Totally Lost

By  | June 7, 2010 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Posts by M. Boilard

Getting lost in your own backyard is merely a sarcastic jab at someone who has a poor sense of direction. It really isn’t a joking matter for the individual whose trip seemed so simple when studied on a map in the comfort of his home, but once out of the driveway finds it quickly becomes complete chaos. I am not qualified to discuss those individuals who require actual help in finding a way to cope with being lost in life; I’m just going to discuss the average directionally challenged person…like me. I’ve done some reading on the matter and I think I understand it…somewhat.

There are a multitude of species in the animal kingdom that have impressive internal compass skills, but unfortunately Homo sapiens do not. Researchers are suggesting that we have lost the use of this internal sense through evolution; they say it is still there buried somewhere deep within our brain, but like everything else, keeping it involves the ‘Use It or Lose It’ principle.

Apparently the golden hamster has one of the strongest internal compasses. Blindfold one of these little rascals, take him a mile or two from home; rapidly spin him around at least ten times, uncover …. release, and watch the little critter make a bee-line for home. Do that to me and you’ll be waiting past midnight for my arrival by taxi-cab, all because I lost track of my pet hamster.

Some species have a little extra help from well-honed external senses as well, like birds that migrate by feeling the earth’s magnetic field or insects that can detect the slight nuances of light change. I won’t even mention the bat because their abilities literally freak me out. Again we are not blessed with these senses.

I guess it’s safe to simply say that we are at the bottom of the scale when it comes to well honed senses and inner compasses. What we do possess however, which is unique to humans, is our expert reasoning skills. We can be proud of this fact, but we must understand that it is because of that fact that we have lost our inner compasses in the first place. It seems that we can’t win for losing.

According to the articles I have read, the ‘sense of direction’ in a human is more complicated than it sounds. It is comprised of the awareness and the memories of our surroundings combined with our sense of speed; our awareness of directional changes over time, and our ability to track the location of objects and places familiar to us while we move through an environment. If you understood this, then you understand that all that processing in your brain gives you your sense of direction…the degree of which is dependent on your skills of retaining it.

Look…remember…imagine; these are all sight skills your brain gives you so that you can create your own ‘cognitive map’. This activity occurs in the hippocampus of your brain (left or right…I don’t know).

Studies have shown that nomadic people are very experienced in finding their way around by learning the subtle directional clues from the landscape and skies. These expert, cognitive mapping skills are handed down from father to son. Technologically advanced societies however have taken to using things like the GPS, which has only exacerbated our directionally challenged ways, as we allow the machine to do the ‘recalculating and mapping’ for every turn. This dependence gives us a false sense of security that we really shouldn’t rely on, for it keeps us unaware of the environment, thus creating problems for us when this techno-gadget fails. Looking on the bright side however, we can all rest assured that with rigorous practise, we all have the capabilities of cruising around like an ancient Bedouin on his trusty camel… if we chose to.

The studies even get a little more complicated by insinuating that we have compensated for our loss of inner compass with our ability to imagine ourselves somewhere else, which has given us the freedom to create a reality of our own. This is becoming a little deep for me, but what I think this means is that we have the ability to comprehend the World Wide Web (www.) or that we’ve made it to the moon a back in one piece… something a touchy-feely bird has ever accomplished. I’ll leave this concept at that, for I’m not sure if this information is of any use to anyone needing to make a snap decision as to which off-ramp to take.

My own experiences tell me that an adult male has a tendency to feel that their cognitive map is superior to the hard copy in his wife’s hands… or her interpretation thereof. The human male will re-evaluate and re-calculate his mental schematic of his environment until his thoroughly frustrated wife screams her demands that they stop at the nearest gas station. This is the difference between a man and a woman…she gives up and finally realizes that after four right turns you’re back to where you started….a man will re-calculate and believe there is one more turn.

In conclusion, I do not know why I read some of the stuff I do, as the information doesn’t really improve my life…it just gives me a chuckle or two. So in closing, before some psychological expert of internal compass usage starts reading this, I will recommend to myself that I stick to the cognitive map of my own backyard.

MB

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