How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.

RICHARD BUCKMINSTER FULLER (1895-1983)

Directions

Walking in Circles


When you blindfold someone and set them walking, they always walk in circles, even when they think they’re going straight. Despite a century of study, nobody knows why. Modern study of the phenomenon began in 1916 when the American zoologist Asa Schaeffer observed that an amoeba placed on a cylindrical surface always moved in a spiral path around the cylinder. To further study spiral movement, Schaeffer blindfolded a right-handed friend and instructed him to walk a straight line across a country field. Schaeffer plotted his friend’s track, which moved in a clockwise spiral form until the man happened to stumble on a tree stump. In the 1920s walkers, swimmers and even drivers were blindfolded and asked to ‘go straight’. None could.
 
Jan Souman, a research scientist in Germany, co-wrote a paper in 2009 about this human tendency to walk in circles. He blindfolded his subjects and told them to try to walk straight for up to an hour in various locations including the Sahara Desert and found that they all walked in circles. He then took them, unblindfolded, to the Bienwald forest in Germany and asked them to walk in a straight line. When the sky was cloudy and visibility low, the walkers were unable to stay straight and began to turn. When it was sunny, the walker was able to keep a steady straight line.
 
Humans, apparently, slip into circles when we can't see an external focal point, like a mountain top, the sun or the moon. Without a corrective, our insides take over and there’s something inside us that won't stay straight. Nobody knows why this is. It has been suggested that it is to do with left- or right-handedness, where one side dominates the other, or our left and right brains secreting different levels of dopamine. Simpler solutions are that we have slightly different sized legs or asymmetrical body strength.

Cattle and wild deer align their bodies in a north-south direction. Nobody knows exactly why.

JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-63)

All men can fly, but, sadly, only in one direction.

Pointing Northeast


Linguist Lera Boroditsky has discovered that English-speaking people generally struggle to point to compass points without a reference. The Indigenous Australian Pormpuraaw people, though, have no problems. This is because their language, called Kuuk Thaayorre, uses cardinal directions rather than left and right. They would say, for instance, that 'the salad forks have been placed southeast of the dinner forks'. During the Anglo-Saxon era the Welsh did the opposite. Their mentally aligned themselves east and referred to north as 'left' and south as 'right'.
 
There are other instances of language affecting perception; for example, English people tend to sway forward when thinking about the future, and backwards when thinking about the past. The Aymara speakers of the Andes, who talk about the past being in front of you and the future behind, do the opposite. Spanish speakers, who are more likely after an accident to say 'the vase broke itself' rather than 'Alan broke the vase', find it more difficult than English speakers to identify who caused an accident when both nationalities are shown a video of someone tripping into a work of art.

Viking Directions


Vikings might have been able to see which way was north by using special stones that could filter polarised light. It's been suggested that Viking mariners looked up through these 'sunstones' on overcast days, when the entire sky looked equally bright. Light making its way through a cloudy sky is often polarized — if the way the crystal was angled matched the polarization of this light, the sky would look brighter, but if not, it would look darker. By rotating the sunstones to and fro, the sky would thus appear to periodically brighten and fade. Then, by looking for the patch of sky that was brightest regardless of the clouds, Vikings could have identified where the sun was and then figure out which direction was north. 

Westside Story was originally called Eastside Story.

LAOZI (6TH CENTURY BC)

The Way is to straighten oneself and await the direction of destiny.

Charles Dickens wrote and slept facing north, aligning himself with the poles of the earth.

Dogs align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field when they poo.

Jupiter's Moons


The outer eight moons orbit Jupiter in the opposite direction to the inner eight and in the opposite direction to that of almost everything else in the Solar System.