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Name: Meryl
Status: educator
Age: 40s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999-2001


Question:
To whom it may concern:

I am an artist/educator who is making a non-commercial web site about my body of digital images entitled "Deep Research", a surreal exploration of the New York Public Library as an underwater environment. One of the pieces in the series is about "Finding Direction"; it was photographed in the Maps and Globes collection of the Library.

I have been searching the www for information about why some people seem to have a sense of direction (in the physical rather than spiritual sense) and others, like myself, do not. I would like to know what scientific reasons, if any, effect a person's sense of direction. Do people have a natural sense of direction? Are there ways a person could improve or impair their sense of direction?

If you can give me insight to this matter, it would be greatly appreciated. I would also like to know if I might include your answer as part of my project, or link my project to your answer.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Meryl Meisler
NYC Public School grade 6-12 Digital Art Teacher


Replies:
Hello,

I have also wondered about this question and have found a way to explain it away! The sense of direction I am speaking of is not the one that allows a person to tell the north from the south, blindfolded! I do not know about humans' ability in this sense, but know that some animals (such as migrating birds) are quite capable. I have read about this somewhere (Scientific American?) and believe that this is an active research area.

However, the sense of direction I have in mind is the one, for example, that allows some people to drive back to their camp ground after driving (or walking) in unfamiliar areas for the first time. I think this ability is like the ability of some to solve puzzles faster or to estimate the bill at a restaurant or at a supermarket checkout counter. When I drive, I rely on the casual observation of the scenery, the sun/sky, and a passive memorization of how many left or right turns I have made. If I am not the driver, I typically won't pay much attention and I would be clueless about directions. I think these are learned habits with a little bit of innate ability to memorize and mentally visualize what we see and do.

AK

Dr. Ali Khounsary
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne, IL 60439



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