they'd tell stories saying "my east hand" and then on the way back it would be the "west hand." Hard to visualize relative perspective with absolute references


I feel like op is referring to the fact that people legitimately sometimes don’t know the difference between left and right. Like will turn the wrong way if you say look to your right. I feel like saying look up never gets confused with down, but saying look right does occasionally get mixed up with the person looking left


You nailed it. My wife is terrible at navigating for this exact reason.


>Am I turning the top bit left or the bottom bit left? The top. There, now you know what it means.


Yeah just think of the bolt as a little steering wheel. You turn the wheel by moving the top part left or right. Left is to loosen and right to tighten. It's super easy.


Except with horizontal things, it's not the "top" but the "away". I've always had a somewhat irrational hatered of people using right and left for clockwise and counterclockwise. It just doesn't make logical sense to me. Seanno's "Am I turning the top bit left or the bottom bit left?" really resonated with me.


That's actually a good way of putting it. I've never struggled with knowing which way to turn a screw but I was wondering why it just made sense to me.


I always saw it as a steering wheel. Lefty (turn the car left) loosey, righty (turn the car right) tighty.


In the outdoors, giving directions in the mountains, people call it either “lookers ___” or “skiers ___”. So lookers left would be left looking up the mountain. And skiers left would be turning left coming down the mountain.


>People forget the importance of the "your" or "my" and I guess assume the person they are talking to can read their mind. I don't forget, my brain just makes dial up sounds when I try to convert it lmao


In sailing lingo, starboard is the right side of the boat, from “the boats perspective,” and port means the left of the ship in the same way. Tl;dr starboard and port could mean “my right” and “my left” respectively.


>We should have words that mean "your left, my left, your right, my right" Isn't that 'Stage Left' and 'Stage Right'?


Also Port and Starboard.


And PORT has 4 letters like LEFT. Just like if you put your hands, back side up in front of you and stretch out your thumbs to a right angle, they form an "L" on the left hand.


"There's no port left in the bottle." Also, port (the drink) is red so the light on the port side of a vessel is red.


"Who is the stage, you or me?"


There are cultures in Australia with languages that use absolute position rather than relative position. So they don't say "left" or "right" but "northward", "southward", etc.


They’re called East, West, etc


I never understood people who just throw cardinal directions out all day though. "Hey, you're 5 minutes away? Cool. We went ahead and got a table upstairs. It's to the west when you get off the elevators." I don't even know for sure what direction I'm facing in the city a lot of the time with all the winding roads. By the time I park in the underground parking garage, ride the elevator up 16 floors, and emerge into a windowless space, I have no sense of direction at all. What, do these people have compasses in their brains directly?


Some languages use purely geographic directions (east, west) for the locations of things, rather than egocentric directions (left, right). It's particularly common in Australian Aboriginal languages such as Guugu Ymithirr. This feature of the language means native speakers grow up with a near perfect sense of direction as their brain is always subconsciously tracking it.


How do you turn your car wheel left? Same as lefty loosey... Not that hard.


You are turning the clearly visible part of your hand left or right, which is the top part as you turn the screw. It isn't \*that\* hard.


Compass directions work that way, the thing is left and right and up and down stay on the same side relative to one person, and many people find that easier than relative to earth while they are contantly moving around on it. I think its just rhat all our turning and changing directions is on the left to right or compass directions plane, we dont spin our up and down frame of reference ordinarly through out the day though. But say under water, while scuba diving you can get disoriented and confuse up and down because you're allowed to move in that plane, I'm sure the same things happens with astronauts somethimes too.


Or Widdershins and Deasil.




This was my thinking, too. It has nothing to do with differences in perspective; that's a different issue. My wife consistently can't tell her left from her right, and it's very obvious when she needs to press a button on the right but ends up pressing the matching one on the left instead. Meanwhile, I'm accurately calling out starboard and port during Sea Of Thieves. It's gotta be a problem for individuals, because not everyone has it. As for why those people don't mistake their ups and downs, that axis is affected by gravity. It's pretty tough to forget about.


I remember reading some theory back in middle school about how your left and right side of your body mostly look the same that's why you mix them up pretty easily versus how your head and feet don't typically look the same so that's why it's easier to distinguish up from down.


I always say that down is the direction that gravity pulls you, and up is the opposite.


Does that mean children born in 0g could have difficulty with up and down?


Your body has a physical reference for up/down: gravity. Your senses are physically detecting "down", constantly, every second every day. "Left/right" has no physical sense or experience associated with it, ever. With that in mind, do people with only one arm from birth confuse left/right less? I bet they do.


I had an accident when I was 10 and lost feeling in a bit of my left hand. Since then it just feels different if I think about it and have had no problems with left and right. Just instantly know cause of that. So you are correct!


Amazing, thank you for weighing in! I only came up with that theory as I was answering so this is super cool to learn.


Yeah its really weird thinking about it, when I want to know left and right my brain looks for the weird feeling in my left hand and instantly knows. Other than that I don't ever notice it.


Cool! You have a useful association with left that helps you distinguish it from right! Like we have gravity/earth to distinguish up/down. I instinctively use the idea that my right side is "dominant", kind of like I would never say "north, south, west, east" but always "north, south, east, west" in a visualized pattern.


I think it's weird that this doesn't work for me. I've had cerebral palsy predominantly (by a hell of a lot) affecting my right side since birth, and I confuse my left and right so much it's become a joke in my friend group. I also confused my b's and d's until like third grade. Maybe having a change later in life has a more predominant affect, maybe I'm just a bit dim. :)


Or maybe different sources of disability (CP vs physical injury etc) have a different effect on your left/right ability. Different people do seem naturally better/worse at this to begin with though. It would take a much bigger sample size to see if there's any effect. Thanks for weighing in!


Yes, that's definitely possible. It would be neat to see an actual study done on this question.


Up is where the sky is, and down is where the ground is, and that's a pretty easy reminder so most people don't usually forget it. Left and right both have the same appearance in most situations, however, so you need to find another way to keep it straight.


"Look up. No, *your* up." - No one, ever.




This is also fairly relevant underwater, where gravity isn't immediately apparent. If it's dark enough that you can't see daylight, it's very easy to get turned around underwater.


That's one of the reasons so many people die exploring underwater caves


Footward. Headward.


There was that guy who wore lenses that flipped his vision upside-down (technically we all see upside-down but our brain corrects for it). Anyways after a couple of weeks his brain flipped everything the "right way up" Then when he stopped wearing the lenses it took another couple of weeks for his brain to start seeing the normal upside-down images as normal.


I already get a headache thinking about doing this experiment...




Is that why my comments gets so many downvotes from Australians?!?


More to your up ... no your other up! Now down down, no not that down!


If you ever get buried in an avalanche, you are supposed to drool and see which way your saliva falls or something to find out which wqy is down and dig yourself out in the opposite direction. https://www.foodstoragemoms.com/how-to-survive-an-avalanche/ > Figure Out Which Way is Up > This is where things can be a bit tricky, especially if the victim becomes disoriented. There are two ways that you can find out which way is up so that you can hopefully get yourself oxygen. Try holding your hand straight up over your head and see if it reaches the surface of the snow. This step may also help others find you easier. You could also try spitting saliva from your mouth. Your spit will move down, so you’ll want to work your way in the opposite direction.


Up and Down mean away from the earth / gravity pull and towards it. Left and right have no such meaning. There's nothing to distinguish left from right except a convention. If you doubt this, try to explain what "left" or "right" mean with a definition that works in all instances, all headings, all locations. It's like when you try to use "up/down" once in space... there is no up or down, and which one you choose to call which is largely arbitrary. An alien would no more understand left/right than East/West or up/down out in space. But at least when standing on a planet with a gravitational field, up/down have an obvious and measurable meaning for all viewpoints and all locations, and it's only determining the polarity of that direction (i.e. is up towards the gravity source or away?) that needs to be agreed on.


> If you doubt this, try to explain what “left” or “right” mean with a definition that works in all instances, all headings, all locations. If you magnetize a cobolt-60 atom such that it spins with the top turning left (counterclockwise), the beta radiation will be preferentially emited downward. Gotcha https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_experiment


You used "left" and "counterclockwise" in your explanation, which are both conventions.


But direction of spin is dependent on the vantage point as well. If you spin a top on a glass table, from above it could appear to be spinning clockwise. But if you got under the table and viewed it from below, the spin would look counter-clockwise. Your definition still isn't as clear because it's not independent of the observer's position. "Up & down" can be defined without any reference to a vantage point.


The spin of the atom defines an oriented plane. You can pick an arbitrary direction in that plane and call that forward. Because the plane is oriented, you can now pick another direction in the plane, perpendicular to the first, in the direction of the spin, and call that up. The preferred emission direction now defines a third direction, perpendicular to both of the two, call that left. Note that the direction we called "left" does not depend on which direction we identified as "forward". We only needed to pick "forward" so that we could break the oriented plane down into independent "forward" and "up" directions. This works because Cobalt-60 [violates chiral symmetry](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_experiment) (left-right symmetry).


If you go under the table the emissions will be heading towards you instead of away.


That doesn't explain what left *means* though. It's just an example of something that goes left.


How is up any different?


As a small caveat for those interested in physics, left and right is actually not arbitrary, but such effects (parity violation) are only seen fairly esoteric processes involving the weak force. For instance, nuclear decays.


We're bilaterally symmetric in left and right so if we draw a line from the top of our head downwards along our front, both sides are mirror images of each other for our visible, exterior parts. Plus, the world is pretty symmetrical in left and right. Take a landscape photo and mirror it left to right. It's hard to tell which is correct unless you've visited that location. Now mirror the original up to down and it's pretty obvious it's upside down.


Good answer. Add to that... gravity.


Gravity... always keeping us down.


This is more interesting than people give it credit as it is so deeply baked into how we evolved to experience the world with reference to a flat plane. To give a sense of our bias, think about how we say that a mirror image "flips left-right", and try imagine why the mirror would flip left-right and not top-bottom. It's also interesting to think about how we'd interpret the world if we didn't have to reference to a flat plane, i.e. evolved neutrally buoyant in an atmosphere or underwater in deep oceans. (Example, a jellyfish has radial symmetry)


Because your body is not split symmetrically on the x axis. Your perspective of down is much more discernable because down is your feet and up is your head. Along the y axis, there is a hand in each direction. This is only a puzzle until you learn that only 1 hand makes an uppercase L when you hold it up, palms out. That would be your left.


Up and down are sometimes confused. Not when you stand on land but if you are some vehicle and get into the water that is murky or in the dark people sometimes do swim down instead of up. Instruction on how to handle the situation will include look at bubbles or blow out some air and see where they go. On land, we feel gravity or more exactly the ground pushing against it so the direction of down is quite clear. ​ Left and right have a couple of "problems" one is that there is not a natural phenomenon that you can connect to it. Stuff falls down but nothing goes right all the time. The direction of down is relevant for us to walk and balance so the pressure on our body and organs in the ear is used to determine the direction of down. So up and down is fundamental to use but right and left are not. Another part is left and right is relative to your body and change if you look in another direction. If you and a friend stand looking at each the direction that is left for you is right for them and vise versa. So you need to think and converter left and right in any situation so the word usage is not absolute. It can get more confusing because if you were exiting a car and look over the roof at each other you have another left and right for the car. So we are used to the fact that left and right can mean the opposite or even forward so it is not a stage that we get confuse at times.


There's plenty of aviation accidents caused by loss of vertical orientation as well.


Up and down are reinforced by visual and gravitation clues. If you close your eyes in low g, you won't know up or down. If your vision is obscured underwater, you won't know up from down, many divers die from this effect.


Radial symmetry. When you are standing on a plain field, you can turn around left or right and will always see the same picture: field, sky, that's it. But when you look up you break symmetry and what you see is just sky but no field. When you look down it's just field. Now when you turn left, you will still see the same as if you turn right. There's literally no difference between turning left 90° or turning right 90°. It's always the same ratio of field and sky. But when you look up more than 90° you will eventually start seing the field again, but now it's up and the sky is down. Congratulations, you are now upside down. In space all of this isn't that easy. There is no field below or a ground you can stand on.


>but up and down never are? Gravity is the answer to why up & down are not confused. Left / right is relative to what direction you are facing, and what direction the person you are talking to us facing. When I had a Jeep and went off-road with others, there would be times when a person would need to be spotted to get over/through an obstacle. We used a simple method for giving directions, driver / passenger. This made it simple to know which way to turn.


Why do mirrors flip left and right and not up and down?


You say that up and down are never confused but this is not true. They can easily be confused underwater, or in any environment where the effects of gravity are negated. Gravity gives us a reference as to which direction is up and which is down, as Earth is the frame of reference. No similar force exists for left and right, and direction depends on the frame of the observer (you).


Fun fact, there a language (as far as I can remember African languages) that don't have left and right but use west and east. This has multiple benefits. for one makes it, just as an other commenter mentioned, compared to the earth less likely to be confused but also has the benefit of having an amazing spacial awareness as from early on kids learn to subconsciously know where north, east, south and west is.


Another thing is that left and right are relative. If we are looking at each other my right is your left, etc. But up is the same no matter where we are looking.


Not really an answer to the question, but some interesting facts related: English has a strong preference for egoistic and relativistic coordinates. The door is to "my left", but it's "right of the stairs". This is not true for all languages, shocking as it may seem. The Guugu Yimithirr people of northern Australia, in fact, rely *only on absolute references*. In Guugu Yimithirr, the door is to the east of me, but south of the stairs. This fact of the language is a proposed explanation for the Guugu Yimithirr people's uncanny ability to orient off of an entirely accurate 'internal compass': take a native of Guugu Yimithirr to a different environment, lead them into a cave, or put them on a plane they *always know where the cardinal directions are* (or rather, they know where *their* cardinal points are, it's a few degrees off the compass we use). The Guugu Yimithirr develop this ability by about age 2-3, as they learn their language. The essentialness of reporting location using only cardinal traits 'trains' their brains into this intuitive knowledge of the cardinal points. In the same way, the cultural environment we grow up in and the use of "right and left" condition our brains into knowing those coordinates implicitly. It actually shows up pretty late too, kids don't normally know their rights and lefts till well into schoolage. If I had to venture an uninformed guess, 'up/down' aren't relative terms like 'above' or 'below': you only need to be able to report two, fixed references which are easily discernable from your perspective. The sky/ceiling is more or less always visible, and is always up. The earth/ground/direction you're being pulled is always down. 'Left' and 'right' require a pretty specific relativistic coordinate system. I need to know what *my* left and right are, even as I move positions, and I also need to know what *everything else's* right and left are. This requires a bit more spatial reasoning development, which could explain why it shows up a lot later. But, once you get it, you'll find that you *always* know where your right and left are: your brain gets acclimated to sensing them due to the information your language obliges it to report, just as the Guugu Yimithirr develope their intrinsic sense of north, south, east, and west.


Up and down are confused in instances where you become extremely disoriented and in a state of panic. Think if a car flips upside down as it drives off a bridge. People are often panicking and not noticing their bubbles, and swim in the wrong direction. Or avalanche survivors, you're suspended in white nothingness with pressure applied from all sides.


I got confused with up and down when I got stuck under the water. It depends on what you can see really. Left and right look pretty much the same


There are some aboriginal tribes that have no concept of left and right. Their entire language and system of orientation is based around north/south/east/west.