8. The Maps in our Heads

a. Read the book review. Is this a book that you might want to read? Why, or why not?

Please ignore the random letters in the text: we will use these later!

How do humans learn to navigate? How does the brain construct a ‘map’ of our surroundings? Why do some people get lost more easily than others? And what happens when a person gets hopelessly, profoundly, lost?

These questions are addressed in a recent book by the psychology journalist Michael Bond. Wayfinding (published in the US under the title From Here to There) presents a dizzying array of perspectives from geography researchers, psychological experimenters, mountain rescue teams, mapmakers and many others, in pursuit of an understanding of how we find our way around.

Central to Bond’s explorations is the issue of what happens when the brain’s navigational equipment starts to fail: [p].

Most fascinating, however, is the second chapter, titled Right to Roam. Bond recounts an research project where psychologists asked a hundred children aged between three and thirteen to lead them to the furthest place they visited on their own, and in the process discovered hidden tracks, trails, shortcuts and surveillance points unknown to adults. The children roamed further than their parents realised – [q] – and frequently took unplanned diversions from even their own secret paths.

Yet this project dates back several decades. Startlingly, children’s ‘range’ – [r] – has declined by up to 90% over the past three generations, with one street or block nowadays being the limit for many youngsters whose grandparents were allowed to roam across a whole town or out into neighbouring villages.

This contraction of children’s horizons inevitably has an effect on their awareness of their surroundings, and Bond illuminates this with a picture of two maps, one drawn from memory by a ten-year-old who walks to school each day, and the other by a ten-year-old who gets taken by car. The difference is astounding!

How humans’ ability to navigate will change in the years ahead, then, is unknown: [s].

All in all, this is an informative and yet entertaining read. While there is a rigorous background of scientific data behind Bond’s writing, he is able to package this in an accessible way, so – [t] – there is little chance of the reader becoming disorientated or lost.

b. Some parts of sentences are missing from the text of the review. The spaces are marked [pqrst]. Here are the missing parts. Where do they fit?

1. 22 percent further, on average

2. Bond touches on the effects of GPS technology but wisely leaves these questions open

3. an understandable preoccupation, given the author’s own experience of losing a family member to dementia

4. appropriately enough, given the book’s theme

5. the distance they are allowed to travel unsupervised

c. Speak

  • How far was your ‘range’ as a child?
  • Did you go to any places or on any journeys that the adults in your life didn’t know about?

d. Discuss and compare your opinions

  • The review mentions maps drawn by two 10-year-olds of their journey to school. What do you think these maps look like?
  • If you were asked to draw a map from memory of a journey you make frequently (like to work/ college/ a family member’s home), what would your map look like? How accurate would it be?
  • If you asked a group of people from the same city to draw a map of their city, how similar or different do you think these maps would be?

e. We’re now going to listen to part of an interview with Michael Bond, the author of Wayfaring.

  • How accurate were the maps that Parisians drew of their city?
  • What point does he make by referring to Odessa, New York and London?

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