Har­vard Univer­sity’s John Huth lec­tures on “Nav­i­ga­tion and the Lost Art of Wayfind­ing”

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Jen­nifer Levin

For way­ward trav­el­ers

Over-re­liance on the kind, com­put­er­ized voices of our GPS devices, which in­struct us to turn left or right on routes we could eas­ily plan on our own, can cre­ate un­nec­es­sary de­pen­dence on gad­gets. The prac­tice is pos­si­bly mak­ing us less in­tel­li­gent — and it can have dire con­se­quences. For ex­am­ple, hik­ers may lose their way in the snow on well-es­tab­lished trails if they can’t in­ter­pret how the flakes are blow­ing, and kayak­ers can get lost in fog where, if they knew what to lis­ten for, they could row to­wards the sound of the shore. Long be­fore the ad­vent of maps — now con­sid­ered out­dated, ana­log tech­nol­ogy to some — an­cient peo­ples re­lied on wind di­rec­tion, star po­si­tion, and other nat­u­ral clues and mark­ers to nav­i­gate their sur­round­ings. More prim­i­tive cul­tures, it seems, were far hand­ier than we are at ba­sic ob­ser­va­tion: Vik­ings used the gem sun­stone to de­tect the polarization of sun­light; Arab traders sailed into mon­soon winds; and Pa­cific Is­lan­ders’ ex­plo­rations were guided by un­der­wa­ter light­ning. John Huth, the Don­ner Pro­fes­sor of Sci­ence in the physics depart­ment at Har­vard Univer­sity, and au­thor of The Lost Art of Find­ing Our Way (Belk­nap Press/Har­vard Univer­sity Press, 2013), dis­cusses the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems of Poly­ne­sians, Vik­ings, and Euro­pean ex­plor­ers, among oth­ers, in “Nav­i­ga­tion and the Lost Art of Wayfind­ing,” a lecture hosted by the School for Ad­vanced Re­search. The talk will take place on Thurs­day, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum Au­di­to­rium (113 Lin­coln Ave., 505-476-5200). Ad­mis­sion is $10.

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