Run straight down

>> Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An interesting video from NPR regarding studies demonstrating--although nobody seems to know why--that humans are apparently incapable of moving in a straight line without visual cues:

What I find most interesting about this is that it suggests that if you're ever stranded in a situation where you have nothing to home in on--lost in the woods on a dark, cloudy night with no hints (e.g. a stream to follow down, let's say)--the best thing you can do is stay put until the clouds break or the sun rises, since trying to get anywhere will only guarantee you get yourself more lost or, at best, end up in the same place if you happen to circle around enough. I realize this may seem like a commonplace observation (there are other reasons for staying put if you don't know where you are and staying put is an option), but what's interesting, really, is the demonstration of what actually happens: it doesn't "feel like" you're just walking in circles, you are, as a matter of fact, walking in circles.

Now, I'm a city boy who hasn't been camping in decades and hardly travels (i.e. little chance of being the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Pacific Northwest woods), so it's not like I'm personally planning on using this information in an actual how-to-avoid-dying sort of way. But it's the kind of thing the writer in me sees and tries to think of ways to use, you know? Our Hero, out in the woods, ends up exactly where he started. Does he starve? Does the monster catch him? Is there some symbolic irony as the great circle he walks comes to represent the repetitiveness of life or some such happy horseshit?

Again, you may find it less interesting than I do, but whatever. I thought it was kind of cool and something to play around with. Feel free to do the same, y'know?


timb111 Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 11:22:00 AM EST  

I have incredible spatial positioning ability. I can visit a place I haven't been in 20 years and remember my way around. In the dark under cloud cover in the woods I'm lost after 50 meters. So I believe what you're saying.

Jeri Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 11:46:00 AM EST  

If you are ever sole survivor of a plane crash in the Pacific Northwest forest, I'll gladly help w/ search and rescue to find you. With a compass & topo map. ;)

Warner (aka ntsc) Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 11:54:00 AM EST  

Louise Dickenson Rich, in We Took to The Woods described this in anecdotal fashion. Having to do with lost hunters. She also noted that people tend to circle in one specific direction. I remember it as to the right, but it may have to do with handedness.

She lived so far back in the Maine woods, that you got in by boat, or in winter by driving on the ice.

Random Michelle K Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 8:43:00 PM EST  

I heard this a couple weeks ago, and the only think I have to add is, I love Robert Krulwich's voice.

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