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Which way's East? It's as clear as mud.

East is best defined as a direction. Actually, that is all it can be defined as. Really, the only way to truly understand East is to know that it is not one of the three other main directions, i.e., North, West, or South.

edit What East Is

Take a look at a map. Make sure the map is right side up. Now move your hand over the map from left to right, in an imaginary straight horizontal line across the middle of the map. The direction you just moved you hand in is "East." Unless, of course, you are facing South, in which case you just moved your finger as well as your hand to the West.

Let's get back to the map. If you do the hand exercise described above, but this time draw an arrow on the map in the same direction as your hand movement, you will have drawn an arrow that faces East on the map. Wait, thats not it. Put a little line vertically through the arrow to give reference to the other three points (points that are not East) and Congratulations. Now you know what "East" is and you have diagrammed it. You have symbolically represented on a map what is a symbolic concept in reality.

edit What East Is Not

Upsidedown map

The "left-to-right" trick for finding "East" backfires if your map is upside-down.

But do you really know what East is? What if the map was upside down? How do you know for sure? Let's try this another way. There was an opposite direction you could have moved you hand while waving it over the map, all the while keeping your hand over the imaginary horizontal line splitting the map in two. That would have been West. So you know the East is NOT West. Nor is it North or South. But what are those things to begin with?

edit Let's Try This Another Way

Okay, maybe I was wrong. There must be a better way to understand the meaning of "East." Here's a try:

Go outside and find the sun. What? It's nighttime? Fuck! Go back inside and wait for daybreak.

Okay, now go outside and find the sun. What? It's cloudy? Fuck! Go back inside and wait for a sunny morning.

Finally, you're outside at daybreak on a sunny day. You see where the sun is rising from? That's East. Now face the sunrise and keep your hands at your sides. Your left hand is facing North, and your right hand is facing South. Your back is facing West. There! That was easy. Now you really know what East is!

edit Uses of East

Now that you know what East is, you know what it can be used for. It's a shorthand way of describing a direction. That's it. Period. Using the term helps people get around and describe where things are (as in, "I'm heading East," or, "the city is over to the East").

edit See also

The Seven Directions of Travel:
East Home West        
          Milky Way
          Far Far Away
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