The human art of way-finding

Recent studies are explaining the psychology and physiology of losing one’s way. Researchers have, for example, created large databases of the experiences of the lost: airplane pilots who experience detachment from body, aircraft, and earth known as “break-off”; or hunters who track prey so intently that they develop “wood shock,” losing sense of their location. Lost people commonly fall prey to walking around in circles, and “map bending,” the tendency to force natural features to accord with maps. “Perceptions get distorted with a fight-or-flight response,” says Huth.

Such dreaded sensations may stump even traditional navigators. In the language of the Marshall Islands, “wiwijet” occurs when a lost canoeist, receiving no help from spirits, paddles disoriented until dead.

The neuroscience of the navigating brain increasingly engages researchers. Among their discoveries: Regions of the brain that are primitive in evolutionary terms permit such feats as “survey knowledge,” where close observation of terrain produces a sense of seeing it as if from above.


Peter Monaghan (Chronicle of Higher Education) | The Human Art of Way-finding

John Edward Huth
The Lost Art of Finding Our Way