The need for help
It is interesting, that the need to know how to get somewhere is often the trigger that enables navigation to begin.
I discussed this with a friend of mine, whose wife always says, “Why do you use a SatNav when your own direction finding is better every time?”
We discussed how his sense of direction worked for him. First, he said it had to be important to him to get to his chosen destination, then he said, you need to relax and let yourself know which direction to go in.
Roswitha Wiltshko (a huge figure in animal navigation) told me two stories about the Sense of Direction. She said her son, while he was learning to glide, was taught to always know where his airfield was to be found. The instructor did not tell him how to do this, but as he worked on it, was soon able to do this as a matter of course.
I met another pilot recently who said that training this sort of sense of direction was critical and he could do it too.
Roswitha Wiltshko also tells the story of the explorer in the nineteenth century coming across a tribe who lived in the Steppes of Russia with very high grasses which made it impossible for them to see over them. The explorer asked how they got around when they had no compasses and could see nothing except the sky. They just laughed – they had always known how to navigate – they just knew the way.
“Guy Holmes, a marine commando extracted his troop form serious trouble when, on winter manoeuvres in Norway, they lost their tents and equipment when a night time storm blew up, he dowsed the direction required to get his troop back, and started off, getting back three hours before any other troop in similar circumstances had managed it”.
In the “The Bushman’s Handbook” by HA Lindsay. (A seminal book on survival in the bush in Australia first published in 1948. On page 123 of Lindsay’s book he says, “I know I have an acute sense of direction myself and my father in an even more developed form. It cannot, however, be acquired by study; like an ear for music, one has to be born with it. All I can offer in the way of explanation as to how it is done is to say that I seem to know that the camp, the track or the place where the car was left is over there, even if darkness has fallen and all the landmarks have become hidden by dust or fog.
Never yet, in nearly fifty years of wandering around on featureless plains, in dense and low scrub, in forests or in hills even in country which I have never seen before, have I been wrong. I have met others with the same gift too”
Pilots and Sailors often claim to have heightened Satnavicity, but this may be related to constantly monitoring their progress, even when there are no obvious clues, ie the sun, the shape of the land, the direction of waves. Elapsed time plays a significant part.
True instinctive homing in humans is probably a myth, the Bushman, the Steppe nomad are picking up constant clues from their surroundings. It is interesting to note that the homing instinct based on natural signposting is easily disrupted. The most common being the debate which occurs when people become lost or disorientated. The instinctive ‘homer’ has no actual evidence to support his (it is usually a man) ‘feeling’ that a given direction is the correct one.
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