Posts Tagged ‘GPS’

How Can We Keep Technology from Rotting Our Brains

January 27, 2020

First of all it is important to understand that it is not technology that is rotting out brains, it is the way we are using technology that is rotting our brains. If used properly technology provides an ideal means of enhancing our brains and building healthy memories.

The first action should be to get off social media, in general, and Facebook, in particular. The dangers of Facebook are well documented in this blog. Entering “Facebook” into will yield pages of posts about Facebook. The dangers of social media are also well documented in this blog. Besides, Facebook should be paying to use your data. So in addition to the other evils one might also add theft.

We all got along before Facebook and we will find that our lives are better after Facebook. HM certainly did.

One can develop one’s own interest groups on various topics. Go to the healthy memory blog post “Mindshift Resources.” Unfortunately, usually fees are involved in actually getting a degree. Go to to learn how to get an MBA-level business education at a fraction of the cost. Laura Pickard explains how to get an MBA for less than1/100th the cost of a traditional MBA.

Go to Wikipedia and search for topics of interest or to just browse. When you find topics worth pursuing, pursue them. This will involve System 2 processing at least.

You can learn juggling on YouTube. Juggling is one of many activities that is good for developing a healthy memory.

As for the GPS, it is recommended to try navigating without GPS. Go to a new, safe, area, traverse it and build a mental topographic map. Two activities that benefit a healthy memory can be engaged here, walking and mental navigating building a mental topographic map.

Visiting museums is another means of developing mental spatial maps. Museums provide another opportunity for engaging in two activities that build healthy memories. Building mental spatial maps, and learning the content present in the museum.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


January 21, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by M.R. O’Connor. The subtitle is “The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World.” HM and his spouse enjoy cruising. One looks out at the vast ocean with nothing else in sight. With today’s geopositioning systems it is obvious how ships navigate these waters, even at night and in bad weather. For a long time sextants were needed for navigation. The primary use of a sextant is to measure the angle between an astronomical object and the horizon for the purposes of celestial navigation.

We enjoy cruising the Caribbean islands and visiting these islands, which are populated and have been populated for many hundreds of years. HM’s question is how did people in primitive boats manage to navigate to these islands, and for entire groups of people to relocate. There is nothing special about the Caribbean here. There are islands all over the Earth to which people managed to navigate and resettle. Wayfinding explains how they managed to do so. It turns out that people use not only the stars, but the movement of the sun through the day, sea currents, and the wind to navigate. These signs are very subtle and Wayfinding does not provide a guide as to how to do this. Rather it documents that humans did indeed learn to read and understand these subtle cues.

It is not only on the seas and oceans have humans been able to learn subtle environmental cues to navigate. There is a chapter on the Arctic and on how natives are able to read the subtle cues in the ice to navigate. Even today with GPS’s being able to provide directions, expert wayfarers can see signs that there may be trouble ahead regarding unsafe ice, which are not available from the GPS.

There also is a section on the aborigines in Australia. Here there are vast landscapes, which are barren to the uninitiated, but which provide information to those who know how to read it. They have developed what the author names dreamtime cartography. They form stories, dreams if you will, that describe the paths on trips to different locations.

Ms. O’Connor makes the argument that it is navigation that made us human and gave us the ability to develop advanced civilizations. She cites a portion from Carlo Ginzburg’s book Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method: Man has been a hunter for thousands of years. In the course of countless chases he learned to reconstruct the shapes and movements of his invisible prey from tracks on the ground, broken branches, excrement, tufts of hair, entailed feather, stagnating odors. He learned to sniff out, record, interpret, and classify such infinitesimal traces as tails of spittle, He learned how to execute complex mental operations with lightning speed, in the depth of a forest or in a prairie with its hidden dangers.”

To be sure, these are humble beginnings. But they are the beginnings of advanced thinking that continue to advance to where we are today. But there have been casualties. If any of us who are not hunters were left to survive for ourselves in the woods, most of us would likely fail.

Living Outside Our Skin

November 4, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in he book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” This is the third post on this book. The chapter begins, “Humans are sensual animals.” We touch, taste, smell, hear, and see our way through our days. We pay attention to both the message indicators that direct us to stimuli and the physical experiences of these stimuli. Our stomachs rumble, so we look for food. We yawn, realize we’re tired, lie down to go to sleep, or go outside for a renewing breath of fresh air. We smell something out of the ordinary and search for its source. If we are especially mindful and aware, we might realize that we yearn for a vision of beauty or to be touched in a meaningful way. Each of our senses serves a unique function of keeping us healthy and content. Should one or more senses become compromised, we often find the others become heightened to compensate and keep us aware and in tune with ourselves and our surroundings.

As our technology use increases we should be aware of the risk of falling out of touch with the potency of our senses. We might begin the day by rolling over to grab our phone to catch up on the news or on our social feeds. We might connect with our device before we get out of bed and truly wake up to our embodied self! We surf the web during the day to tell us what to buy. We might use digital monitors to tell us our child’s or pet’s body temperature and heart rate. And we might use wearable technology to track our exercise and heart rate; and stave off boredom by tackling another level of a favorite game while waiting. At days end we plop down on the couch and play a video game, or we crawl into bed and watch a movie on our tablet or laptop. The author writes, “As we engage these platforms, we send our minds and bodies the not-so-subtle message that our technologies can entertain, comfort, and know us better that we can entertain, comfort, and know ourselves. This tendency to rely on devices, apps, and technology more consistently than on our own sense of our mental, emotional, and physiological states has far-reaching consequences.”

The author writes, “Our sense of place in the world is similarly impacted. At the core of our consciousness, we no longer truly need to know where we are, as long as we have a device and an internet connection. Directed by our GPS and Google Maps, we go directly from where we are to where we want to go without having to think or wonder. We visit a new part of town or a new state altogether, but have no sense of our larger environs. We don’t notice the landscape because we’re busy following our turn-by-turn directions. We don’t interact with the ‘natives’ of these places, and we find our favorite ‘local’ chain restaurants and stores in every place we visit, so we can frequent the familiar rather than brave the unknown. We rarely stop to attend to what it feels like to be an embodied person in a new space, and we don’t travel consciously into new spaces. Instead we move through them, looking down at our phones the entire time. When do look up, we snap photos on our phones, relieving our minds from the need to hold the memories.”

There is such a thing as “self-knowing awareness.” If we have developed the ability to scan our physical bodies—paying attention to what our sensory awareness can tell us about what we need and prefer in the way of stimulation, testing, learning, and more, then we can trust our own internal “gut” to inform us how to live most healthfully. However, if we have relied in such a way that a bulk of our stimulation, smoothing, learning, and information gathering has come from outside our body, we will feel bereft of knowledge regarding how to live in healthful ways in and out of ourselves. This requires the kind of living we have actively and passively practiced. To inventory and assess what our body might want or need, however, required a practice pattern of checking with ourselves, often in quiet and stilled ways. When we outsource this process to external devices, we miss out on the opportunity to know ourselves deeply and to practice self-regulation.

There is also good reason to be concerned with both the accuracy and validity of these devices. Analysis of clinical sleep studies done at the same time as sleep monitoring with fitness trackers reveals a great degree of variance in the accuracy of sleep assessment via wearable devices. Sleep is a complex activity with various stages and cycles. While movement is one indicator of depth of sleep stage, many other variables contribute to its nature and quality. Unfortunately, with growing frequency, wearers of tracking technologies are relying heavily on nightly generated data to evaluate the quantity and quality of their sleep, and to make adjustments based on the data. Instead of waking and taking time to consider how we feel and how long we slept, we are making assumptions based on data that may not be reliable. The author concludes, ”while the tracking is not, in and of itself, bad or negative, if it is used outside of self-assessment or real-time monitoring of actual experienced levels of tiredness or restfulness, we forgo a strong and developed sense of really knowing ourselves. Consider, for example, research reported in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Subjects were found to make inferences based upon fitness tracker data that caused them to self-diagnose sleep disturbances that wee not clinically founded. In other words, our relying on data can sometimes get us in trouble!”

Reasons to Build a Healthy Hippocampus

June 8, 2019

This post is inspired by an article by M.R. O’Connor in the 6 June 2019 issue of the Washington Post titled, “Here’s what gets lost when we rely on GPS.” The article cites a study published in Nature Communications in 2017 where researchers asked participants to navigate a virtual simulation of London’s Soho neighborhood and monitored their brain activity, specifically the hippocampus, which, as health memory blog readers know, is integral to spatial navigation. Amir-Honayoun Javadi, one of the study’s authors said, “The hippocampus makes an internal map of the environment and this map becomes active when you are engaged in navigating and not using GPS.”

The hippocampus is highly important. It allows us to orient in space and know where we are by creating cognitive maps. It allows us to both store and retrieve personal memories of experience. Neuroscientists believe the hippocampus believes give us the ability to imagine the future. Again this is something healthy memory blog readers should know and one of the principle purposes of memory is for time travel so we can travel back in time to review our past, so we can think of possible actions we can take in the future.

Research has long shown that the hippocampus changes as a function of learning. Again healthy memory blog readers should remember the study of London taxi drivers who have greater gray-matter volume in the hippocampus due to memorizing the city’s labyrinthine streets. Atrophy in the hippocampus is linked to devastating conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. Stress and depression dampen neurogenesis—the growth of new neurons —in the hippocampal circuit.

Javadi said the conclusions he draws from recent research is that “when people use tools such as GPS, they tend to engage less with navigation. Therefore, brain area responsible for navigation is less used, and consequently their brain areas involved in navigation tend to shrink”

Neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot has found that using spatial-memory strategies for navigation correlates with increased gray matter in the hippocampus at any age. She thinks that interventions focused on improving spatial memory by exercising the hippocampus—paying attention to the spatial relationships of places in our environment—might help offset age-related cognitive impairments or even neurodegenerative diseases.

She continues, “If we are paying attention to our environments, we re stimulating our hippocampus, and a bigger hippocampus seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease. When we get lost , it activates the hippocampus, it gets us completely out of the habit mode. Getting lost is good.” It can be a good thing if done safely.

M.R. O’Connor writes, “Saturated with devices, children today might grow up to see navigation from memory or a paper map as anachronistic as rote memorization or typewriting. But for them especially, independent navigation and the freedom to explore are vital to acquiring spatial knowledge that may improve hippocampal function. Turning off the GPS and teaching them navigational skills could have enormous cognitive benefits later in life.”

M.R. O’Connor concludes the article, “Over the past four years, I’ve spoken with master navigators from different cultures who show me that performing navigation is a powerful form of engagement with the environment that can inspire a greater sense of stewardship. Finding our way on our own—using perception, empirical observation and problem solving skills—forces us to attune ourselves to the outside world. And by turning our attention to the physical landscape that sustains and connects us, we can nourish “topophilia,” a sense of attachment and love for space. You’ll never get that from waiting for a satellite to tell you how to find a shortcut.”


January 6, 2019

A large part of this post is based on Helen Thomson’s book, “Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” We have two basic means of navigation. One is to have specific landmarks that tell us what to do at that landmark. And the other is to have a map of the area of interest in our mind, a mental map. Although GPS’s might have an analogue of a mental map in the database they are interrogating, the instructions they provide to the user is a series of instructions as what to do when you arrive at what point. Point to point instructions are fine until you get lost or redirected and need to find an alternative route.

At one time cab drivers in London were tested on whether they had stored a mental map of London in the brains. It took years of study to pass this test, but to get the desired license they needed to memorize twenty-five thousand roads within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. An interesting and important question was if this knowledge affected their brains, and if so, which part of their brain. To answer this question, Eleanor Maguire scanned the brains of 79 trainee taxi drivers several times over four years as they began to learn what is called the Knowledge. Those who passed the test had a bigger posterior hippocampus than when they started, whereas there were no changes in trainee taxi drivers who had failed their exams or in 31 people whose age, education and intelligence were similar to the taxi drivers’, but who had never attempted to learn the Knowledge. Clearly, the hipppocampi were growing alongside navigational abilities.

How the hippocampus learns to navigate was done buy using rats as subjects. O’Keene placed a set of thin electrodes into their hippocampi, which could record the little spike of electricity that occurs when an individual neuron is communicating with its neighbors. O’keene discovered a type of cell that fired only when the animal was in a specific location. Each time the rat passed through this location—pop!—that cell would fire. A nearby cell seemed to care only about a different location. Pop! It would fire whenever the rat walked through that location. The next cell would respond only to another location, and so on. The combination of activity of many of these cells could tell you exactly where that rat was to within five square cm. O’keene named them place cells and showed how together they told the rest of the brain.

Place cells don’t do this job alone. They receive input from three other kinds of cells in a nearby region called the entorhinal cortex. One type of cell is called a grid cell, and was discovered by May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. The Mosers realized that our ability to navigate relies on us being able to think about how we are moving and where we have come from. Consider the way you head to the ticket machine in a parking lot and then reverse the movements of your body to return to your car. The Mosers discovered that grid cells were the neurons responsible for integrating this information into our cognitive map.

Our ability to recognize familiar landmarks is so important that there’s a part of the brain that is dedicated to the task.. This is the retrosplenial cortex and when it’s damaged it leads to severe problems in navigating.

Here is something we can do to improve our navigational skills. If you’re in a new area you should return to one point—your home base—often this will help you build a better mental map. You should also pay much more attention to your surroundings, take note of specific landmarks and think about their orientation to one another. And don’t forget to turn around or look backwards from time to time: it’s a trick that animals do to make it easier to recognize their way home.

It is also good to have a fold out map of the area of interest. This is a literal map than can inform your mental map.