- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (February 19, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780743222068
- ISBN-13: 978-0743222068
- ASIN: 0743222067
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 7.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,961,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Inner Navigation: Why We Get Lost and How We Find Our Way Hardcover – February 19, 2002
From Publishers Weekly
On a trip to Cologne Belgium in 1948, Jonsson left the train station before dawn and headed toward the Rhine. Jonsson was sure he was heading west, and even though he saw the sun rising over the river ahead of him, he continued to be "turned around" for days, thinking that west was east and vice versa. Similar tales of mis- and disorientation make up much of this chatty book. With dozens of examples, the author shows how we create cognitive maps a mental sense of how to navigate an area based on landmarks and explains why such maps can work only if we have both a good sense of direction ("direction frame") and sense of location ("dead reckoning system"). If either of these is faulty, he argues, then so is our cognitive map, and we'll remain misoriented no matter what we do. Like Jonsson watching the sunrise in the "west," we'll privilege our illusory maps over what we absolutely know is true. The book plays the same few notes again and again, flirting dangerously with tedium. Fortunately, many of Jonsson's stories are intriguing, especially those involving Saharan and arctic guides. That Jonsson's ideas are based solely on anecdotal evidence is bothersome, but he defends them convincingly, and one hopes that future experiments will bear them out.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
No matter how detailed a map may be, it omits some facets of the physical space it represents. When people enter such a space, their mind's eye fills in the omissions as they navigate, but nearly everyone (not just male motorists!) has had the experience of becoming lost in a mapped-out space, even a familiar one. With a lifelong interest in this type of bewilderment, Jonsson presents idiosyncratic anecdotes about getting lost. Inattention is certainly an element in such befuddlement, but Jonsson avers that more is involved. We possess a "cognitive map" that may not be precisely up-to-date with the actual physical space, which continually changes its appearance. We may also view the physical space from angles that may differ from the map in our minds, causing us to get turned around in familiar neighborhoods or unable to locate the car in the parking lot. Jonsson acquired his interest in these cognitive aspects of spatial sense while trekking through Scandinavian forests. An interesting, offbeat ramble. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Jonsson begins first half of the book explaining how the human (and possibly animal) navigation system works. There is no complex neuroscience involve, simply what we are thinking in a subconscious level. We have a dead reckoning system that tells us where we are and works in combination with a direction frame that tells us the relative direction of our destination. Both of these senses are centered around a cognitive map and are updated by landmarks or other environmental cues. Johnson provides various examples to give these functions some context.
Next, Jonsson gives many examples of navigation skills that work extraordinarily well in natives who can travel miles in a barren landscape and accurately point to the direction of their camp, without hesitation. He offers an intuitive explanation as to how these miraculous orientation skills work. The majority of the book focuses on what happens when people with good navigational skills get lost. They can walk in circles or have a slip in their directional frame that turns their cognitive map 180 degrees. The many anecdotes offer support for Jonsson's theories. The book ends with how aging effects navigation.
Style and Structure
The writing style of the book is unassuming and down to earth. When reading the book, I feel like I am with Jonsson in his living room and we are having a pleasant conversation about his passion, navigation. Jonsson is a wise man with endless stories and cunning insight, sometimes he takes out a pen and paper to draw something and clarify his point.
Each chapter of the book is a separate anecdote with analysis or explanations towards the end. The separate stories are roughly sequential to the topic Jonsson is investigating; for example, all the stories about natives with extraordinary navigation skills and come after his explanation of ordinary navigational skills. The author is quite agile at linking previous conclusions back to the story he is analyzing.
Are you lost all the time?
Jonsson is quite apt at explaining concepts in layman's term and provides intriguing examples of navigation systems in play. From the beginning, it is clear that not only is the author excellent at finding his way, but also very much in touch with what goes on in his head when he is doing so. My only problem is that people who have poor spatial abilities do not have the same experiences described in the book. One who is always lost will never experience a "sudden reversal" of their direction frame because there never was a correct direction frame to begin with. Those who have a lacking spatial system will not be able to connect with Jonsson as he describes the "slippage" of his dead reckoning system. Poor navigators will just have to take for granted what Jonsson is describing, having never experienced the thrill of finding their way seamlessly.
Are you a scientific person?
Jonsson is well versed in the stories of way-finding. Thought the book, he offers many examples ranging from lab tests, personal anecdotes, scientific writing of topographers, to anecdotes of friends. The problem is that Jonsson's theories are based solely on personal experience or other anecdotes; there are very few controlled experiments. He mentions this shortcoming many times in the book, "I know of course that anecdotal proofs, especially when based on introspection, are regarded with suspicion by scientists, but I am sure that if somebody would take the trouble to design a suitable experiment to prove me wrong, I would be proven right." Jonsson's observations are not limited to analyzing stories, but he also suggests possible experiments to test the human spatial system. It might be frustrating for scientists to accept the postulating of one man, but his analyses are thorough and accessible.
Do you like lots of examples?
I am not a patient listener, and therefore not a patient reader. I feel like the examples given in the book become redundant. Most chapters, the story starts off with someone that has keen spatial ability, while traveling to a new place (either in the woods, in the city, or on a train), they suddenly get this feeling that North is South and the sun is rising in the West. They can't shake this feeling, no matter how much they reason with it or look at a map, and the disorientation always returns if they revisit. This sudden reversal is very annoying for someone who can always point to North no matter where they are and Jonsson offers an explanation for what the mind is doing. The spatial system slipped due to exhaustion or lack of environmental cues (it was cloudy and such). I tend to get bored after the third iteration.
Does the author's personality influence your opinion of the book?
Inner Navigation embodies Erik G. Jonsson. I can tell that he condensed seventy some years of knowledge, experience, passion, and insight into this book. After reading the book, I feel like I have had a long conversation with a very unique person and walked away much the wiser. Now, I very often think about cognitive maps and what my subconscious is doing as I travel. Sometimes on my journey to school, I stop and think of how my dead reckoning system is working now, and Jonsson was right, I do envision the destination in my minds eye. When I see familiar landmarks, I am aware that my brain is updating my current location in my cognitive map. It's funny how Jonsson's writings can be instantly applicable as soon as you walk out the door.
Should you read it?
The three things I did not enjoy about this book stems from very personal preferences. I am a scientist reading a book that was not written for a scientist, I am a very impatient reader and therefore loath redundancy, and my poor navigation skills prevented me from relating to Jonsson's experiences.
I would not recommend the book unless you are 1) good at navigating 2)VERY interested in how our mind navigates and 3) hate scientific or technical books.
Part 1) "Cognitive Maps". When you are in an area for the first time, your mind generates a "cognitive map" of the area. Basically, it's a map, in your mind. Okay, now repeat that concept about 800 times, and that's the first half of the book.
Part 2) Stories about getting lost. Occasionally, people who are generally good with directions get lost, and it freaks them out. Every story told is an example of that same exact point, and there are a lot of them. Some of the stories are interesting just because they are stories; virtually none of them (past the first couple) are insightful.
In all seriousness, there are only a couple of insights brought up in the book. Instead of expanding upon them and approaching the insights from different perspectives or angles, they are repeated over and over and over, just bashing the reader over the head. And as the book is designed for non-scientists, the points are very vaguely described in a very I-just-made-this-idea-up fashion.
This book would have been much more effective as a short essay, because the content just isn't there. Probably it got turned around somewhere in France due to a few sunless days....
While there are some interesting point in it, those points could have been brought up and discussed in far less space. The first part of the book talks about your mind building a map and the author theorizes about how this works on a subconscious level. There isn't really any science here, it is one man's opinion and speculation supported by anecdote.
The second half is stories about how people with good innate navigation systems can get lost and how annoying it is. You know, I would have been more interested in how people get UNlost.
I found the book disappointing and would not recommend it to others.