Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Getting Lost

English: This is the title screen from the ABC...
English: This is the title screen from the ABC series Lost. Español: Este es el título principal de la serie Lost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I get lost easily...

One of my faults in life is not knowing where I am going.  I was kinda hoping getting a sense of depth perception and awareness of space would naturally cure the problem.  But I am wondering if there is more to it.

While driving I am highly dependent on a GPS, even for places I go to habitually, like as in once a week.   Generally this works quite well except when there has been road construction and my GPS map isn't updated.   However, one problem that I see in using the GPS is that I am not making a "cognitive map" of my environment,  that is, I am not constructing spatial connections between different landmarks.  Instead, I am blindly following verbal instructions.  So, I wonder if it's the old story about not using and then losing it.  Not using what limited capacity I have will mean that I lose what I do have?  On the other hand, I have to function in real life.

I have been going to classes at Princeton for well over 2 months and guess what?  I still get a bit lost going to class.  If I change where I park and I sometimes do because it may be quicker to park at a parking meeter rather than in the student parking log, I can't reorient myself to take another path to class.   To use the jargon of the professionals, I take stereotypical paths.  Never thought of myself as a stereotype!  You bump me off my usual path and I am hosed.

Another problem is putting my car in a parking lot and then remembering where it was hours later when I return.  The absolute worst has been coming home late at night from a New York City professional event and losing the car in the parking garage.  It is no fun roaming around a parking garage after a 2 hour train trip (on a very uncomfortable commuter train) and walking around a 5 story garage when you are wearing high heels that are KILLING YOU!!!  Going up and down and round and round because there are two ways to go up and down and round and round a parking garage.  Oh yeah, and you are not sure if you have walked around that particular part of the floor.

 Let's add into the fact that there are lots of cars that are colored and shaped in a very similar fashion so your car is hiding in one of them.  Remote key fobs are my friend.  I click on my fob and get my car to beep back at me.  Car finding thus turns into a grown up game of Marco Polo. I keep clicking and my car keeps beeping and flashing until I find it.

You don't know how many times in life  I have been late because I was going down a different path than my usual one and I got confused and quite late.  You really can't explain this problem to an average person.  They think that you have just been rather self centered and have been blowing them off with no regard to themselves.  They have no clue as to how much effort it took to try and make their visit.  Never mind how much mental angst you start inflicting on yourself when you realize that you are standing them up.  Calling them as you begin to realize what's going on can mitigate the problem but not always.

I do wonder what will happen to me as I age.  Getting lost in your own home is a sign of Alzheimers and gets you committed to nursing homes.  Fortunately, I have no plaques in the brain.  But I do wonder what will happen as I age.

Another problem is getting lost in virtual reality.  Researchers and game players note that it is rather common to lose your place while playing video games.

This problem is not always well understood and scientists are beginning to categorize the different ways people get lost.   Their word for it is "topographical disorientation".  To my mind. the problem involves a variety of physical and psychological domains.  It involves  paying attention to the world around you,  how the eye and eye muscles capture information, to encoding the perception, organization of that perception, stuffing the organization of that perception into memory, retrieving those organizations of perception from memory and re-orienting them, if necessary, and understanding where your body is in relationship to space.

In order to investigate the problem, neuroscientists over at Oxford have proposed a taxonomy of topographical disorientations.  Not all disorientations are the same.  So in order to investigate the problem, they want to cluster like minded disorientations together.  They are proposing topographical disorientation to be composed of:

  • Egocentric disorientation: severe deficits in representing the relative location of objects with respect to the self 
  • Heading disorientation:  deficits in exocentric orientation, i.e., inability to derive directional information from recognizable landmarks--either through the inablility  to recall (or form) a link between directional information and landmark identity
  • Landmark agnosia:  inability to use prominent, salient environmental features for the purposes of orientation.
  • Anterograde disorientation:  topographical impairment primarily confined to novel environments.

Where do I fit in this taxonomy?

I would say that I have egocentric disorientation  (knowing where you are in relationship to your environment) as using prisms really helps me with my sense of spatial awareness.  I know where my feet are these days.  I really feel them.  I have an enhanced sense of depth perception.   During some visual exercises, I am pointing at the target and getting much closer to where the target exactly is in space-- that is not undershooting it or overshooting it.

I am not sure about heading disorientation.  I do get lost frequently in both new and familiar environments.  Thus, using the GPS to go to weekly scheduled appointments or getting lost when going to class from different parking spots.   But I wonder about how  much of this is part of egocentric disorientation and how much of this is something else.  We shall see how wearing my prism glasses helps.  Also, I wonder how much of this is related to visual memory.

Nassau Hall, the university's oldest building....
Nassau Hall, the university's oldest building. Note the tiger sculptures beside the steps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I don't think I have landmark disorientation.  I can recognize landmarks with a quick glance.  For instance, I can recognize Pryne Hall or Nassau Hall at Princeton University. I don't need to look at details and process them slowly.  The only thing I can say about landmark disorientation in real life is that recognition of landmarks has been restricted due to a narrowed visual field.  Wearing prisms opens me up to the world around me so that I am seeing more things.  I don't have propagnosia, face blindness,  that is often accompanying landmark disorientation.

I don't think that I have antereograde orientation as I have problems in both new and familiar environments.

The other visual spatial problem that I don't understand how it fits into this is the problem I have while doing Cogmed's grid exercises.  I just don't get remembering the different lamps as they light up.  I just don't encode the lamps in the correct sequence and I manage to forget the lamps completely after a certain point.   So how much of this is an encoding problem and how much of this is a memory/amnesia problem?

Another thing is that my attention to the outside world is changing.  Part of this is due to an expanded visual field and part of this is due to neurofeedback training of being attentive to  your body, the outside world, and your interior landscape of feelings and thoughts all at the same time.   If you are not paying attention to the outside world, you never encode it.

So we shall see.
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