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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

I didn’t study the science(s) that investigate these abilities.

I’m an XY male, not a trans, and have noted that for much of my life when I’m outdoors my directional sense (east, west, north, south) is very good. However, the moment I enter a building with no windows my directional sense goes away.

Have others noted this, or know of any research on it?

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Replies to This Discussion

I totally understand the notion of losing one direction in a closed windowless building. I often find myself disoriented when I'm in a cinema for instance.

When I am outside, I can usually maintain my sense of direction if there are mountains or some reference point to which I can orient myself. If I am on a flat plane and the sun is directly overhead, I am lost. East, North, West, and South all become possibilities. Inside a closed building, I am directionless, with all probability of being wrong. This offers me an opportunity to meet interesting people, they usually are helpful...or wrong, like me. 

That reminded me of hearing about languages with no relative directional terms like left and right, where everything's described in terms of north, east, south, and west. Children growing up and learning to speak in those cultures have no choice but to pay attention to directions and orientation, in order to describe anything!

A few bits I remember reading:

In experiments where people were asked to lay out pictures (that showed an obvious story or progression) on a table, English speakers would put them left to right, and speakers of other languages with relative terms would put them in their language's reading order.* Speakers of oral languages without relative directional terms would tend to put the pictures east to west, perhaps reflecting the sun's movement throughout a day.

And a writer (whose native language is English) described living in one such culture, and finding that her sense of absolute direction improved dramatically after about two weeks of being forced to use those references when talking with people.

* side note: Music notation in the Western/European tradition is written left to right. I've seen sheet music with Arabic (or a language using Arabic script) lyrics, where the music notation is a mirror image, going from right to left to match the reading direction for the lyrics.

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