YOU ARE HERE by Colin Ellard


Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon but Get Lost in the Mall
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Ellard (Experimental Psychology/Univ. of Waterloo) investigates the current thinking about spatial intelligence.

How, asks the author, can humans be such masters of abstract space yet so clumsy in getting from point A to B? What types of spatial information available to all creatures are we missing out on? Ellard writes with admirable clarity, patiently introducing numerous concepts and theories, from the elemental fact that humans must move to survive—to find food, to find a mate—all the way to renowned architect Bill Hillier’s “space syntax,” a math-grammar used to describe relationships between small parts of space within a larger spatial context. Along the way, readers are smartly briefed on an accumulation of spatial-processing material, from both the physiological and psychological realms—optic flow, the vestibular system, landmark navigation, light-wave recognition and magnetic fields. The author also includes a lively discussion of the spatial organization of home and city and draws on the work of Le Corbusier, Jane Jacobs, Guy Debord and Ivan Chtcheglov, who claimed that “city spaces evoke feelings are surely as mixtures of chemicals produce drug effects.” Ellard then travels through cyberspace, searching for connections to the human understanding of spatial relations—“navigation from website to website by a series of clicks mirrors the way that our mind processes space. Internet sites are connected to one another as nodes in a topology.” The author’s thoroughness and range are only hampered by the absence of geographers in the narrative, who should certainly figure in any study of spatial organization.

An anecdotally rich provocation in service of environmental awareness.

Pub Date: July 7th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-385-52806-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2009