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CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley
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July 25, 2021 11:26 am

CBS Sunday Morning,

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley

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July 25, 2021 11:26 am

In our cover story, Lee Cowan tells an extraordinary tale of survival by a man who experienced locked-in syndrome. Tracy Smith talks with Geena Davis about her advocacy to increase opportunities for women in media. Martha Teichner steps onto Little Island in the Hudson River, New York City's newest island. David Pogue checks out Brooklyn's fabled Coney Island. Dr. Jon LaPook, who lacks navigation skills, finds out how people can hone a sense of direction, and Mo Rocca meets the inventor of the Super Soaker. Jane Pauley hosts this week's "CBS Sunday Morning."

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Jane Pauley

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I'm Jane Pauley, and this is Sunday Morning. There are thousands and thousands of Americans who are in what's known as a permanent vegetative state. In effect, trapped inside their own bodies. Now, imagine having that diagnosis, only being fully aware of everything being said all around you, including talk of your imminent death. In his remarkable report this morning, Lee Cowan introduces us to a man who's been there and managed to find his way back. There is so little we really know about the human brain, except that it continues to surprise us. And there aren't many brains more surprising than Jake Handel's brain.

There are very few people like Jacob who have ever been described in the medical literature. It's a crazy story. The morning after what could have been a forever sleep, later on Sunday morning. Gina Davis has played some memorable characters on the silver screen, but few more memorable than Thelma Dickinson, who along with her friend Louise, turned a movie about a weekend getaway into a road trip for the ages. Tracy Smith is in conversation with Gina Davis. Oh, Louise, will you take care of this gun?

What in the hell did you bring that for? When Gina Davis read the script for Thelma and Louise, she knew it was going to be big, so she spent a year trying to get on board. And then I just made s*** up about why I absolutely must be Thelma. That was quick thinking. Yeah, I was going to be in that movie.

I didn't care. I was going to be in that movie. Seems she has a way of getting what she wants.

Gina Davis, ahead on Sunday morning. With David Pogue, we've got tickets to Coney Island. Dr. John Lapook asks, what is it about guys and directions? Connor Knighton takes in a performance at Wolf Trap, a Washington area treasure marking its 50th year.

Plus Mo Rocca, Steve Hartman, and more on this Sunday morning, July 25th, 2021. And we'll be right back. A patient who's unresponsive for months and months and months.

Usually we associate that with the worst possible outcome. So how to explain this story from our Lee Cowan about a man who defied the odds and baffled the experts. When 28-year-old Jacob Handel was rushed to a Massachusetts emergency room four years ago, doctors thought the one-time chef, as young as he was, was having a stroke.

But he wasn't. His scan showed something very different and very strange. Jake's brain seemed to be unplugging itself from the rest of his body.

The wires weren't sending the signals from place to place. Dr. Brian Edlow examined Jake in the ICU. He wasn't sure at first what was causing it until Jake made a confession.

He told him he partied pretty hard, and that included doing drugs, opioids mostly, until he turned to street heroin. Jake's medical team surmised he probably ingested a toxin somewhere along the way. That's what was causing the damage, leading to a very rare condition with a very long name.

Toxic, acute, progressive leukoencephalopathy. There are only a few dozen people since the first report in 1982 of the type of brain injury that Jacob experienced. Within six months, Jake was little more than a stare. He had ceased any conscious movement. We believed that he was in a vegetative state, completely unaware of himself or the environment. He was placed in an extended care facility where he lay, breathing by machine, fed through a tube, day after day. Eventually, he was put in hospice. You know, by Christmas that year, they actually called us and said, it's over. You know, he's got a couple of days.

His stepfather, Eli Weiland, not even sure if Jake could hear him, went to say goodbye nonetheless. I just was whispering to him, it's like, it's okay. You know, we love you. You know, you don't need this pain anymore. You know, and just, you know, it's okay to go.

And I'm like, I appreciate that, but no. Looking good. Jake didn't die that night, or the next, or the one after that. Oh my God. Good move.

Thank you. Instead, Jake's brain somehow sputtered back to life. His doctors still aren't sure how.

There are very few people like Jacob who have ever been described in the medical literature. It's a crazy story. It's a crazy story.

It's hard for me to believe this story sometimes. If I was, or you're sitting, I'd be like, no. Yep. Like, no. That didn't happen.

His remarkable recovery started really almost by accident, or fate maybe, when a doctor happened to notice a tiny movement in Jake's wrist. It was like a twitch. Just like that, huh? Yeah. That's all it was.

Yeah. Some thought it meant nothing, that it was involuntary, but his family thought otherwise. Were you optimistic? Did you think he was going to get out of this, or? Optimistic might be, might be too strong a word. Hopeful, maybe. But it's what happened a few weeks later that really stunned everyone.

A-E-I-O-U. Jake started moving his tongue and his eyes almost imperceptibly at first, but enough to use a letter board to spell out a message that he'd been desperately trying to send for almost a year. First thing I said was, I can hear you. That was the first thing.

Yeah, I can hear you. As the words slowly appeared, doctors realized that Jake hadn't been unconscious for the past year. He wasn't blissfully unaware of his descent into nothingness.

Instead, Jake had actually been awake the whole time, locked inside a coffin that was his own body. I couldn't express anything that anyone, no one knew what was going on in my head, and I just wanted someone to know, like, that I was in there. To go through all of that being fully aware and having others not realize it, I can't even imagine the feeling of isolation or the sensation of fear that one might experience. It's truly humbling to think about how little we understood his brain function at that time. For months, he was silently trapped somewhere between living and not living. As time wore on, he noticed that the visits began to slow. He heard nurses call him brain dead.

He even remembers being given last rites. Did you feel alone? Uh-huh. Yeah, I felt, I felt very alone. I talked to myself a lot, a lot, and there were times where I was like, I've had enough, I can't do it, but it would always make it to the next day and be like, all right, carry on. On top of hearing everything, Jake could feel everything, too. I was like, ah, this is the worst, because I had so many needs, and I was in so much pain, and I couldn't even tell anyone, I need help, or like, my mouth is dry, or like, I'm hungry, or I love you, or don't worry. These were the hardest things.

To pass the time, Jake would do math problems in his head just to help keep himself from the guilt that his drug use had caused all of this. And the doctors kept saying, like, this is so rare, it's not your fault, and I'm like, like, that's a nice thing to say, but I caused this, like, damn. I definitely had a big feeling of how disappointed my mother would be in me.

My mom would find this awfully funny. Jake's mom died of breast cancer when he was just 19. She had a long, miserable fight. Jake started using drugs to escape and to cope. I was so unhappy that I was not thinking about the future. Everything was, like, falling apart. I weaned myself off, I got myself off. You tried to quit. Oh, hundreds of times, but always kind of, like, slipped up again. Jake was still lost in that fog as he began to recover. Green. Blue.

Space. Michelle Braley, Jake's speech-language pathologist, was helping him learn to speak again. But early on, the words that came out just screamed of a mental anguish that made her just as much a counselor as a pathologist. He would say, you know, do I deserve this? Am I going to have to live like this the rest of my life because of the stakes that I made? Those were the types of conversations.

And how did you answer? It's really hard. Well, the answer is, no, you don't deserve this. I mean, that's the answer. Nobody deserves this. Hey, just keep it going.

Keep it going. Yeah. It wasn't just speech Jake had to relearn. It was everything. His muscles had been frozen for so long, even the slightest movement was excruciating. But bit by bit, through months of work at the Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Jake's body started to function again, putting on shoes, buttoning buttons, all things he never thought twice about before. For someone that has no coordination in their brain after only not bad. His cousin, Kim, even helped him get back to cooking again, cracking eggs and cracking himself up at the same time.

It's very possible an egg might end up over there. Oh, my God. He's got his own apartment where with help, he's returning to a life without drugs.

And without the self-doubt and the grief that put him in that spiral in the first place. Bueno. I don't particularly think there's anything super special about me, per se, I think. You really don't? Anybody has the capacity to do this, and they have the willpower. But that's the thing. Not everybody has Jake's willpower, and very few have survived life literally being scared to death and come back with such a profound understanding of what a second chance really means. I am an improved Jake, and I'm a happier Jake. I don't want to give up.

Time for Mo Rocca. Armed, but definitely not dangerous. When inventor Lonnie Johnson was designing this toy. Oh, whoa. OK, wow. All right, yeah. All right.

He had no idea what a splash it would make. Oh, no. The CPS-1000 packs a full force blast from first-class to second-class. Oh, no. The CPS-1000 packs a full force blast from first shot to live.

Since the Super Soaker hit store shelves in the early 1990s, it's racked up more than $1 billion in sales. When Johnson was growing up in Mobile, Alabama, he played with everything, including fire. One of my fondest memories, actually, was when I was mixing rocket fuel in my mother's kitchen. Fire and smoke was spewing out of the pot. When my parents realized what had happened, they told me that I would have to mix my rocket fuel outside from now on. So they just simply admonished you and said, Lonnie, please stop using the stove top as a launch pad.

The fuse was lit. And in 1968, he entered a statewide high school science competition with his very own robot. It took me over a year to build him, and it was all remote control.

He took first place. After earning his master's in nuclear engineering, Johnson landed at NASA's legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The most powerful water gun ever. But it was while he was at home in his bathroom, trying to design a new kind of water pump, that he had a happy accident. Turned the water on and was watching what was happening and just kind of churned and shot the stream of water across the bathroom into the bathtub. And I thought to myself, this would make a really neat water gun. The Super Soaker was born. Johnson then turned his engineering eye on the Nerf gun. Shoot.

Right in the lip. The success of Johnson's work with toys has allowed him to pursue more serious projects at his lab in Atlanta. So conceivably one day this technology could be used as a wearable garment that will charge your cell phone. This one, called the J-Tech, is an ambitious project that Johnson hopes one day allows the conversion of heat into electricity.

Press the button. Lonnie Johnson was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2011. Was your mother there when you were inducted into that Hall of Fame? Yes. Did you ever buy her a new saucepan?

Well, I didn't remodel her house. Coney Island is an American classic with a history that truly stands out in the crowd. Here's our David Pogue. Coney Island, the place where merriment is king. Even if you've never stepped foot in Coney Island, you've felt the influence of Coney Island. If you're eating cotton candy, if you're eating soft ice cream, if you're riding a roller coaster, was that a Coney Island invention? Of course, it's all a Coney Island invention.

And if it wasn't, I'd lie and tell you it was anyway. Fun began here is my point. I collect bumpy cars. Look how old these are. For over 40 years, Dick Ziggan has run a Coney Island cultural center, museum, sideshow, and the annual Mermaid Parade. People call him the mayor of Coney Island. How long has Coney Island been going? By the 1870s, rides are opening. There were restaurants.

There were hotels. It becomes the people's playground in 1923 when people can get here on the subway for five cents. Coney Island has been an American fixture ever since. It survived the Great Depression and the Great Recession, the 1918 pandemic and the 2020 pandemic and even the 1970s when Coney Island got a reputation for seediness and neglect. The iconic attractions are still here. The Boardwalk. Wow, the fabled Coney Island Boardwalk. I have never been here. This is the Vista. This does not look like Disney World.

No. The Nathan's Hot Dog Joint, exactly where it opened in 1916. The Cyclone roller coaster was built in 1927. One of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world. And of course, the Wonder Wheel. This is Wonder Wheel's 101st year. Labor of love, a lot of maintenance.

My uncle always said, once you get sand in your shoes, it never leaves. DJ Vorderas and his family have run the Wonder Wheel since 1983, when his grandfather bought it from its inventor's family. Has anyone ever tried to do the math on how many people have ridden that ride? I think it's like 40 million at this point. Thank you.

Let's make it 40 million in two. The Wonder Wheel has had some upgrades, but the fun part hasn't changed in over 100 years. The outer cars just go in a circle, but the colorful inner cars sit on pairs of winding rails, so they spring a little surprise on you. Oh! Oh my God! Oh, man!

There you go. It's like being on a roller coaster. If you are not expecting that swinging, that is not like any normal Ferris wheel.

What kind of swinging did you think I was talking about? Today, you'd probably go to Coney Island for a trip to the past. But in its early days, you'd go to get a look at the future. There were escalator rides, there were steam elevators, and, of course, most importantly, that blaze of electricity from all the parks extended leisure far into the night.

As far as you can see, there is... Robin Jaffe Frank is the curator of an exhibition, and the author of a book, about Coney Island in art and film. When you were growing up, what was it then? Well, as a child, to me, it was still magical. But it was also then, as it is now, a kind of anti-Disney world. Definitely grittier. It's not owned by a company.

It is owned by families, some of them who have been here for generations. Grittier, yes, but also weirder. Over the years, the attractions here have included everything from the electrocution of an elephant in 1903. Horrifically brutal and cruel. To rows of babies in incubators. That was the brainchild of Martin Coney. He had this idea that incubators could keep premature babies alive. What a weird way to get a medical development into the mainstream.

He tried to get hospitals to accept incubators, and they would not. Fans like DJ Verderis don't mind the grittiness, the weirdness, and the sprawling hodgepodge of Coney Island. In fact, that's what they love about it.

It doesn't matter where you're from, where you pray, or who you love. This place embodies inclusivity. And as long as we remember who we are, Coney Island will always be a place for all people to come and play. You gotta move around. Dick Ziggan would certainly agree.

In this era where you can watch any movie on demand instantly ever made, what's the role of Coney Island? Actual authentic human experience. Shut off your phone. The experience of fear, of fun, of a smile on your face. Maybe a throw up your hot dog, but it's all human. And what's wrong with that?

Pits? Also, we're gonna get into things that you just kind of won't believe and we're not able to do in daytime television, so watch out. Listen to True's News wherever you get your podcasts.

It's your good news on the go. Now, Steve Hartman on The Kindness of Strangers. According to her mother, Lacey, six-year-old Raelynn Nast of Fort Smith, Arkansas has always been a daddy's girl. She was very proud of her dad. She always wanted to introduce her dad to just about anybody. Until recently, when her father, Davey, died of colon cancer. He was just 41 and Raelynn was just devastated.

It was a cry that was pure heartbreak. Enter Emily Byneman, who happened to be jogging with her dog, Blue, the day of the visitation. She was running past the funeral home when all of a sudden she heard a tiny voice call out from the chapel steps. She was like, may I pet your puppy?

And I was like, yeah, like, of course, like as long as your parents don't mind. That's what you said to her? Yeah. Not knowing?

Not knowing, yeah. Raelynn explained that her dad was lying inside. Gave Blue a huge hug and then gave Emily a stunning invitation. I asked her if she wanted to come in and see my dad.

That's right. This still proud daughter invited that random jogger to meet her father. Emily was hardly dressed for a funeral, and she knew just walking in the door would cause a scene. But she also knew this was the last time that little girl had ever seen her dad.

The last time that little girl would be able to introduce her daddy to anyone. So she followed her gut and followed Raelynn down the aisle. Everyone was kind of looking around like, where did she come from? And she came in right next to Rae, like they'd known each other for so long. There was that connection there.

How could two people bond so quickly? She helped me feel better. Raelynn says it should be no mystery.

The whole kindness. Recently, Raelynn and Emily got together again and now plan to stay friends forever. Sweet. Of course, no one will ever replace her dad.

But Raelynn is clearly on the path to a better place. Yes. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger. Oh, those are good kisses.

And the healing power of a warm puppy. I think you found your calling. Maybe.

Maybe. The call of the world. It's Sunday morning on CBS. Here again is Jane Pauley. Geena Davis has been charming us with unforgettable performances for nearly 40 years. But her latest role is something of a surprise. She's advocating for actors who, like herself, are losing work largely because of age and gender.

Tracey Smith is in conversation with an Oscar-winning activist. Boys, I'm getting mad. Okay, but where are we going? Oklahoma City. Right.

Everything in? Has it really been 30 years? Here you go. There you go.

Almost from the day it opened in May 1991. Ridley Scott's feminist buddy movie Thelma and Louise was considered one of the most powerful films of a generation. Geena Davis, who'd lobbied for the role for more than a year, was Thelma.

I can't go back. I mean, I just couldn't live. To Susan Sarandon's Louise.

But Davis was actually signed to play either part. I was going to be in that movie. I didn't care. I was going to be in that movie. Did you know then that it would get the kind of reaction that it did?

Absolutely not. None of us knew. It was a small movie, very small budget, and we just hoped people would see it and not hate the ending, you know, but we had no clue it would strike a nerve like that. At the time, Geena Davis had already created some of the most memorable female characters on film, from a newly dead bride in Beetlejuice. Where are all the other dead people in the world?

Why is it just you and me? To a quirky dog trainer in The Accidental Tourist. Should everyone be barking that way? But Thelma and Louise was on another level. And of course, people said this changes everything. Exactly. And?

Oh yeah, let me figure the ways. Oh, it didn't. So the change hasn't really, hasn't happened yet. Still waiting.

Still waiting. That change she's waiting and working for is a film industry with as much opportunity for women as there is for men. There's one area of inequality that can be changed overnight, and that's on screen. Her own activism began in 2004, when she noticed there were a lot more boys than girls in the shows her young daughter watched. The data turns out to be the magic bullet.

Davis commissioned a study and, as she showed in her 2018 documentary, shared the data with studio execs who started casting more girls. And now it's 50-50. And now it's 50-50.

Right. But there are other problems that are proving tougher to fix. Have things gotten better for women in their 50s and beyond?

Um, no, no, no it hasn't. It's very, it's much different for female actors past 50 than male actors past 50. The majority of female characters, I believe, are in their 20s, and the majority of male actors are in their 30s and 40s. To shed even more light on the issue, she helped start the Bentonville Film Festival. We're always looking for great films that are, you know, inclusive, that reflect society as it is. It's an annual event held in Bentonville, Arkansas, as a showcase for films that focus on diversity. But what's really on display here is opportunity, and that's something Geena Davis knows all about.

After studying drama at Boston University, Davis found work as a model in New York City, and that actually helped her land her very first movie role. Oh, I'm sorry. Oh, that's, oh, jeez. Oh, that's quite all right. Uh, I'm April Pritchett. Seems they needed someone who looked good in underwear, and Davis, who'd been a model for Victoria's Secret, got the job, opposite Dustin Hoffman in 1982's Tootsie. What's wrong?

What's wrong? I have to kiss Dr. Booster. Oh, yeah, he kisses all the women on the show.

We call him the tongue. But clearly, she was a lot more than just a pretty face. You don't know what you want.

One minute you like me and the next you don't. Davis' role as the quirky Muriel Pritchett in The Accidental Tourist earned her an Oscar nod. But right before she went to the ceremony with then-husband Jeff Goldblum, she'd watched a show where critics agreed she had no chance of winning. I was just like, oh, oh, I see. Oh, all right.

Well, I guess I'll still go. I'm all dressed up. And the Oscar goes to Gina Davis, The Accidental Tourist. The funny thing was, it was Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson who were presenting the award. And Melanie kissed me when she handed it to me. And I was very conscious that I might have a pink kiss mark on my cheek now.

So in my acceptance speech, I'm going, and I'd also like to thank. And it looks like I'm kind of shy or something. But I'm actually just trying to cover up this potential kiss mark on my face. In 1992, fresh off Thelma & Louise, she seemed right at home as a star baseball player. But truth is, she barely knew how to hold a bat. I didn't know how to play baseball or any sport. I really was so not athletic as a kid. I was always the tallest, tallest kid. Not just the tallest girl, but the tallest kid in my class.

And very subconscious. And didn't want to try anything physical in case people would laugh at me. And they were constantly begging me to be on the girls' basketball team. And I said, no, no, but I don't know how to play basketball.

They were like, just stand there. You're the tallest girl anywhere. Just be on the team.

You couldn't do it. But now I had to be the best baseball player anyone had ever seen. Oh, baby, she hit the cream cheese out of that one. As it turns out, she was a natural athlete. And after watching coverage of the U.S. archery team at the Olympics, she took up that sport and, at age 41, nearly made it onto the U.S. team herself. I got really good.

Yeah, in two and a half years, I was a semifinalist for the Olympic trials. That's wild. What do you think that did mentally for you? It was incredible. It was all about the points. You either hit it or you didn't. And it was fascinating to do something that was that precise.

And it wasn't up to people's judgment about what you were wearing or how you did it. It seems the game in Hollywood is a lot more subjective. Do you feel like Hollywood is finally getting it?

I think so. You know, they made Black Widow, you know, which recently opened to great success. And I think we're definitely headed more in that direction to have more blockbusters with women in the lead roles is definitely happening more, which is very exciting.

For her work toward diversity, she was awarded her second Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 2019. But now, at 65, her more personal goal is still elusive. Have you had more opportunities? You know, I make a joke about that, that like, because I'm working to get more female roles in movies and TV, that at some point this will actually benefit me personally. But so far it hasn't. Is it kind of strange that things haven't changed for you?

Yeah. That there aren't more parts out there? I mean, you won an Oscar a couple of years. It's not like people don't see you. You're out there. But there's so few. I mean, if you look at people in my age range, there's so few that are really getting, that are really working steadily. You know, there's just very few parts for people my age and older. So it's just bad odds, basically.

Still, Geena Davis has beaten the numbers before. I call myself an impatient optimist. And in life, like her best movies, you just never know how it's going to end. I joke that I want my headstone to read, I wish I'd spent more time at work. Because I heard this country western song that said, have you ever seen a headstone with the words, I wish I'd spent more time at work? Like, of course not. I want mine to say, but you actually, I do wish I worked more, yeah, actually.

I'm fine, but it would have been nice. This morning, our Dr. John Lapook strays into uncharted territory, truly. Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.

Ella Fitzgerald's talking about love. But there's another thing all animals have in common, a sense of direction. Other animals may navigate better than we humans.

And I must admit, most humans navigate better than I do. Case in point, the time I visited Iceland with my son. This is our first day in Reykjavik, Iceland. This is the main drag where our hotel is. That's the Atlantic Ocean over there. And yet, I got completely turned around, didn't know where our hotel is. That's why I need help.

We are in the middle of nowhere. Despite my trouble with navigation, I did manage to track down some experts in the field. You're going to show me some of the tricks of the trade today. We started with Vermont game warden, Mark Scheistel. He's taught other game wardens those tricks of the trade. Official term, land navigation skills. So whenever I'm introducing somebody to navigating in the wilderness, I teach them to do a crazy Ivan. What is a crazy Ivan? Consort our crazy Ivan! A crazy Ivan is a Hunt for Red October reference. Russian captains sometimes turn suddenly to see if anyone's behind them. We call it crazy Ivan. Same thing applies to here, is as you're walking, just periodically turn around and look to see what the return trip looks like.

Consort our crazy Ivan! Not that dramatically. Part of it for somebody like me who lives in the city is to train yourself to notice, oh there's some orange clump of berries there, as opposed to just saying, oh it's a bunch of wilderness. Lead the way.

Humans do have one advantage over other animals. You put the compass along the edge. Aligned with that red arrow. The ability to use symbols and tools like a compass and maps. And then I turn until Redhead Fred is in the shed?

Correct. Once pointed in the right direction, the next task is staying on course by orienting the compass and map, picking a target, heading for it, repeat until destination. Orienting yourself on the surface of the earth is a skill that human beings have.

I think all of us have that to a greater or lesser degree. All of our senses are involved together in forming this sense of place. Professor Nora Newcomb of Temple University studies the psychology of sense of direction. What got you interested in sense of direction?

Basically that people are bad at it and yet they ought to be good at it, because if you lose your way that's really a threat to survival. A sense of direction is encoded in the very wiring of the brain. So that's an important landmark. Specialized nerve cells track where you're headed and where you are in relation to landmarks. A kind of internal map system.

In 2014, the Nobel Prize was awarded to the scientists who discovered these cells. Place cells, which pinpoint particular locations to help us recognize our environment. And grid cells that make a grid-like pattern to help track distance and position. These are cells that fire when you're at this place, but also this place or this place or this place or this place in a regular grid-like pattern. So your brain is actually creating maps of where you've been?

Yes. In your research have you found that men ask for directions more or less than women? Actually people don't exactly know that. Research has shown some differences. Men can escape from a maze faster than females and might be more likely to take shortcuts.

There are definitely biological theories. People make it out to be a really big difference, but it's not that big. In my marriage my wife usually drives. Okay. And she does have a better sense of direction than I do. Well in my marriage I'm the one who says, let's not ask for directions, let's use the map. So we both defy sex stereotypes. So we went out and we went to the right.

Right. Newcomb has created a virtual world. Zero in on it as best you can. To test people on learning, remembering, and connecting routes. We're trying to diagnose their sense of direction and some people turn out to be much better at this than others. She's building a cognitive profile of proficient human navigators. So what this is really testing is your ability to figure out where something is without seeing it. Exactly.

What do you learn from something like this? Some people are pretty good at putting together the route. And then some of the people who can put together the route are good at relating the routes to each other. But some people are truly extraordinary. How do you explain that sense of direction savant? They are using sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, every single cue there is.

And really from the start trying to make that sort of overhead map. And do I clearly fall into a group yet? I would say you're not what we call an imprecise navigator. So you pass that far. That's not saying I'm great. But I'm not imprecise.

No. Of course, in today's cell phone world, imprecise human navigators can survive. But for animals, it's a different story.

Robert Rockwell, known as Rocky, is a biologist at New York's American Museum of Natural History. He studies polar bears and snow geese in the Canadian Arctic. I move north of the birds. Literally. Really?

Literally. You migrate? Every spring. You follow the birds?

51 years. His birds spend the winter along the Gulf Coast and migrate north to the Arctic tundra. Then as they move along, they use visual cues to find places that have got agricultural fields, rivers that they recognize.

Stops which fuel their 2,500 mile flight. And when they get right to the nesting colony, a female snow goose will oftentimes nest within two feet of where she nested last year. I think it's a combination of cues. Beyond visual cues, the birds use the position of the sun, a sense of smell, and a kind of built-in compass. They may also possess a magnetic sense.

So as you get closer and closer to the poles, the magnetic strength is a little higher. And they can feel it? And it is thought that they can do that. Is there anything about this, as you've studied it, that you thought, this is magic? I think the magic is that they can use all these sensory modalities and integrate them flawlessly.

The experts agree. It's possible to hone a sense of direction, but awareness is key. So as someone who arrived this morning saying I have absolutely no sense of direction, how do you feel now? A little bit better?

I do feel better. Seriously, I mean, it's exciting to learn how to use even just a compass in conjunction with a map for real. In terms of sense of direction, what can we learn from other animals?

I think the best thing you can learn from them is to watch how they deal with their environment. An elder told me when I first started working in the Arctic that I should just sit on a rock and watch the animals. The point is to be aware of what's going on around you. And I think too many of us get fixated on, well, I can always find my way because I can pull out Google Maps, or I can pull out my phone and tell it I want to go there, and then just follow the little arrow.

So where does GPS come in here? Is it bad for our sense of direction? Lots of people do think that it's bad, including me. If you rely on it too much, then you aren't forming an overview of the environment. You're preventing yourself from building up something that I strongly feel is part of appreciating the world. Which is to say, instead of looking down at your phone, look around. Because to get where you're going, you've got to really see where you are. Thank you for listening.

Please join us when our trumpet sounds again next Sunday morning. This is Intelligence Matters with former acting director of the CIA, Michael Morell. Bridge Colby is co-founder and principal of the Marathon Initiative, a project focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. The United States put our mind to something we can usually figure it out. What people are saying and what we kind of know analytically and empirically is our strategic situation, our military situation, is not being matched up with what we're doing. Follow Intelligence Matters wherever you get your podcasts.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-29 06:41:28 / 2023-01-29 06:57:27 / 16

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