Getting Lost

Recently I made to a small contribution to the Every Little Thing podcast discussing one’s ability to be aware of a sense of direction. It occurred to me then that in over 10 years of writing, CabbieBlog has featured memory, but I have always assumed that everyone has an innate sense of direction.

Not so. To navigate a space, we seem to need three basic types of cells, these cells fire up at a very early age. The cells reside in the hippocampus (the area of the brain proved to be highly developed in London cabbies heads) to record direction, where the head is pointing; place the location in an environment; and grid, distance covered while moving.

Research by Giuseppe Iaria, Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, with a doctorate in Cognitive Neuroscience and over 20 years of experience in conducting behavioural and neuroimaging studies investigating spatial orientation and navigation sites several reasons some are better navigating, much of which is used on The Knowledge: practice, strategies, the environment, one’s age and your genes.

Most have a predisposition to navigate, although the reason is unknown, while 2 per cent have what Dr Iaria calls Developmental Topographical Disorientation (‘DTD’), or an inability to picture and remember the landscape.

Others, including those who pass The Knowledge, have a cognitive map of where they are in respect to the surrounding area. You don’t need to know how to navigate, all you need is a picture of your journey. When I was learning London’s topography, I would memorise every turn by what I could see at that intersection.

Some can make a mental map immediately, while others take time. It takes intense practice for most. But the good doctor conceded that London cabbies are phenomenal in this respect.

Test your ability at getting

5 thoughts on “Getting Lost”

  1. My partner, Tigger, possesses what we call her “inner pigeon” which enables her with uncanny accuracy to find her way even in cities new to us. We wander hither and thither at random and then she leads us directly back to the station.

    My inner pigeon flew away long ago and I possess an uncanny knack of getting lost anywhere. Famously, while waiting for our flight in Prague airport, I went to the gent’s and couldn’t find my way back to where Tigger was sitting! She sent me a text which put me back on track 🙂


  2. Had a good sense of direction, then moved to the other end of the world, suddenly North became South much to the amusement of those I worked with who actually knew where they were going. After 20 plus years only slightly better.


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