The physical world is infinitely complex, yet most of us are able to find our way around it. We can walk through unfamiliar streets while maintaining a sense of direction, take shortcuts along paths we have never used and remember for many years places we have visited only once. These are remarkable achievements.
In Wayfinding, Michael Bond, senior editor at New Scientist magazine. explores how we do it: how our brains make the ‘cognitive maps’ that keep us orientated, even in places that we don’t know. He considers how we relate to places, and asks how our understanding of the world around us affects our psychology and behaviour.
The way we think about physical space has been crucial to our evolution: the ability to navigate over large distances in prehistoric times gave Homo sapiens an advantage over the rest of the human family. Children develop the ability to navigate in infancy, and cutting-edge spatial neuroscience is explaining how it’s done. And yet for the first time in the history of human evolution, we have stopped using the wayfaring skills that we inherited from our peripatetic ancestors, and the consequences are potentially devastating.
By telling the stories of some of the greatest navigators in history – and asking what made them so good – Bond seeks an answer to the question of why some of us are so much better at finding our way than others, and finally writes about just how devastating the experience of being lost can be.