Sense of Direction
To whom it may concern:
I am an artist/educator who is making a non-commercial web site
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
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
Are there ways a person could improve or impair their sense of
If you can give me insight to this matter, it would be
greatly appreciated. I would also like to know if I might include
answer as part of my project, or link my project to your answer.
Thank you for your consideration.
NYC Public School grade 6-12 Digital Art Teacher
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.
Dr. Ali Khounsary
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne, IL 60439
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Update: June 2012