If your podcast listening habits are anything like mine, you might be out for a walk right now. Maybe you’re wandering the neighborhood, just blocks from home, or maybe you’re further afield. In either case, I’m guessing you’re finding your way without too much trouble—you’re letting some intuitive sense steer you, track how far you’ve gone, tell you where to go next. This inner navigator of yours is doing all in the background, as your mind wanders elsewhere, and magically it gets it all right. Most of the time, anyway. But how is it doing it? What allows us to pull this off?
My guest today is Dr. Hugo Spiers, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. His lab studies how our brains “remember the past, navigate the present, and imagine the future.” In recent years Hugo and his group have used a wide variety of methods—and some astonishingly large datasets—to shed light on central questions about human spatial abilities.
Here, Hugo and I do a quick tour of the neuroscience of navigation—including the main brain structures involved and how they were discovered. We talk about research on a very peculiar population, the London taxi driver. We discuss the game Sea Hero Quest and what it’s teaching us about navigation abilities around the world. We also touch on what GPS might be doing to us; whether the hippocampus actually resembles a seahorse; the ingenious layout of our brain’s inner grids; navigation ability as an early sign of Alzheimer’s; how “place cells” actually map more than just place; and how the monarch butterfly finds its way.
Super excited to share this one folks—this is an episode that’s been on our wish list for some time. For mobile organisms like us, navigation is life or death—it’s as basic as eating or breathing. So when we dig into the foundations of these spatial abilities, we’re really digging into some of the most basic foundations of mind.
So let’s get to it. On to my conversation with Dr. Hugo Spiers. Enjoy!