Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Hello World,
I have quite a few things to share with you but before I could put things together my brain got ambushed by what I would like to term as “Left-Right Confusion.” This has been gently frying my cerebrum, sautéing my brain stem and blanching my spinal cord and serving the “Nervous System au Freak Sauce” to my thoughts. Before I begin my rant, click here to download the pdf version (rough draft) of this post.
I am documenting this 1 year and 3 month long observation of a very weird social behavior of the people of Chennai, otherwise known as “Chennaite” (by the rest of the world) and “MadrasKaaran” by the people of Chennai.  My observation does include individuals (all total strangers to me) of both the genders and people from about all walks of life. I would however make a mention that this observation of mine does not necessarily conclude that all Chennaites exhibit this weird behavior but in fact this observation would like to be documented as an indicator of potential city-wide damage of the friendly communication habits in the future, assuming this continues and spreads to everyone. I am a Chennaite myself and I love my city and it is that love of my city that has prompted me to document my observation of the phenomenon that I think is seriously detrimental to the long-term well being of my beloved city. My mental GPS always hits a technical snag or an experimental error while navigating through routes that involves more than 2 left turns or right turns. So I always stop during my travel and ask someone on the road about the route to my destination and make sure I am on the right heading. It is this habit of mine that gave me the fantastic opportunity to meet and talk to different individuals in Chennai among whom I noticed this weird element of communication that I would like to analyze today. Thanks to all those who were generous enough to help me with the directions during these instances.
It is an internationally known and followed yet unwritten code for telling directions that calls for using hand signals and gestures to explain the route to someone who asks for one. The idea is usually to help the traveler/commuter to understand and remember the route to his/her destination. For those who have trouble understanding this please look at the pictures given below and thrust your face into the palm of your hand for not understanding it before. ;)

I don’t own the images shown above and here are the reference links for these:

When I stop and ask someone on the road about the way to get to a specific spot in the city, the person almost always used his/her right hand to point to the right and said “…take the left….” (When the actual direction was indeed the right turn, as the hand signal had conveyed). Non-Verbal Rocks!!! ;)

Boundary Conditions and Isometricity
Why on earth would anyone with everything working right use the right hand to point to the right and ask me to take that left?
If the intended subject of the communication is actually “The Right,” why is “Left” being used verbally?
From a communication standpoint, the non-verbal communication is substantiated with the verbal declaration of what is being conveyed non-verbally, except the fact that the non-verbal and verbal communication elements completely contradict each other, rendering the purpose of the communication deviate away from the otherwise presumed purpose of helping the receiver receive and process the information effectively.
Our scope right here would be limited to the “Why?” element alone and discuss the possible reasons that we may identify.

Possible Reasons
1.       The person may be suffering from a neuro-developmental disorder namely Gerstmann’s Syndrome which has left-right disorientation as an indicative symptom. There may be other neuro-developmental disorders which may cause left-right disorientation and therefore let’s just stick with “Neuro-Developmental Disorder” and maintain things in the simpler sense.
2.       The person is already occupied mentally with something else that he/she could not possibly make out the connection between what he/she is intending to say and what he/she is actually saying (let alone the hand gesture).
3.       The person is contradicting his/her non-verbal communication with his/her verbal explanation on purpose, where the intention is to confuse or challenge the listener and let the listener struggle to interpret the actual message being conveyed.
4.       All the other million possible reasons put together and royally ignored due to their state of insignificance with respect to this post. ;)

I am no psychologist and this post is not diagnostic in nature and therefore I just have to waive the possibility of the neuro-developmental disorder. Even if I were to possess such intellect, the seconds-long conversation about simple directions may not have served as a suitable and comprehensive diagnostic tool. I guess the concerned individuals can recall how frequently they confuse right with left and I sincerely hope it does not put them in an alarm situation.
As for the “occupied-with-something-else” reason, why would someone with real working senses choose to involve in a communication while they are mentally occupied with something else (I mean to an extent where one cannot realize that they are saying something that is contradicting what they enacting simultaneously)? Assuming the person is occupied with something else and then proceeds to speak to someone, it would only mean that their brain would have cordoned off a minute section of itself for the conversation. But we must consider the fact that we are, in the end, only human and it is normal to confuse the left with right. The question however is that, what are the chances that almost everyone that I asked for directions might have been mentally occupied with something else, over a period of 1 year and 3 months?  It has to be mentioned that there were a few instances where the generous minds correctly mentioned the route to my destination without confusing left with right but these are clearly outliers that have to be gently ignored. Irrespective of one’s state of being “mentally occupied with something else,” is it not normal brain function to analyze what has to be conveyed prior to actually conveying it in any form of communication? We cannot demand the analysis of the “correctness” of the message since that would mandate a philosophical bent entirely based on idealism. We can however demand the analysis of the “consistency” of the message conveyed in verbal and non-verbal formats. In other words, one can verify their words and actions to make them consistent with each other. When the right hand is used to point to the right, the logical verbal form of the message would include a “right” and definitely not a “left.” I am sure even a dead duck would nod in agreement to this idea.
The brain chooses to listen to a question, process an answer and deliver it non-verbally and verbally, except the verbal part would completely walk up and down the ass of the non-verbal part which by some mysterious ways is attributed to the fact that the brain was occupied with something else. How the friggety frat is this even plausible? More than that how come this happens almost every time I ask someone for directions? Honestly, this analysis just needs more information which, as for the moment, is unavailable to me because I have no freakin idea about it.
As for the reason of “purposefully distorting information” during any communication, I have to say it is a rather interesting one to look at, for this really tells a tale about “short-span communications” between complete strangers in the Big City Ecosystem. I go on long rides on my motorcycle and most of the spots I ride through are comparatively rural. I ask for directions the same way I do in my city and I never had anyone confuse left with right or just threw random directions at me and let me figure it out. In fact the rural folk had the generosity to explain the route to me very clearly and most of them asked me if I had got it right. I thank them for their generosity to spare their time for me and even more, their cultural dominance over the city-dwellers in the effective communications context. The city-folk too are generous but not as proficient as the country folk when it comes to effective communication.
Now why would someone deliberately distort information during a communication and let the listener struggle to interpret the right thing? Why would someone say “left” when they are actually meaning “right” just because they want to be discreet to the listener and impose a sense of “nothing-is-free” when the nature of the conversation is not argumentative? In fact it is a simple case of explaining the directions to some lost traveler who has asked for directions. The very intent of such distortion is an indication of an element of misanthropy in a person’s socio-psychological construct. In other words, if the person deliberately succumbs to a self-imposed question of “Why should I be very clear with my communication?” and eventually distorts the messages conveyed, then it indicates a possibility of dust and rust in the top deck. If this is not the case, then what kind of Marijuana dipped in salsa causes someone to point to the right with their right hand and deliberately say “Left”?????? I am sure such a person would be no stranger to blue elephants in baggy pants playing banjos.

Concluding this rant, I would like to mention that I sincerely hope the right-left confusion does not spread like an epidemic. Whatever may be the reason, communicating effectively is a symbol of civilization and a platform for portraying one’s culture in terms of social behavior. While we are human and are bound to be occasional victims of mal-functioning perceptual and motor skills, it is a positive thing to keep attempting to communicate effectively and at times, help lost travelers find their way to the destinations of their choice.
It is interesting to note that there has been considerable academic research in the Left-Right Orientation topic. Find below the link to an online experiment created by Dr. Eric H. Chudler, who is the Executive Director of Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering and a Research Associate Professor in the Dept. of Bio-Engineering at University of Washington:
Anyone can put themselves through this test to find out to what extent they confuse the directions in their mind. I put myself through it and the results show that I fall under the 11% of the total responders so far who show a difference of 4-6 seconds between the two tests. Not too shabby… ;)
For those of you who might love to indulge themselves in something additional related to this topic, here are the links:

Next time you tell directions to someone, please make sure you say what you think or intend to say and make sure the other person has understood it. If we decide to take the pain of helping someone, let’s just do it in a complete sense and let fundamental physics live in peace. It is always wonderful to let Verbal and Non-Verbal communications stay on the same team.

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