September 12, 2007

Why North-South is OK, but East-West is Problematic

Filed under: pointlessness — Brian @ 8:16 pm

Ever since leaving Chicago, I have a hard time telling east from west. Anyone who’s lived near a Great Lake can sense where the lake is when they’re within, say, 50 miles, and they know in what direction it lies. (When I lived in northern PA for a summer, I could sense where Lake Erie was, and was constantly 90 degrees off in my sense of direction. Lake Erie is north of PA, Lake Michigan is east of IL.)

In the middle of Ohio, all we have is north-south rivers. I am grateful that they’re at least uniform that way, but I have no trouble telling north from south. East from west, I have to think about.

To do it here in Ohio, I have to picture which direction the Atlantic ocean is, and then I know east. When I go home from work, for example, I’m heading toward the ocean, but I stop 500 miles short.

Why do I need a body of water to tell east from west, but I just know north from south?

I think I know.

We process written information and pictures mainly left-to-right. So the default “directionality” of things is left-to-right. But the way people talk about things on maps is “east-west,” as in, “that road goes east-west.” Nobody (that I know) says “west-east.” (Maybe because the US was settled east to west? Is this an American thing?)

Anyhow, it’s one direction for maps, another for everything else. This is why up & down is no problem, but if I have to go sideways, I’m likely as not to go the wrong way sideways.

I know you were curious. Now you know.


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