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The GPS of the Brain: The Mechanism That Helps Us Navigate To New Environments

We humans are great at navigation. It’s how we managed to travel across the landmasses and sail across the wide oceans throughout the course of time. Our ability to navigate has enabled us to navigate our way around places (including space), and get from the bedroom to the bathroom and back to our beds at night. It is a natural, innate ability which we neither notice nor question.

But what is the mechanism responsible for our dependable senses of direction, especially in new and different environments? This is what UC Santa Barbara neuroscientist Sung Soo Kim zones in on.

“It’s a very flexible system,” Kim said of a network of neurons that fire in synchrony, serving to convert sensory cues into a stable sense of direction we hold in our brains. For example, he said, “When you walk into a really new environment, within a few moments, your sense of direction is already established. Once established, it becomes stable and you’re not confused about the direction you’re facing.
“Even if the lights are turned off,” added Kim, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, “your brain maintains that sense of direction and updates it as you move around.”

Get more details about this over at The Current.

(Image Credit: Pexels/ Pixabay)


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The article is really unclear about how positional awareness is cued. It specifically discusses the ability to navigate blind, and refers to "compass cells", but the experiments seem to have focused solely on visual input.
The importance of inertial cues is is why I've typically found "first person shooter" and dogfighting computer games frustrating. I can function purely visually to some extent, but without the sensation of actually turning to reinforce it, my mental map is weak, and I'm prone to go in virtual circles.
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