The following parable demonstrates my feeble and naïve, but ultimately successful attempt to make it back home amidst the anxiety of being a relatively new driver. Human navigation has been touted as an intrinsic ability: we depend on internalized versions of ‘cognitive maps’ and ‘snapshots’, which capture diverse information about the environment around us and aid us in traversing it. The morning had begun with a short trip to the mailbox, where I had noticed an envelope that I had been waiting for: I finally had legitimate proof that I was an officially licensed driver in the state of California. I did not have to drag along an inconvenient sheet of paper to indicate my legality as a driver; I finally had something tangible. Although I had limited experience behind the wheel, and subsequently, an even more inadequate understanding of navigating through streets that I had neither seen nor heard of, I decided it was best to enjoy my newfound ‘freedom’. Navigating to the CA 134 Eastbound freeway seemed to be a simple task: I drove along to the inbound ramp right beside the Shell gas station near my home, a landmark that I had always associated with the freeway. My maiden journey consisted of driving from Glendale to Pasadena, which would normally be a short 10 to 15 minute drive on the highway. At the time, the only street name near my home I was readily familiar with was Central Avenue, which houses a large office building with what can only be described as a fluorescent blue ‘halo’ around the roof. Thus, the only real set of ‘directions’ to make it to Pasadena was that I had to go “that way”, or move away from the blue halo building. As I began to gain speed, I noticed other various landmarks that reassured me that I was moving in the right direction. I noticed Glendale Memorial Hospital, an In-N-Out, and the infamous Colorado Street Bridge all on my journey to Pasadena. By sheer dumb luck, I had chosen the appropriate exit, ultimately found parking, and rewarded myself with ice cream. Now that I had my fun, that fun was short-lived, as I began to panic. I had no knowledge of any route or pathway back, and even when I did look up the directions back home on my phone, I did not know the names of the streets. I began to drive around in an already confusing city chock-full of one-way streets and smatterings of “do not” signs on nearly every light post imaginable. I was in quite the predicament. I thought to myself, John, just drive westward and you will eventually make your way back home. Thus, the highway was not an option, nor did I want to traverse on what I then deemed to be California’s version of Death Race. Conveniently, the city of Pasadena sits higher than the city of Glendale, which provided me a vantage point of Glendale. With free, unrestricted access of Glendale, I began to notice a series of office buildings, but nothing that I deemed especially recognizable. Then, as I glared more intently, I noticed the blue halo building. That was it! This was deemed to be my way back home. This was not a map back to Glendale, but it was a means of navigation to reach a significant place, my home. I began to traverse my way through various streets, paying no attention to the actual name of the street, but to the view-dependent representations that I had formed. After a bit of driving, I noticed Glendale Memorial Hospital, which gave me some hope, but was not home by any stretch. I then noticed the In-N-Out, which further reinforced me that I was nearing my way back home. These view-dependent snapshots had served as a guide, albeit a rough one, to my way home. At the crest of a hilly street, I noticed the blue halo, which was ten times the size it was a half hour ago. My route home had been through the various landmarks that I had coincidentally formed throughout my time in the area. Just like insects and rats that also share this ability to navigate the world around them, I learned to navigate to a significant place by forming and using view-dependent representations of those places, ultimately stitching together a route. After an hour of traversing windy, concrete streets, with the help of the blue halo’ed building, I finally made it back home.
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