Duz Ur GPS Mak U Dumr?

Dr Rosamund Langston, a lecturer in neuroscience, says that by using satnavs, we wither away our ‘caveman’ ability to familiarise ourselves with new surroundings by memorizing snapshots of them.  Some of the research suggests that lack of exercising these spatial-reasoning abilities may have implications beyond a reduction in one’s ability to find one’s way unaided.

See also my related posts:

Duz Web Mak Us Dumr?  and

Duz Web Mak Us Dumr–continued

10 thoughts on “Duz Ur GPS Mak U Dumr?”

  1. Well, it may be so, but what we see here doesn’t show it. Brain exercise does not seem to have much to do with dementias, especially Alzheimer’s. Not exercising the brain may cause some small losses – I said may – but they are likely separate processes. Genetics, prenatal influence, chemical exposure, and hormones are all likely to be much bigger factors. Hell, gut bacteria seems to be the new explanation for everything, so maybe that should be in there, too.

    Map-users may have been spatially smarter to begin with. If you aren’t that good at something, leaning on a technological crutch would be more likely, but it’s not the crutch that made you less good to begin with.

    I am a great lover of maps, slightly irritated that my family is all gravitating to GPS. So I am actually a little hopeful that this lack-of-use theory turns out to be true. This doesn’t look that strong.

    Wayfinding is a favored topic of mine, and I did a whole series on it over 3 years ago: gender differences, Stonehenge, hiking – lot o’ stuff. http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2011/09/recent-conversations-wayfinding.html

  2. Isn’t there somewhere in the Platonic dialogs a complaint that writing the Homeric epics down had caused the facility of memory to decline?

  3. I am rather proud of the fact that I navigated my sailboat to Hawaii with a sextant in 1981. Had I been a little better navigator, or more lucky, we would have won the Transpacific Race overall as we were only 9 minutes out of first place. For that race, I had two sextants, one a precision instrument that I still own and a plastic one for backup. Now everyone uses GPS but it was only an option then for large boats with big generators as the system (also known as Transit by the Navy) required that the receiver remain on 24 hours a day as the satellites were not geostationary. They rose above the horizon every hour or so.

    The TRANSIT system was made obsolete by the Global Positioning System (GPS), and ceased navigation service in 1996. Improvements in electronics allowed the GPS system to effectively take several fixes at once, greatly reducing the complexity of deducing a position. The GPS system uses many more satellites than were used with TRANSIT, allowing the system to be used continuously, while TRANSIT provided a fix only every hour or more.

    The use of sextants was quite a matter of skill as the observation on a small boat (40 feet) required good timing and knowledge of navigational stars. The use of Latitude was simple in the Northern Hemisphere in winter as the sun was low in the sky and “local apparent noon” was a pretty simple observation. You simply used a Nautical Almanac to get the estimated time and started your sights a bit early. You were measuring maximum altitude. The calculation was pretty simple as the Almanac told you the south latitude of the sun and some simple math told you your latitude.

    In fact, Google has retired Latitude and won’t tell you anymore.

    Longitude was more complicated and the calculation was a big deal in the old days as a chronometer was needed. Dava Sobel’s book tells the story and is an entertaining read. The British Navy offered an enormous sum for the first accurate chronometer. I used a Texas Instruments digital watch which was fine.

    Star sights are much more difficult but, if the season is right, not necessary. The trouble is that summer in the northern hemisphere has the sun north of the equator and Hawaii is about directly under the sun at noon in July. Taking a noon sight with the sun directly overhead is very difficult and the accuracy is poor. In Transpac, longitude with the sextant and watch was easy. I would take a morning and afternoon sight and the average was pretty good. We also had a cumulative log and an electronic knottier so dead reckoning was good.

    The problem was Latitude and we needed to hit Honolulu as close as possible to perfectly. Our chief competitor was ahead of us and he was “squall chasing” which means he was going after squalls which had more wind and he must have been more confident of his Latitude or more lucky. I was more worried about where we were. Now, GPS takes the navigation out of the equation but God help these guys who are dependent on GPS if they lose it. Every boat is required to carry a sextant but I wonder how many use it. Big time navigators, like Stan Honey who invented the yellow first down line on NFL TV broadcasts, among other things, can get $500,000 for navigating a big race like the Round the World Cup.

    Navigators are the ones who decide where to go and where the most wind will be, not to mention currents in places like San Francisco Bay, the Solent in Britain and, in the old days, the Mexican races. The current in the coastal areas between Los Angeles and Mexico were critical in those races which went down the coast in winter.

    It used to be fun to beat the guys in big boats with lots of money but it is getting harder and harder as the money is enormous. GPS is cheap until it goes out or you make a major error. Then it gets expensive.

    On Saturday night, during the second leg of the notoriously grueling Volvo Ocean Race, Team Vestas Wind ran aground on a reef off Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, and broke both of the vessel’s rudders. After spending most of the night aboard the damaged $6 million 65-foot yacht, the nine sailors climbed into two life rafts and were picked up by the local coast guard early in the morning. None were injured.

    Oh Oh. A Navigator is out of business.

  4. I still make the Scouts in the troop I’m involved with learn how to find their way with a map and compass. We do at least two land navigation exercises a year and to get Eagle we require the Orienteering Merit Badge. Some boys and parents whine about GPS being easier and more accurate, but I and the other adults in the troop are pretty firm about them learning the older, less vulnerable way.

  5. My dad still knew the algorithm to compute cube roots.

    What did the Polynesian mariners who navigated the Pacific by memory think of the decline in skills when they saw the first charts?

  6. I just got my very first GPS. At age 53.

    I figure my brain’s going to start decaying anyway, so why not.

  7. I have never been lost. I have misjudged distance a few times but that just meant I had to walk a little further. It was a bit of a shock when I discovered most people get lost quite fast.

    It’s just dead reckoning and the fact that the sun is to the south of my northern hemisphere home. I do use my GPS against Google Earth, on my phone, to navigate logging roads etc.

  8. PenGun you are just the most.

    “I have driven from TX to the east coast without a map. Don’t need no stinkin’ GPS.”

    As long as you stay on the roads, you’re OK. Try cross country. No roads in the ocean.

    I posted somewhere how the original commanding officer of the E Company of the 101st Airborne, the “Band of Brothers” of Stephen Ambrose, lost his commend because he got lost on a map problem while they were still training in the States.

    One big reason the Iraqis lost Gulf War I was that they were road bound. US troops were having GPS receivers sent by family before the invasion. The small ones had just come out.

  9. “One big reason the Iraqis lost Gulf War I was that they were road bound.”

    This is also one reason why the Novorussian forces kick serious ass on the poor Ukie army.

    You can’t believe your press, well they don’t seem to know much anyway. How about 20,000 dead in the Ukrainian army? The Novorussian forces have between 3000 and 3500 UA corpses from Debaltseve alone. They have offered them to their relatives for burial.

    Whoops, carried away again. ;)

Comments are closed.