High plains PNT: Awareness and sense of place

October 7, 2016  - By
Image: GPS World

The plenary talk by John O’Keefe at ION GNSS+ stimulated a lot of neuron firing inside this old noggin. For a synopsis of “The Positioning System of the Brain,” see this column by Managing Editor Tracy Cozzens. I had the difficult task of following this brilliant scientist to the podium and introducing ION’s track chairs for previews of the conference’s technical content. Here’s how I attempted to stitch together the two parts of the evening program.

Dr. O’Keefe’s talk called two things powerfully to my mind. The first is us, here, now. In the Oregon Convention Center, where we have gathered four times before. How do we remember its hallways, spaces, electronic stairways? What will direct us to technical sessions over the next three days? Our neural system enables us to orient within an environment, to navigate from one place to another and to remember spatial information. I’ve always struggled to understand aspects and workings of memory. Now to find that place is a key driver, that’s powerful.

The second thing it called to mind is a book I read forty years ago, that has lingered with me since. In Cheyenne Autumn, Mari Sandoz evokes the Native American precursive sense of place. Both past and future exist simultaneously in the present. When the nomadic tribe on their annual migration cycle rode to their summer hunting grounds or through their autumn passages, the events in their past that took place in those areas became very much alive in their awareness. And the figures from their history spoke to them and rode with them through the sandhills, ravines and river crossings of Nebraska and Wyoming.

In their tragic 1878 outbreak for freedom, the Cheyenne eluded the technological might of the U.S. Army sent to intercept them. They did so through their multisensory connection, through memory, to place and direction. Though ultimately defeated, they left us a legacy, an awareness, a state of mind to nurture: understanding memory — with place. And understanding place — with memory.

This article is tagged with , and posted in GNSS, Opinions

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.