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Where Am I [Hardcover]

Colin Ellard
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 13 2009 1554683939 978-1554683932

How do you get from here to there? Where is there? Psychologist Colin Ellard demonstrates that navigating through space is both complex and utterly fascinating. Beginning with the neurological and muscular coordination involved in the simple act of reaching for an object, he then investigates our interaction with space -- how near and distant landmarks, for example, are used differently in navigation. From the complex behaviour of insects to the epic journeys of sea turtles, from the subtle knowledge of the environment demonstrated by such famed navigators as the Inuit and South Pacific sailors to the conceptual worlds of cyberspace, Where Am I? reveals just how deeply our unique relationship with space defines what it means to be human.

But Ellard also takes his argument a step further to show that the uniquely human ability to visualize and partition space has led to an increasing disconnection from the natural world. Architects and city planners, he suggests, need to consider human behaviour when constructing human environments, and we all need to recognize that we are part of, not isolated from, the space around us. Where Am I? is an absorbing, compulsively readable study of the power of space in our lives.

Product Details

Product Description

Quill & Quire

A homing pigeon released hundreds of miles away from its roost can somehow find its way home. Take the average Canadian city dweller and put him or her in the middle of a dense forest, and there’s a very good chance that the unfortunate soul won’t make it out. This disparity is one of the questions that Colin Ellard explores in his wide-ranging book Where Am I? Ellard, an experimental psychologist at the University of Waterloo, touches on practically every aspect of how living things find their way around. The first half of the book, which is rooted in hard science, examines the physiological basis for acts of navigation. Just how did animals (and humans) evolve the biological tools necessary to find food, shelter, and each other? How do we form the mental maps that help us get to that coffee shop for that mid-afternoon appointment? The crux of Ellard’s argument about human navigation centres on our ability to imagine distant spaces, even ones that we’ve never visited before. This trait, he argues, is one of the things that make humans unique. The second half of the book tackles the many psychological, social, and existential questions that surround issues of space. How do we design workplaces that foster creativity and happier employees? Can cities be built with pedestrians in mind? Does our disconnection from natural environments threaten our very humanity? These questions give the book’s second half a more philosophical, and less scientific, bent. This isn’t a criticism. The fact that Ellard is able to entertain us with an explanation of the cold, hard science of navigation, then to follow that up with an artfully constructed exploration of how our relationship to spaces plays a huge part in making us human, is a rare feat.


?Where Am I? is witty and engaging and crammed with profound insights. What?s more, it?s useful too: if you, or your keys, have ever got lost, Colin Ellard can tell you how it happened?and how to stop it happening again.? (Michael Brooks, author of Thirteen Things That Don?t Make Sense )

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Light on the science Jan. 17 2012
I had high hopes of this book when it was loaned to me by a friend, but in the end I came way disappointed. The subtitle "Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon But Get Lost in the Mall" suggested a book on the psychology of navigation. Part I delivered on this topic, but did not contain nearly the depth I was expecting. I hoped that depth might be found in Part II, but Part II is on a completely different topic: the arrangement of human spaces in daily life. It delivers more of a philosophy of space than any real substance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal Read May 4 2009
How a book is written can be every bit as important as the topic itself. Even the most interesting subject can be made tiresome by poor craft, but in Colin Ellard's work we find the collision of an intriguing topic with superior writing. The tone of this book is perfect for its intended audience, neither underestimating the reader, nor filling the page with technical jargon. This is not a simple topic by any means, but Ellard tackles it with clarity and grace, and makes it accessible and interesting through the use of clever and engaging anecdotes. This book is absolutely a must read, and I can only hope there is more to come.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars popularization of science at its best April 25 2010
By Maynard
Colin Ellard has written a delightful book that persuasively stakes a claim for the primacy of space in human cognition. The first half covers some of the scientific research into the psychology of space and is well informed by Ellard's solid working knowledge of neuroscience, cognitive science, ethology, animal behavior, and evolutionary psychology, as well as by his first-hand knowledge of a number of specialty areas within each of these fields. The book's second half takes up questions about interacting with our spatial environment that are of considerable practical significance. For example, what happens to us as we become disconnected from our natural world? What makes for psychologically satisfying living and office spaces? Why do some city green spaces work, but others do not? Might social networks that we establish on the Internet (e.g., on Facebook) facilitate greater interaction with the real spatial environment? How about the increasing availability on the Internet of virtual reality? You may disagree with some of Ellard's views on these issues. For example, I believe he's overly optimistic if not completely delusional that navigating in cyberspace via virtual reality, Google Earth, and the like will get us back out there exploring and playing in the real world. But I can guarantee that you will never be bored. And too you will likely learn all sorts of things that you may never before have heard of, in my case, isovists, Second Life, proxemics, sound sculpturing, calm technology, to mention just a few. Accessibility poses no problem. The writing is engaging, often humorous, and pitched at the right level for the layperson. In short, this book is an instance of popularization of science at its very best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Informative and Enjoyable Read! May 27 2009
By Rick L
This book intrigued me as I've spent a good deal of time canoeing and hiking in the Canadian wilderness, often without a compass. Although I have a good sense of direction I now understand why my mental maps sometimes fail me. While the topic may appear daunting I found the book to be quite approachable with its comfortable writing style. There are plenty of amusing anecdotes and examples to make the science understandable to the layperson. If this topic interests you then this book will not disappoint!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By M. Ross
Scientists often attempt to write books for the "intelligent layperson." Frequently such books miss the mark because the authors aim either too high or too low and their writing is pedestrian. Ellard nails it. This is not a book that you will buy and put off reading. Start it and you will be hooked. This book will appeal to both spatial idiots like me who are forever losing their way and competent navigators. After you read the book, you will amaze your friends and neighbors with your new-found erudition on a host of topics, ranging from animal navigation to architecture.You may also amaze your spouse and children with your new pathfinding skills.
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