Once upon a time, there were some nomads who stopped being nomadic, and settled in one place. They became familiar with various geographical features and landmarks in their territory. Soon they observed that the light of sunrise appeared to come from roughly the same direction every morning. The leader of the tribe announced that the direction was to be known as “east.” However, nobody in the tribe had ever seen a magnetic compass.
One day, the leader received a pair of gloves that a member of the tribe had spent many weeks making. The leader immediately noticed that both gloves were for a right hand. Cautiously questioning the person who had made the gloves, the leader discovered a gap in the person’s knowledge. No harm had been meant. The leader decided to call together the whole tribe.
The leader held the left hand of each member of the tribe, and said that it was to be called “the left hand.” The leader also held the right hand of each member of the tribe, and said that it was to be called “the right hand.” Everybody was either embarrassed or insulted, but from that day forward there were fewer misunderstandings in the tribe. Everybody tried to forget that day, and when anybody spoke of it, others cried out, “Stop! We must forget the day of the human touch.”
Eventually, the tribe had words for all of the following directions: left, right, up, down, north, east, west, and south. One day, a salesperson arrived on the tribe’s territory to sell magnetic compasses and dictionaries.
The sales pitch was the following. You can get the direction down from gravity and the direction east from where you see the sunrise. So you are given two directions. West is the opposite of east, and up is the opposite of down. We have made some progress. Now you just need to define all of the following: left, right, north, and south. Can you do it?
The members of the tribe tried to create four definitions, one for each of the words “left”, “right”, “north”, and “south.” However, they failed. They all remembered the embarrassing day when the leader took them by their hands. They knew that there had to be a better way.
The magnetic compass showed them north. The dictionary provided a definition including words and only words to explain down in terms of the pull of gravity, east in terms of the sunrise, and north in terms of the compass. The dictionary contained no pictures or diagrams, but only pure, exact, impersonal words. The dictionary also used the words “down”, “east”, and “north” to define the words “left” and “right.”
The magnetic compasses and dictionaries sold like hotcakes. In future, the operation of the magnetic compass would be explained in terms of the Earth’s magnetic field. Thus, the tribe would finally have science to explain technology, and they would have technology that allowed them to define words. With a pure, impersonal scientific foundation, they would no longer need to remember the day of the human touch.