Using GPS Causes Brain Damage

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Using GPS Causes Brain Damage

Postby Wildhorse » Thu Jul 20, 2017 7:37 pm

This is a rather lengthy but interesting article about how using a GPS affects our brains, compared with navigating by other means.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/ ... story.html

By searching the internet for articles by or about John Huth, much more can be learned about the ways our minds and bodies navigate and about how using gps impairs our natural abilities.

It is almost like our minds are a muscle. If we stop using a muscle it atrophies.

Huth wrote a long book on the art of finding out way. He is a Harvard physicist and an avid outdoors person.

So, not only does gps pose a threat to wilderness, it impairs our ability to see the world as it is.

I have travelled many miles in the San Jacinto mountains and other wildernesses using gps. I wonder now what I missed because if it. And will my brain ever recover.
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Re: Using GPS Causes Brain Damage

Postby zippetydude » Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:18 am

I carry a GPS unit sometimes, but I have yet to use if for navigation. I occasionally bring it with me in case I somehow get cliffed out in my xc explorations. Most generally, I have explored the San Bernardinos, the San Jacintos, and a great deal of the high country in Yosemite. In all three cases, I stuck strictly to trails until I had a thorough mental image of the lay of the land. Then I began to make my way xc to obvious points like peaks or ridges. As I got to know the land better, I became able to navigate freely an any direction that I wanted without fear of getting lost. It is fun to do it this way and lessens the chances of significant navigational errors. I'm fine with a topo and compass, which I have used a bit as I travel xc, especially when I'm trying to find the best route to a new place. Still, it's really a lot of fun when the whole wilderness is kind of like your own back yard. I should add that it takes me quite a number of trips to feel completely at home like that.

Have you found that after using the GPS you remain familiar with finding the xc route the next trip even without the GPS? If so, maybe your innate wayfinding mechanism is secretly operating even when you don't realize it. :)

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Re: Using GPS Causes Brain Damage

Postby Wildhorse » Fri Jul 21, 2017 11:09 am

Z, I think your way of learning the land is really good.

I do think that my mind has retained some natural navigatonal ability, and I have been consciously working on its recovery when driving and biking as well as when hiking. I intentionally avoid gps now in the car, except to sometimes look at a map.
When hiking I do still use it to pinpoint a destination, to check remaining distance and to help figure out where I am if lost, but not as much as I once did. On my bike in the city, I mainly use its map, although I also use paper maps and, unless I am tired, I just use trial and error.

Until I read articles such as the one linked here, I was aware that gps was like an unnecessary crutch, but it never occurred to me that its use could actually harm my brain. Now I know. At least I am not brain dead.

Similarly, I used hiking poles for a while, but discovered on my own the harm they caused me and the land.
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Re: Using GPS Causes Brain Damage

Postby zippetydude » Sat Jul 22, 2017 7:56 pm

I put my dead reckoning to the test today. I took an xc route up past Lodgepole Spring in the San Gorgonio Wilderness through a place that was impassable before the Lake Fire. I made my way up until I had to decide if I was going to go back down or try an xc route over to the saddle between Fish Creek Saddle and Mineshaft Saddle. You can see where I made my way due south (straight up and down on the map) so that I could get a clear view of where I would need to go. From there, I had to contour over to the other slope and then side-slope it in the trees aiming for (but unable to see) my target. Here's how it went. If you look at the image and look for the small vertical section of my path (the line in red) directly under the word "for" in the weather bookmark at the top of the screenshot that says "7-Day Forecast for Lati..." you will see where I made my decision to contour and then head for the saddle. Follow the path to the right - shortly before the ravine I made a guess as to where the saddle would be and started heading in that direction. The little zig zag in the middle is where I got stuck in the chinquapin that had not burned. Even with that, it seems it was fairly easy to track right back toward the saddle, because I popped up onto the trail only about 100 feet from the actual saddle itself. This stuff seems to be pre-wired into our brains. Much better than my abilities, the wild dogs on the Serengeti travel 40+ miles in the dark each night to hunt, then turn around and find their way back home, again in the dark, in what is seemingly an effortless fashion, so dogs are way ahead of me. :wink:

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Re: Using GPS Causes Brain Damage

Postby Ed » Sun Jul 23, 2017 9:21 am

OK, here's my confession. I love maps, and the technical details of navigation. But when it comes to actual wilderness navigation, I am mediocre. I find it amazingly easy to become lost. Not completely lost: I know roughly where I am, roughly where I want to be, and roughly how to get there. I am not the kind of person who goes down the north side of the mountain, when the return route is the south side. But lost enough that I can burn up a great deal of time and energy, and fail to reach my objective for the day. I prefer to hike with map, compass and GPS in my pack. But there are times when I need all the help I can get.

Some people seem to be naturally better at navigation. But many are not, and I've known people who were excellent mountaineers in every other respect who had a positive talent for losing the route. The only thing I am sure of is that the more familiar you are with an area, the less likely you are to become lost. But even familiarity has its limits: e.g., when visibility is low and the ground is covered with untracked snow, or worse yet, tracks made by people who are less clued in than you are.

Then there are the problems with group navigation. Today, people seem more inclined to simply separate when they have disagreements. I can remember when it was common to have fierce and relationship-destroying arguments over route decisions. It would have been nice to have a GPS as an umpire.
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Re: Using GPS Causes Brain Damage

Postby Wildhorse » Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:31 am

Z, are you a pilot? A recreational pilot friend of mine says he was trained to use dead reckoning with a paper map and to only use gps as a supplement. That seems like a good approach for a hiker with a destination in mind. It would do less brain damage than following the arrow to a waypoint on a gps.

Ed, you made me remember navigational disputes and how gps can help resolve them. Kuth tells an interesting story about a dispute he once had over where he and a friend were on their hike. In that case, the friend had been using time elapsed and compass direction, while he was observing the land relative to countours and landmarks on a map. They separated on the hike over this. Each was desperate to get to a spring to quench their thirst. GPS would have helped.

It seems like knowing the land and sky is best. In unfamiliar areas, it is good to use map, compass, elapsed time and gps. Bad weather and low visibility make gps more important.

One day on Quail in Joshua Tree, without gps we could not have made it up the mountain or back home in the snow, ice, sleet and fog. On the other hand, without gps we would been in a warmer and safer area. I am inclined to believe that gps that day confirmed our foolishness and excess confidence.
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