Thursday, January 24, 2008

self-referential nature of language, "left"

Oh, so lately I've been tripping out about the self-referential/recursive nature of words (as you can see in dictionaries for instance) and how "normally" this is either not the case or is disguised by the constant context we use language is, with incessant tying back to "tangible referents." Thinking about all the possible implications of that, language's relationship to "the world," to itself, etc., to put it crudely.

My rather disappointing pocket dictionary (no etymology :( Anyone know of a pocket electronic dictionary thing which is good, has etymology, etc.? Etymology is vital) defines the word "left" as follows:

"of, relating to, or being on the side of the body in which the heart is mostly located."

Way fucked, eh? Not the way you'd normally learn or explain "left" and "right." You would do it with pointing, orientation to objects or surroundings, etc., in order to grok left vs. right. But you can't do that in a dictionary; you have to use just words. What do you do?

So they go to a universal asymmetry. (I don't think it's even true, by the way, I'm pretty sure the heart is central. It's just that we can feel our heartbeat more strongly on the left side, due to the way the valves and such are oriented. Because our heart is not symmetrical. We have a 3-chambered heart, right? And birds have 4? Is a bird heart symmetrical?)

I suppose "left" and "right" is only relevant or useful or even possible to comprehend if you are bilaterally symmetrical. How the hell would that be applicable to a creature that was radially symmetrical? They'd have different things, maybe, like central versus peripheral :P I will have to think of this in terms of SDN. So far the aliens are humanoid and bilaterally symmetrical but maybe I will shake things up.

Oh, I forget if I mentioned this, but I figured out what B does for a living, and also what his boyfriend does for a living. And in the airport a few weeks ago I figured out roughly how the sexes of the 2 main alien species work (one has 5-6 sexes, the other is a bit more complicated, or at least I've figured it out less, but they sort of swap genes like bacteria) I'll have to confirm that it actually sounds plausible.

Speaking of symmetricality again, my dad attended an autopsy (or maybe this was a live patient, I'm not sure) where the guy's organs were reversed. Like, he had everything he needed, but it was flipped. His heart would have been felt more strongly on the right side, his liver and intestines were the reverse right/left orientation as someone else's would be, etc. Evidently it would be pretty unusual for that to happen, to have a totally "normal" healthy person whose entire insides were just backwards. Cool.

I wonder if he was left or right handed :D

1 comment:

Six said...

Mammals and birds both have 4 chambered hearts. Amphibians are the ones with 3 chambered hearts.

I think the asymmetry does exist, but it's less defined than people tend to think. A lot of it would have to do with the big veins and arteries right next to the heart, rather than the heart itself.