Why does your foot change direction when you draw the number 6?
August 21, 2005 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Why does this work? 1. While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. 2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right-hand. Your foot will change direction.
posted by moooshy to Grab Bag (29 answers total)
Best answer: While sitting, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.Now while doing this draw the number six in the air with your right hand.Your foot will change direction and there is nothing you can do about it.Why does this happen?

THIS effect is partly due to the normal difference in height betweenhand and foot.That difference,in conjunction with gravity and the earth’s rotation,is enough to affect the body’s highly sensitive limb rotation mechanisms.If you eliminate this difference (for instance,by lying down and holding your right leg and arm at about the same height),your right foot will be unaffected.However, if you reverse this height difference (for instance,by positioning your right leg above your head and your right hand nearer the floor),the effect will be even more marked.This is probably because,with this posture,your head is in a silly position too.

Geoff Lowe
University of Hull

posted by justgary at 11:08 AM on August 21, 2005

The pdf is here (page 2).
posted by justgary at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2005

Hmmm, I seem to be immune to this. Am I exceptionally talented or am I about to die?
posted by sic at 11:12 AM on August 21, 2005

Oh wait, I was using my left foot. It does affect me. Phew, I'm not going to die.
posted by sic at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2005

Bizarre. I thought I could multi-task well until this exercise. My confidence is ruined.
posted by quam at 11:25 AM on August 21, 2005

Ahhhh! I've always been able to conquer the "pat your head and rub your stomach" challenge, but I can't beat this one.
posted by scallion at 11:29 AM on August 21, 2005

Maybe I am too short, but this didn't work for me.
posted by zerolives at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2005

Interestingly enough, it doesn't happen (at least to me) when I don't look at the six. I can tell the basics of why it happens (you're moving your finger counter-clockwise at the same time your foot is going clockwise), but I'm not sure of what the mechanism is.
posted by klangklangston at 11:39 AM on August 21, 2005

Gravity and the earth's rotation? I call bullshit (yet again, I seem to be doing a lot of that around here. Sorry about that). It's some sort of brain motor control coordination thing, I haven't a clue about the specifics, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
posted by fvw at 11:40 AM on August 21, 2005

Weird, I can do it easily with my right foot and hand but not my left.
posted by nicwolff at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2005

Balls. It didn't work for me either. I like these sorts of tricks. I'm gunna go try it on a few other people!
posted by wackybrit at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2005

I didn't have any problem doing it, but I wouldn't say I'm exceptionally coordinated either. Weird.
posted by geeky at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2005

didn't work for me, either. but if you want to do one that's really hard, continually trace a circle going clockwise (or counterclockwise) in the air in front of you with one hand. a foot in diameter should be good, and make sure it's parallel – not perpendicular! – to the direction you're facing, so that if it were a wheel, it would be rolling forwards (or backwards) away from you, not off to your side.

while doing that, trace another circle with your other hand, except counterclockwise.

absolutely maddening until you get it down, at which point you achieve a sort of zen-like state.
posted by tumult at 12:52 PM on August 21, 2005

Well the plasma vibrations from my hand get in the way of my foot movement, other than that.. I don't know.

Yeah. So. Really... it's impossible for anyone I've met to make oposite rotating circles with a foot and hand from the same side. Opposite sides are easy, but same side is apparently impossible. You don't have to sit at a desk or draw a six, it appears to simply be a function of how our body works.

Why? I'm not "qualified", but maybe whatever limits you from doing this specific act, is a deeply ingrained reflex that is helping you out in other situations. Perhaps if you didn't have this reflex, you'd have trouble walking, or regaining balance in certain situations.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2005

Didn't work on my right, worked on my left.

Here's another cool trick:

Take two pens, put one in each hand. With your dominant hand, write your name like normal. With your non-dominant hand, write your name backwards at the same time. They should be nearly identical.

You know, if you ever need to write something backwards.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:16 PM on August 21, 2005

Tumult. I use what you mention as a drunk driving test. Since most people screw it up, they go, ok, I'm drunk and accept the idea that they should enjoy drinking and stop trying to drive home.

And, I mastered it years ago and can do it while inebriated.

I'm now going to use it next time someone tells me that they can multitask.
posted by filmgeek at 1:20 PM on August 21, 2005

Best answer: The conscious mind is really very, very limited. Try thinking of two words at the same time - not one after the other, but at the SAME TIME. I think you'll find that's impossible, too. Or try writing one word with your right hand, while simultaneously writing another word with your left.

Consciously, you can only do one thing at a time.

You can only think about a "clockwise" or "anticlockwise" motion on the same side of your body, not both simultaneously.

However, you CAN train yourself to do this - circling hand and foot in opposite directions simultaneously - just as you can train yourself to pat your head and rub your stomach. It takes about 30 minutes' training for most people.

The problem is very similar to juggling. If you try to think consciously about what your hands are doing, it's impossible. Only after it becomes an unconscious action - after a few minutes' training - can you actually juggle.

(And, er, sorry justgary, but your explanation is complete and utter bollocks, utterly worthy of the University of Hull).

Professor Twoballs,
University of Cleardawn
posted by cleardawn at 1:27 PM on August 21, 2005

Earth's rotation? Pulllleeeeezzz! Everyone knows it's due to sunspots. Yeah, that must be it.
posted by randomstriker at 1:33 PM on August 21, 2005

I can think of two words at once. It's kind of like looking at two stones on a table. You are only focusing on one at a time, but both are clearly there, and you can see both of them, even if one is slightly blurry.

It took me a few tries to do the leg thing without switching direction, though.

The coolest one I know: count silently in your head by imagining that you're saying the numbers (most people count this way, but some count by imagining they see the numbers). Try to say something out loud. You'll almost certainly lose count. Now count in your head by imagining you see the numbers (I picture then flying by). You should now be able to speak without losing count.
posted by Nothing at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2005

Besides tumult's circle thing, I also tease friends with the Vulcan "live-long-and-prosper" salute. Those that have mastered that fall prey to the next variation: without putting all four fingers together, move the middle fingers together and isolate the outer fingers (a W instead of a V). When they've learned that, I do it with my left hand. Those that follow are decimated when I do it with both hands simultaneously, then start alternating configurations (left hand Vulcan, right hand W, then vice-versa). The coup de grace comes when I start doing finger squat-thrusts (finger straight up, finger curled, finger straight out, finger curled) with each finger at a different part of the movement. Then my head explodes.
posted by forrest at 2:28 PM on August 21, 2005

And, er, sorry justgary, but your explanation is complete and utter bollocks, utterly worthy of the University of Hull?

It's not my explanation, now is it? I have no idea if it's true or not, just the only explanation I could find. Though by following the directions regarding lying down it does make a difference in my case.

I'm sure the answer is probably a combination of several concepts probably not well understood.

However, I don't believe it's as simple as you put it. For example, the whole comparing it to patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time is nonsense. It takes me 2 seconds to overcome the tendency to screw up.

I also taught myself to juggle by concentrating on what my hands were doing. Once I could juggle, reaching a zone of not thinking about my hands made me better.

And two words at one time? Not a problem. So even if my link is incorrect, there's something more there.
posted by justgary at 2:28 PM on August 21, 2005

Opposite sides are easy, but same side is apparently impossible.

Or not. I'm doing it easily, here; it took about five seconds. The trick (for me) is to pay attention only the points at which your two opposite circles "intersect", and just let the rest of the circular motion carry through.

It's like drumming three-against-two -- if you try to hold both in your head as separate rhythms, it's really difficult; if you just listen to how they fit together and forget about the fact that your hands are in different time signatures, it's easy as pie.

Silly me thought justgary's post was deliberate parody -- I mean, puh-leeze, the coriolis effect, from a three or four foot difference compared to the radius of the planet? Nobody's that dumb, are they?
posted by ook at 2:36 PM on August 21, 2005

A related puzzle: try to simultaneously rotate the index fingers of both hands in the same direction (clockwise or anticlockwise). Do it slowly at first, then faster, and faster.... Pretty soon, they're going in opposite directions. It was explained to me that this demonstrates a tendancy for the brain to coordinate the body in symmetrical ways. The foot/six combination on one side of the body is hard because it violates the brain's natural tendancy to keep one side moving in the same way. The two fingers trick shows that opposite sides tend to move in opposite patterns. The person explaining this then expanded his point to suggest that the body has certain rhythms and patterns, templates for motion, if you will, that it likes to repeat and are very difficult to consciously overcome. In other words, while these orchestrated body motions are physically possible, they are "harder" to do because it is so ingrained in us to keep things moving in symmetrical patterns.
posted by rschram at 4:22 PM on August 21, 2005

I don't have a problem, but I have always drawn a six by starting at the intersection moving clockwise through the bottom loop up to top. If I try to draw it counterclockwise and move my foot clockwise my foot hesitates.
posted by ?! at 4:25 PM on August 21, 2005

I have no problem doing any of the things listed in this thread. Perhaps I have finally discovered my super-power?
posted by spilon at 5:15 PM on August 21, 2005

You can quickly train yourself to do this, if you can't do it at first.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:07 PM on August 21, 2005

Best answer: I always thought this sort of thing is caused by our walking reflexes.

As you walk, your and and leg movements are timed quite closely, but out of phase. as a result, there is probably a neural shortcut for making the two movements activate smothly. since we never have to draw anti-clockwise circles in the air, there are no shortcuts.

Another example that involves both sides of your body:

point your index fingers together in front of you. draw either a clockwise or counterclockwise circle with *both* fingers. (ie, one finger goes toward you, the other goes away from you, both rotate down, cross, and come back up to starting position)

You will quickly devolve into making a clockwise and counter-clockwise circles ie, fingers chasing each-other.

This one can be beaten by concentrating on what happens when your fingers cross eachother -- passing in opposite directions. even then it can be tricky.
posted by clord at 9:24 PM on August 21, 2005

"your and and leg movements" == "your arm and leg movements"
posted by clord at 9:25 PM on August 21, 2005

No problem, either side. 3 beats over 2 and 4 beats over 3 are easy too, but 5 beats over 4 (and beyond) I can't do, but I play bass guitar in a prog rock band who does these polyrhythms a lot.

(Hmmm, 5 over 4 sounds like something I need to make my drummer do...)
posted by LordSludge at 10:53 AM on August 22, 2005

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