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The Immense Capacity within Us All

The Immense Capacity within Us All

"When blind people learn to see, sighted people seem inspired to want to learn to see their way better, more clearly, with less fear, because this exemplifies the immense capacity within us all to navigate any type of challenge, through any form of darkness, to discoveries unimagined when we are activated."

~ Daniel Kish

One’s Own Perception

From “Ratmechanics,” by Katy Bowman:

We humans may not whisk, but we do have a very similar system in our body. It’s called the proprioceptive system.

Proprioception means “one’s own perception.” No, it’s not like your opinion or anything like that, but it is the ability for one part of your body to know where it is relative to the other parts. Unlike the rat, who is using the deformation of its whiskers to create an image of what is external (similar to a dolphin using sonar to “see” shapes in front of it as it is swimming), we use our proprioceptive system to create an image of what is internal, or inside the skin. Propriception works in the same way as the whiskers though. The deformation of the joints and muscles sends information to the receptors (proprioceptors) within the moving muscles and their joints. That information about a change in skeletal position then travels via our neurons to the brain to create an image.

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[Thanks, Kit!]

Transforming Abstract Space into a Place

From “Global Impositioning Systems,” by Alex Hutchinson, The Walrus (November 2009):

Like any other human trait, navigational skill varies widely — some people crow about their abilities, while others lament their ineptitude…

We’re now on the cusp of an even more dramatic change, as we enter the age of the Global Positioning System, which is well on its way to being a standard feature in every car and on every cellphone.

At the same time, neuroscientists are starting to uncover a two-way street: our brains determine how we navigate, but our navigational efforts also shape our brains. The experts are picking up some worrying signs about the changes that will occur as we grow accustomed to the brain-free navigation of the GPS era…

To many, the beauty of the devices is precisely that we no longer have any need to painstakingly assemble those cognitive maps. But Cornell University human-computer interaction researcher Gilly Leshed argues that knowledge of an area means more than just finding your way around.

Navigation underlies the transformation of an abstract “space” to a “place” that has meaning and value to an individual. For the GPS users Leshed and her colleagues observed in an ethnographic study, the virtual world on the screens of their devices seemed to blur and sometimes take over from the real world that whizzed by outside. “Instead of experiencing physical locations, you end up with a more abstract representation of the world,” she says…

[Some researchers fear] that overreliance on GPS…will result in our using the spatial capabilities of the hippocampus less, and that it will in turn get smaller. Other studies have tied atrophy of the hippocampus to increased risk of dementia…

[Millions of people] now pay to join health clubs where they can spin their legs on treadmills and exercise bikes to make up the miles they no longer travel in their daily lives. Many others choose to forsake “efficiency” by biking to work or walking to the supermarket, because they’ve realized that letting technology do too much leaves their bodies worse off. We may soon take the same approach with our brains.

Does My Sense of Direction Suck? from The Walrus Foundation on Vimeo.

See also: Test Your Sense of Direction

We Need to Hear Other People

"People need to talk. And often, a willingness to sit and listen is the greatest kindness one person can offer another. One of the first lessons of childhood is to be wary of strangers. And while this is good counsel to guard against the world's very small nefarious element, it also teaches us to block out the large majority of those who just have something on their minds they'd like to say. We are taught to be suspicious, especially of anyone who might not look like us or What Now? by Ann Patchettshare our beliefs. By the time we reach adulthood, many have perfected the art of isolation. Of being careful. Of not listening in the name of safety. But the truth is that we need to hear other people—all people—especially in those moments when we don't know exactly where we're going ourselves. When it comes to finding our way, we're better off taking in as much information from as many sources as possible...For the most part, wisdom comes in chips rather than blocks. You have to be willing to gather them constantly and from sources you never imagined to be probable. No one chip gives you the answer for everything. No one chip stays in the same place throughout your entire life. The secret is to keep adding voices, adding ideas, and moving things around as you put together your life. If you're lucky, putting together your life is a process that will last through every single day you're alive."

~ Ann Patchett, from What Now? an essay based on the commencement address she gave at Sarah Lawrence in May 2006