Navigating by Mind and by Body

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Abstract

Within psychology, at least two research communities study spatial cognition. One community studies systematic errors in spatial memory and judgement, accounting for them as a consequence of and clue to normal perceptual and cognitive processing. The other community studies navigation in real space, isolating the contributions of various sensory cues and sensorimotor systems to successful navigation. The former group emphasizes error, the latter, selective mechanisms, environmental or evolutionary, that produce fine-tuned correct responses.

How can these approaches be reconciled and integrated? First, by showing why errors are impervious to selective pressures. The schematization that leads to errors is a natural consequence of normal perceptual and cognitive processes; it is inherent to the construction of mental spaces and to using them to make judgments in limited capacity working memory. Selection can act on particular instances of errors, yet it is not clear that selection can act on the general mechanisms that produce them. Next, in the wild, there are a variety of correctives. Finally, closer examination of navigation in the wild shows systematic errors, for example, over-shooting in dead reckoning across species. Here, too, environments may provide correctives, specifically, landmarks. General cognitive mechanisms generate general solutions. The errors inevitably produced may be reduced by local specific sensori-motor couplings as well as local environmental cues. Navigation, and other behaviors as well, are a consequence of both.