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There’s No Homunculus In Our Brain Who Guides Us

n the early 1980s, the psychologist Harry Heft put a 16 mm camera in the back of a sports car and made a movie. It consisted of a continuous shot of a residential neighborhood in Granville, Ohio, where Heft was a professor at Denison University. It didn’t have a plot or actors, but it did have a simple narrative: The car started moving at 5 miles per hour and made nine turns from one street to another and then came to a stop after traveling just under a mile. Heft then edited the film into two different movies. One showed just the vistas along the route, the expansive layout of environmental features, such as a group of houses or trees seen from a distance. The second film showed the transitions of the route, the parts between each vista where the view is occluded by, say, a turn in the road or the crest of a hill. He asked the study’s participants to watch either of the films and then brought them in person to the start of the route. Who would be able to find their way to the end? Were vistas or transitions more important to the process of what he called wayfinding, a form of navigation based on the perception of temporally structured visual information?

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