Getting lost can be fun! | Sunday Observer

Getting lost can be fun!

1 August, 2021

I sought the help of a friend – let us call him Harry – to visit a friend of mine who was living somewhere down south. Harry volunteered to take me in his car as he too wanted to see that part of the island. We drove for more than six hours and realised that we were going somewhere else. How could he do that because he was an experienced driver? Harry turned to me in a pleading manner and said, “I have absolutely no sense of direction. It may be my stupidity or some other reason.” As we could not proceed further, we returned home.

Some people have no sense of direction not due to their stupidity. Harry was an intelligent man but very often he walked round in circles with a handicap that went unnoticed. One day, he got off a bus in Colombo and lost his way. I have heard that some people get lost even in foreign countries. A Sri Lankan pilgrim went missing in Delhi some time ago. Harry’swife and children, however, react with disbelief.

A mother of a teenager in Washington DC wanted to drive her car to a theatre. After the movie the teenager walked to the car and drove it back to pick up her mother. Coming out of the car park she tried to negotiate the circle while looking for her mother. She became disoriented at the turn of a corner and knocked over a police officer on a motorcycle. The officer who was not hurt took pity on the teenager and showed her the way.

Spatially impaired

My friend Harry and the teenage driver were spatially impaired people and they do not know about it. It is an interesting study to find out why some people can find their way out of a complicated maze and others lack all directional sense. According to a psychologist, some birds may migrate using their tiniest particles of magnetite, or lodestone, embedded in their tissues to orient magnetically. We also know that some birds can navigate by the position of the sun. There is always the possibility that humans are detecting signals from sources they are not aware of. Some people know what direction to go even if they do not know the route.

I have heard of an economist – Carl Priestland – who travels all over the world but never gets lost. He found his way even in crowded cities in India where the narrow, winding streets make no sense at all. How does he do it? He says he navigates by the sun. For instance, he makes a note about the location of his hotel before leaving it. This is a useful trick any traveller can follow. He never travels at night in a place like Delhi. He wants the sun to guide him. Unlike women, men do not like to ask for directions because they are not willing to admit that they will get lost.

When you travel in an unfamiliar city, make a note of the landmarks such as tall buildings, parks, clock towers and religious places. A good driver makes a mental note of such places as he drives along. Women usually follow landmarks and men use their mental maps. There is some danger in asking for directions from strangers. Sometimes they tend to give wrong directions for reasons known to themselves. Especially, a young woman should never ask for directions from a man. It is always safe to ask a police officer or a postman for directions. They usually do not mislead people.

Survival skills

As we cannot ask for directions at every turn, men and women lacking an internal compass develop an arsenal of survival skills to compensate. For instance, if you are at a shopping mall, commit to memory every detail near the door. Always write down or save the phone numbers of people you can contact in an emergency. They will be the only people who will come to your rescue.

If you want to avoid getting lost in a big city, stick to a particular route. If you veer off course, there is bound to be trouble. If you can afford, go with a guide. He will know all the roads, lanes and by-lanes in a city. However, when you land in a big city for the first time, you cannot find guides and you have to possess an inborn talent.

Sometimes, even an eminent physicist like Albert Einstein could not give directions to his house. If you cannot find your way through your own neighbourhood, it is useless blaming yourself. If at all, blame your parents! They say a good sense of direction is probably hereditary. It is the considered opinion of Dr Jonathan Pincus, a Professor of Neurology. We really do not know whether Einstein inherited his lack of direction from his parents.

Spatial intelligence

Spatial intelligence or viso-spatial ability has been defined as “the ability to generate, retain, retrieve and transform well-structured visual images.” It’s what we do when we visualise shapes in our mind’s eye. Back in the 1990s, American psychologist Frances Rauscher made the extraordinary discovery that listening to Mozart’s music improved people’s spatial skills and mathematical reasoning. Research suggests that spatial thinking is an important predictor of achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The hippocampus contains special neurons that seem to create a cellular map of the places you have been and the routes you have taken. You can improve your way-finding skills specifically by practising the skill. The more you get out and go places, the better. Physical exercises improve the blood flow to the brain while mental exercises such as doing puzzles or learning a new language stimulate the development of new nerve cells and connections in your brain.

Getting lost is a customary part of any travel experience. Today, we use smart phones, GPS, guide books and maps which help us to go places and come back safely. However, seasoned travellers say there is no fun in such travels. According to them, travel is about exploration and some of the most fulfilling explorations happen when we lose ourselves in a place, culture or in an experience. Some of the great travel stories come from getting lost or losing yourself in a new place. People like to read such books with absorbing interest.

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