Mariton: Navigation

January 9, 2020

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

I recently finished reading Super Navigators by David Barrie.  It looked at the navigational capabilities of creatures as small as bacteria that can align themselves on the magnetic axis.  A lot of the book focused on insects, like dung beetles, ants, bees and migrating Monarch Butterflies.  There was quite a bit of the book dedicated to bird navigation, as well as sea turtles and marine mammals.  Most creatures seem to have some inner magnetic compass, but they need other cues like stars, landmarks, or other indicators to help them orient between East to West longitudes.  Many use a combination of things, including smell, angle of the sun, polarized light, etc.  Animals show amazing awareness of the world around them.  Besides the amazing animals, there were the amazing researchers that asked questions and designed experiments.

The book ends up with humans.  Mr. Barrie is concerned about the over reliance of cell phones and GPS devices.  Navigation in humans is of interest to me, and I’ve written about it before.  I have watched peoples’ ability to read maps greatly decline in the last decade.  People have become dependent on their GPS and phone to give them directions.  Mr. Barrie even writes about how easy it is to jam or distort the signals from the satellites that provide our electronic devices navigational data.  Many years ago, my first GPS unit came with a disclaimer not to use a GPS as your sole means of navigation because satellites could be disabled at any time for national security purposes.  At that time there were only a fraction of the satellites that are available now, and GPS accuracy was limited.

A lot of navigation is paying attention to your surroundings as you travel.  Over time we have suppressed our innate ability to “home” in unfamiliar territory.  Think of that, a whole generation could become lost in their own neighborhood, because they have lost the ability to pay attention to their surroundings.  Fortunately after reading Mr. Barrie’s book I think navigation is probably latent deep within each of us.  Like anything else, we need to nurture and exercise it regularly.