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Why we MIGHT walk in circles

WTF? Let me get this straight: Boing Boing's title suggest that this hypothesis is in fact true, when the only experimental evidence in fact fails to support the theory? rubbish. You can zig-zag all day long and never go in a circle. Pilots of sailboats do it all the time.

It's quite common with people lost in the woods.

It seems highly unlikely that anyone that actually lived outdoors would maintain the behavior for very long.

I remember this story on Maury Povich a few years ago about a guy that wandered away from his car in a park in Hawaii. He was lost for 3 days. I thought about it and came to the conclusion the guy was dumb because you could probably walk across the entire island in three days.

anyone with any access whatsoever to education- including you poor, manipulated city-dwellers- should understand the basic principles of figuring out direction/time of day by the sun and also, yes, a basic understanding of star navigation. it took us as a species god knows how long :) to figure these things out and today any reasonably intelligent 5 year old can grasp the essentials. this is just another example of how science education is crucial to a modern human's well-being.

having said that, i don't know if the guy was "dumb". there's a lot of other factors involved in being lost than basic navigational knowledge. i've been lost in the woods, and even in hawaii (!)- not for three days, but still. (2 days once in a state park). my best advice? don't be afraid of being lost. (i know, good luck buddy).

People in cities usually don't learn much about the stars because they can't see many of them. on overcast days the sun can be hard to locate, especially through tree cover. Circling probably has advantages for all social animals. The goal is not to get somewhere, but to find your group by traveling bigger and bigger circles.

seems people have a hard time thinking about this one.

First it's a hypothesis; an unproven hypothesis--and the evidence cited in the article actually doesn't support the hypothesis.

Second, for those assuming a evolutionary advantage to this behavior...consider that one's reason for walking through the woods/field/desert might not be because one is lost--it might be to get to the other side.

What the article says is that some scientist has a theory that people would walk in circles without navigational reference after just 100 meters or less. The experimental evidence cited doesn't support the theory. Anecdotal evidence should be considered untrustworthy. Why is this news?

Th hypothesis is not about what happens when one sets out to cross a desert, but what one does when lost without good reference points. It would make sense that any animal traveling in a pack would tend to circle back after a short distance instinctively to search but stay in auditory range of a group. It would be a bad thing to walk straight north while your tribe heads west or doubles back to find you where you were separated.

"circling" isn't proven here, but simply a tendency to not keep a straight line when lost. A straight line isn't that hard a thing to do. So folks are theorizing why we aren't better at it.

Don't know that anyone is saying its news so much as an interesting thing to discuss.

I don't see how you can bring yourself to link to the article on the Ferguson/Krugman dispute; it's the biggest load of sensationalist toss I've ever read. Not once did it ever remotely stray onto the substance of the debate. An embarrassment to journalism.

Not once did it ever remotely stray onto the substance of the debate.

Ain't that the truth!

Sorry RedSeven, but you're just wrong. You claim, "the hypothesis is not about what happens when one sets out to cross a desert", but the article clearly says, "Given no external cues to direction, people trying to walk straight over unfamiliar terrain end up doing intermittent loop-de-loops". I think trying to cross a forest, large field, or desert, without clear navigational reference points qualifies as "trying to walk in a straight line". Furthermore, I assume you haven't actually read the article, as it even more clearly states, "[Souman's] team first instructed three men—ages 24, 35 and 41—to walk in a straight direction in part of the Sahara desert."

I read half of it, so you are half right.

Non the less, in what real world scenario would you walk across a desert or forest with no navigational reference points? I would propose you would do so when lost. If it was a planned trip you would have planned for some system of navigation, at least a mountain to walk towards, or a sun to follow.

I think the scenarios include: your car broke down or your camel died or your plane crashed, or your village was raided or bombed and destroyed, or the well or river in your town dried up. You want to get across the desert/field/forest and find help, relief, greener pastures.

A straight line isn't that hard a thing to do.

Apparently it's harder than most of us think!

I think the scenarios include:

I would describe most of your scenarios as "lost". and actually in many of those cases you would have points of reference

I wonder how straight camels walk. I guess it would be hard to determine how straight they were intending to go.

A straight line isn't that hard a thing to do.

Apparently it's harder than most of us think!

Are you talking about my line of reasoning?

Of course we walk straight, but the bloody Earth keeps spinning so it always throws us off!

So instead of walking we should just jump on the same spot, eventually we'll reach the West.

I do a lot of backpacking, have a compass and am quite good at using landmarks, etc., to triangulate so I can see where I might be on a map. There are many weather conditions which make the use of most tools impossible. Its hard to find a mountain under cloud cover, as well as the sun. The fewer points you have to navigate with the more likely it is you need to sit down and wait. If you have less than 2 points (not including yourself) it becomes more difficult.

As a member of the Mountaineers, we are called to perform search and rescue of "lost" hikers. Almost always they are amazed at the fact that they were actually going nowhere fast.

I've backpacked my whole life and found people who get lost to lack common sense. Different terrain gives different challenges/advantages but it's not too difficult.

Go downhill. Find water, follow it downhill. it will either cross a road or hit the ocean. People are near roads and oceans.

Of course, I learned basic navigation from my grandma when I was 5 and consider most people who get lost near a consumer grade day hiking trail to be future Darwin Award Winners. So, I am unkind.

It's awesome that you go in and find people btw. we were in Devils Den once when some folkes where lost for a few days. They had used horses and the horses returned without them. We were ~30 miles from base when we found a fresh Little Debbie wrapper. Who would hump in a heavy/80% sugar Little Debbie by foot? The newbs were eventually found, but I chalk up their experience as stupidity on multiple fronts.

Thanks Norm, reminded me to keep up with my XKCD. One of the latest ones is brilliant:

I'm gonna start doing that.

thnx, that is way funny (so was norm's). but doesnt' this mean we're all breaking red7's anti-time travel commandment? i wonder what the punishment could be?

oh, yeah- getting old. well, it beats the alternative, i always say. :)

Dear future Becker,

Technically, everything gets old. Double pun points for me.

ah, a touch, i do confess it. i fear i breathe my last...


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