A mind laid bare

April 29, 2009

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No direction

I have lived my entire life with no real sense of direction.  I don’t mean this is the figurative sense – I am happy with the way I set goals and achieve them.  Rather, I am being quite literal.  My ability to determine North, east, south, and west has always been horrible.  Most of the time, I’d be better off just guessing.  I always assumed that there were a lot of people like me, literally lost in the world.  When I was in my mid 20s, someone shared a revelation with me.  My problem with directions likely stemmed from an inability to mentally rotate images.  This was a stunning revelation.  Indeed, I had always struggled with IQ test questions that involved mentally rotating images.

I was also stunned to realize that most people have some abilities that appeared to me to be quite supernatural.  Most people can go to the second floor of a house, walk around, and automatically know what room is beneath them! In order for me to do this, I would need to look out a window and try to remember which of the downstairs windows had the same view.  Normal people also have the ability to automatically retrace a route that they have just driven, even if for the first time.  This is definitely not the case for me – I’ll have the refer back to the directions on the way back.


How do I cope with this affliction?  First of all, I don’t let it bother me psychologically.  I lived for 25 years as a pretty highly functioning human being before I realized that I had this problem, so there was really no reason to panic once I knew the cause of the problem.

I am a big fan of Mapquest.  Unless I am traveling a route that I have committed to memory, I have written directions.  I also make sure to have an atlas with me – a nice, big version.  I also rely on technology.  It is quite possible for me to get completely turned around and not know if I am going north or south (although this is very infrequent).  Our car has a compass on the rearview mirror.  This allows me to have certaintly about the direction and not second guess myself.  Also, we recently purchased a GPS navigator for the car, which means that I will always be able to find my way back to civilization.

What if you’re completely lost and have no idea where you are going?  Watch the traffic.  It will likely be heavier in one direction than the other.  Follow the heavier traffic and you should eventually find your way back to a town.

More about images

I also have a second problem that is very likely related to the first.  I have extreme difficulty remembering facial features.  If you ask me if various friends have blonde hair or blue eyes, it is unlikely that I will be able to give you consistently accurate answers.  I have no problem recognizing photos of people, but I am simply unable to pull back individual features based on names.

I always hear people talk about the huge differences in image quality between various different formats (DVD / Blu-Ray, standard vs. HD), etc.  Really, I don’t notice the differences.  It’s not that I have any difficulty seeing the images; it’s just that I don’t notice hugh differences in quality.  My guess is that I don’t see the gradations of color very well.

This wasn’t meant to be a downer of an article.  These issues have very little effect on my life.  I just happen to find them interesting.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sharon
    Aug 18, 2010 @ 17:53:40

    Me Too!!!
    My first clue was a test in my senior year for the military. As I remember, I scored above the 90th percentile in all of the tests except mechanics (I didn’t care since I knew I knew very little about cars) and that spatial abilty test. I was in the _second percentile_. All those boxes to fold and unfold!!
    Most of the everyday skills I can reason out. Right and left hand I can do with a moment’s thought. A little longer if I am trying to figure out YOUR right and left. Backing up a car while turning was terrifying at first…well for a couple of years.
    It helps to live where there are large landmarks. Plant a mountain range or just one large mountain to the east and I am okay. If I am in a suburb I am more likely than average to say “turn towards (inset big city here)” than the average local.
    I don’t think I have trouble with the coloring of friends. Shape of facial features are another story. What does her nose look like? I dunno. Roman or pug? Ummm, what is a pug nose? I still don’t know if my friend’s nose is pug or not.
    The differences in image quality I understand as well. Yes, I can tell a difference but it doesn’t make such a huge difference that I have gone out and bought a flat screen for thousands of dollars. I’m not sure if that tells more about my view of the image quality or my need for money in other areas.


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