Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why are Maps drawn North to South?

My Taiwanese friend gave me a question. And I returned her with a long answer.

Question : Why are most maps drawn North to South and seldom South to North when from astronauts point of view, they usually see earth the opposite direction?



My Answer : 我覺得我們所看到的地圖大部分是北上南下,因為是約定俗成的知識,且普遍的認知上北上南下這已是我們傳統上變成人人皆知的事。的確宇宙不分南北西東。但是人類總需要一些指標去確認方向於是就發明了這個方向盤,所以就自然而然的變成這樣。如果今天先人發明的是南上北下,那我們也自然而然地覺得那很正常!比如飛機不叫飛機而叫做火車,從一開始就是這樣的話,我們也就不會去質疑它為什麼叫做火車了。


The reason why maps are drawn North to South is due to a tradition set forth by our forefathers. Although the Universe has no clear directions but humans need a navigation guide to set our compass right and put a reference to everything, hence the invention of bearings and directions. If today, bearings were invented with South on the top and North at the bottom, we would naturally find it acceptable. For example if aeroplanes were known as trains all along, we would never have doubted why was it named as trains in the first place.

My other rationale is that although Chinese are likely the first people to draw a complete world map, yet it were the Europeans and Americans who began mass producing it. And they would naturally place the orientation of their own countries on the top. This is due to the psychological way of human habits in looking at things. We always look top down. Even China would not have used the South-to-North Map. China is known as the "middle kingdom", the center of the world. But if placed in a South-to-North map, they will no longer be positioned in the "middle". Hence traditionally, politically and historically, south-to-north maps will never be used and produced widely.

*The above answer is simply my rational with no basis of research. Casual discussion welcome. =)

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