Why Do I Get So Lost?

Why Do I Get So Lost?

Essays Featured Psychology Science

From EXPLORE MAGAZINE, March 2010

Let me tell you a few things about my relationship with the points of the compass, and then we’ll jump to the meat of this thing.

At shopping malls, my eldest daughter has to frequently tell me where we parked. She is five.

Once, while visiting Paris, I went out for a jog and got disoriented. Eventually I spotted a police officer, and I pulled from my shoe the address where we were staying. “Ah,” he said. “You want to go back to Paris.”

On a quest many years ago to climb the highest mountain on Vancouver Island, a pal and I got so lost that there was no turning back, because it just wasn’t clear which way back was. It wasn’t clear where forward was, either, except that we’d seen a plane fly in over the ridge ahead, so we went that way. (Did I mention that my pal was bleeding from a head wound?) It was a long shot but—don’t you see?—it was the only shot, because that slot in the horizon was our lone landmark.

I am like Captain Peter “Wrong Way” Peachfuzz on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show, who was so navigationally inept that the crew kept him on a fake bridge, with dummy instruments, so that he’d think he was in charge while the ship was in fact being steered elsewhere. My instincts are reliably wrong—which is as good as their being reliably right. You can take a “gut” reading and—Hello, Cleveland!—go do the opposite.

I tell you this not as a pathetic cry for help, or a claim to a perverse kind of pride, but to try to understand: Why does people’s sense of direction vary so wildly?

My own case by no means defines the low ground. There is a woman in my hometown of Vancouver—I can’t tell you who because she’s only described, not named, in the journal Neuropsychologia—who suffers from a pathology called “developmental topographical disorientation.” She’s in her 40s, and in most ways fully functioning—she can watch TV and read the newspaper and even get to and from work so long as she doesn’t deviate one iota from her regular route. But she can also get lost on the way home from the bus stop. She can’t make and store accurate mental images of her environment.

This kind of impairment is vanishingly rare, but it does make you wonder. Are those of us with more moderate symptoms different in kind or just degree? Is there a genetic component to this?

Full post:

www.utne.com/GreatWriting/Why-Do-I-Get-So-Lost-Navigation.aspx

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Kids Gone Wild

Kids Gone Wild

Essays Featured Kids Psychology

There’s a new movement out there to get children into nature

from EXPLORE MAGAZINE, August 2009

A huge—and I mean huge—black bear walked right past the car as I was loading my infant daughter into the back seat. It was in no particular hurry. It had emerged from the forest and was cutting through our driveway en route to the dumpster near the elementary school, where it would poke around and then hang a left back into the wild. We both watched it recede. At 300 feet it still looked pretty big. Lila was curious but not frightened: it occurred to me that living among bears—not to mention coyotes and the odd cougar—is normal for her now. And that’s a good thing, I think.

“You know why I like it here?” my wife explained to someone not long after we’d moved to this little townhouse complex, high on the flank of Vancouver’s North Shore mountains. “Because the only predators you have to worry about have four legs. And I’ll take those over the two-legged kind any day.”

Read the whole story here:

explore-mag.com/article/people/kids-gone-wild/

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