Ok so some of that was an exaggeration, maybe.
How would that world be different than ours? It’d be a clumsier, less efficient world for sure. Would it also be a grouchier world? A less creative world? I think so. If every time a person with the seed of a great idea has to write it down on backwards paper, while looking in the mirror, with a backwards pencil… How many awesome innovations are going to die before they can get started, or at least seriously slowed down? More interesting- what about that awesome synergy that happens when multiple great ideas begin sparking each other into life? How much less often will that occur? And how often will bad, short sided ideas thrive and spread just because they are easier (in the short term) than the better solution that takes a bit more energy to think through- energy that most people are wasting trying to do everything with the wrong hand? Will this be a world with a crappy attention span? Will people waste hours arguing about meaningless things while real problems go ignored because they are fundamentally frustrated at a level they don’t understand…
Wait- did I just describe Facebook? Did I just describe real world economics? Did I just describe our actual world?
Is there actually something fundamental screwy, (like everything being made for the other hand) about the way we see and interact with the world?
What if, in that imaginary world, every so often, someone got fed up enough to actually invent something right handed, but then somehow it always got screwed up? So that many of your house hold appliances came standard with adaptors that made them left handed, but that actually worked better if you went to the trouble of unscrewing the adaptors and chucking them.
Here’s a really odd statement that I heard recently:
“There are lots of ways of measuring time, but a really bizarre base 60 system is nearly universal.”
How the heck did that happen?!!!
12 hours on the clock. 60 minutes to the hour. 60 seconds to the minute. 12 months to the year. Why has no one suggested a metric system for measuring time yet? Better question, why did we ever start dividing the days hours minutes, years etc, up that way? Why not into tenths? I mean, clearly, base 10 math is universal in human culture for the obvious reason that we all happen to have ten fingers. (One might argue that base 10 is so deeply inherent that its not just a human trait, but it’s a primate trait, or a mammalian or a vertebrate trait because, except of course that snakes don’t do math) So why 12 hours?
I think I know why.
Suppose you are a guy (or girl) living in a preliterate society, where the only math that is ever done is the useful, practical kind of math that goes into, problems like "I have 8 fish, how does that divide among 11 people" or "I have 6 rocks, how many more do I need to fill in this hole?" Suppose you and a friend in this society are building a wall, or a house, or going on a trip or something like that, and need to talk about how long it is going to take. It won't take all day maybe, you agree, but roughly-and you start reaching, naturally, for fractions- half a day. Or maybe it's less than that: a third of a day, or a fourth of a day. You are going to use 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4 alot: the first three fractions, the most useful, most common, and easiest to visualize of the fractions.
You also wind up with 12 inches in a foot for the same simple reasons. Also 12 pence to a shilling. We chop up the year into months similarly. Think of all the things we naturally count out in dozens- eggs, doughnuts, you name it. Someone even invented the word 'dozen' to describe this uniquely useful number. Notice that English doesn’t have any friendly nickname for the word ten. Or for seven, or nine, or six, or any other number besides twelve. Well, there's a 'score' I guess, for twenty, and a 'gross' which is twelve dozen- but the point is made.
What about minutes and seconds? Since you are not an idiot, you have already noticed that 12 is a factor of 60. 60 fits smoothly into base 12 reckoning, but notice also how many 12’s it takes to make 60. It's 5. The one simple fractions that 12 doesn’t divide easily into. Just as 12 is the first number that divides nicely by 2, 3 and 4, so 60 is the first number that divides nice by 2,3,4 AND 5.
So, when you want to talk about time more precisely than12 hours to a day, you get 60 minutes to an hour and then 60 seconds to a minute. 60 is also nice cause it fits clean(ish)ly into base ten.
For a similar reason you wind up with 360 degrees in a circle. '360?!?' one might ask 'Who was smoking what when they picked that arbitrary number?' It becomes a lot less arbitrary when you open your mathematical eyes and see that 360 divides crisply by 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,12,15,18 and 20.
While the humans are fitted with the ten fingers and are more or less doomed to think in base ten math, it seems that math itself would be more elegantly and cleanly described in base 12.
What would we use for the 11th and 12th symbols if we decided to switch to base 12?