Spatial Memory?
June 15, 2006 7:04 PM   Subscribe

Help ME win a bet with MY girlfriend. When recalling events, I often mention what direction I was facing when something happened or I said something.

I've often mentioned, "I can't recall who I was talking to or where, but I know I was facing north or north-northeast."

In addition, I sometimes have to physically face north to read a map, or face the same direction I was facing when I set something down, to figure out where I put it.

Is this normal (I say) or insane (she says)?
posted by notsnot to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You win.
posted by RufusW at 7:05 PM on June 15, 2006

Well, normal is relative I suppose. I've never done it, and never heard of anyone who did, but I suppose it makes sense that your brain could be built that way.

Of course, it's also possible for your brain to be built insane.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 7:13 PM on June 15, 2006

I don't know if it's "normal," but I sometimes do that, too. Nobody has ever "called" me on it, though.

I agree -- you win.
posted by davidmsc at 7:16 PM on June 15, 2006

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:17 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

You totally win. I do the same thing often and I'm not insane. Quirky, but not insane.
posted by orangemiles at 7:18 PM on June 15, 2006

Okay, about the map reading, I think it's normal to turn the direction--especially when reading a road map. I would say, need to face north when I am looking at a map of Canada [which I have never been to] from my home [in America]. However, if I am looking at a map of how to get to the store from a few blocks up the street, sure.

Can't help you on the other, though.
posted by starbaby at 7:20 PM on June 15, 2006

The first thing seems odd to me, but the second set of examples seems normal. I usually turn the map to match the direction I'm already facing, though, but with maps that are mounted on a wall I turn to face north. However, I have a huge problem with distinguishing east and west, so I might be doing this as a trick to help myself orientate. I can only remember where east and west are because I know, for example, that former East Germany was on the right side of the map and the former West was on the left. I have to picture it in my head, though, and not literally think of it as "left" and "right" because I can't distinguish those very well either. This is in fact a common disorder, but I forgot the name. "Left-right confusion", I think. It causes me to take wrong highway exits and drive an extra hour around town, because I was so sure that "west" was "to the left" while driving south, even though I can point to the west part of the city on the map without a problem, because there's a street called "Bloor-West" on that side...

But since you seem very good with directions (knowing that you're facing north-west) your brain doesn't seem to work the same as mine at all.

So either we're both differently insane, or it's normal.
posted by easternblot at 7:25 PM on June 15, 2006

I have plenty of trouble finding North if I'm not standing in town: in a different city, out in the woods, I have no clue. But also I have never heard of anyone doing this. Crazy. She wins.
posted by rhapsodie at 7:26 PM on June 15, 2006

Not insane.

Interestingly, while I'm a very good map reader and navigator, and generally have a sense of the direction in which I'm facing, in the northern hemisphere it all goes arse-about, and you should proceed exactly 180 degrees away from the direction I suggest.
posted by wilful at 7:31 PM on June 15, 2006

The way to settle this is for her to blindfold you, drive around aimlessly, and then drop you off in the country on a cloudy night, and see if you can show up later at home.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:32 PM on June 15, 2006

Yeah, some people are geographical-minded like that. I am. I've known people who'll always put their bed on the same axis (eg, head to the north), too.
posted by salvia at 7:32 PM on June 15, 2006

Well, it's certanly not insane but it's definetly unusual. I've never done it and I've never heard of anyone doing it. That isn't to say I can't remember what direction I was facing at certan times, but I've never really thought much about it.
posted by delmoi at 7:40 PM on June 15, 2006

Similarly to wilful, in an environment I'm used to I generally know what direction I'm facing. If I'm in my home town of Adelaide, that is, where the hills are always to the east, and the ocean is always to the west. Drop me off somewhere else (east coast of Australia, northern hemisphere, a town where there isn't an ocean) and I'm dumbfounded about direction for several months.
posted by Jimbob at 7:42 PM on June 15, 2006

I think you're both wrong. It isn't "normal" (i.e. usual) but it isn't an indication of insanity either.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:45 PM on June 15, 2006

I'm with Steven. Not normal. Not insane.
posted by winston at 7:48 PM on June 15, 2006

That sounds half-normal to me. I do the same thing with maps and trying to figure where I put things, but I've never remembered what direction I was facing better than to whom I was speaking.

Certainly not "insane," though.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:54 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: You probably just have strong kinaesthetic intelligence; you remember and think using your entire body. It's one of Gardner's proposed seven areas of intelligence. Search for information on "multiple intelligences" or "multiple intelligence theory".

So, not insane.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on June 15, 2006

On second look, maybe you're more visual/spatial, or just strong in both. Here:

Visual-Spatial - think in terms of physical space, as do architects and sailors. Very aware of their environments. They like to draw, do jigsaw puzzles, read maps, daydream. They can be taught through drawings, verbal and physical imagery. Tools include models, graphics, charts, photographs, drawings, 3-D modeling, video, videoconferencing, television, multimedia, texts with pictures/charts/graphs.

Bodily-kinesthetic - use the body effectively, like a dancer or a surgeon. Keen sense of body awareness. They like movement, making things, touching. They communicate well through body language and be taught through physical activity, hands-on learning, acting out, role playing. Tools include equipment and real objects.
posted by Miko at 8:06 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My college psychology teacher told us to study for our tests in the same desks where we would take them (even at the same time of day). It's always helpful to remember the situation you were in when you first learned something. For example, I can remember a situation by what I was wearing.
Maybe direction is your trigger for memories. If I were you, I'd ask your girlfriend to try to remember something and see what her trigger is. Once she realizes that her trigger is clothes or shoes or building or weather, I think that she'll better understand your directional "quirk".
It's just memory by association
posted by elvissa at 8:13 PM on June 15, 2006

Not normal, but not insane. The idea of having that much sense of direction is completely off my radar. I can't usually tell you which direction I'm facing in the moment itself, let alone during some previous conversation. I was about to say that I don't even know right now, but a nearby window facing a famous street is a good indicator that I'm facing west.
posted by bingo at 8:14 PM on June 15, 2006

I get the map thing, but I don't understand adding the information about your orientation when recalling a story. It not so weird that you remember it, but it is weird that you include it when relating the story, as it seems a pretty irrelevant detail to the person you're telling it to.

I'd call this one a draw.
posted by stefanie at 8:17 PM on June 15, 2006

I don't think this is weird at all.

I'm one of those people who Salvia mentioned who feels weird if I'm sleeping in a bed that doesn't face the direction mine usually does (for months when I moved into my partners house I wanted to sleep at 90ยบ to the way our bed was facing, same bed, same mattress), but maybe that makes me weird.

However, I don't often actually remember which way I'm facing to the point where I verbalise it, but I often orientate myself that way to help remember something.
posted by mule at 8:25 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: Oh, I'm like this all the time. I always know which way is which--and I can tell you which way I was facing or driving from conversations or incidents years ago. It's related to my visual memory I think--for me the direction is sort of the cue to actual images. (In my mind, I always see California on one side and the end of Long Island on the other, and me orienting within that.) And I can't look at a map facing the wrong way--if I don't match them up, it makes no sense to me at all. Tell your girlfriend I say BOO.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:28 PM on June 15, 2006

I have to face North (well, Northwest) in NYC before I can figure out which way I'm supposed to walk.

But just feeling North in your mind? And remembering as part of your sense memory? She wins.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:28 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

So you're right-brained. No big whoop. You win.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:48 PM on June 15, 2006

What RJ Reynolds said. You win.
posted by BorgLove at 9:01 PM on June 15, 2006

I'm a girl, and I think your g/f is smoking some really good weed. please tell her to share!! (kidding)

seriously, as other posters have indicated you are merely highly visual/spatial/kinesthetic in your way of looking at / dealing with the world. in addition you may truly NEED that verbal 'cue' of 'I was facing 'X' direction...' to help you remember the situation. people use all kinds of crazy tricks to remember names, this is merely another form.

personally, I'm hopeless with verbal directions or any set of instructions told to me. its like I hear the first and last thing and everything in the middle gets scrambled. but... if I'm allowed to WRITE IT DOWN, its like burned into my memory. I remember my damned bank account number from a bank in a state I left ten years ago. I still remember the street address for the place we moved out of when I was three. visual, its all visual.

I do the same exact thing with the map plus I'm extremely good with directions and can almost always figure out north from south regardless of where I am. it helps that I grew up on a farm / in the woods and learned orienteering as a kid but I think I have a natural proclivity for it as well.

I once told my mom every single turning (correctly, she was dead lost) back to a place I'd only been to once when I was five years old... when I was 22. I've done this sort of idiot savantery numerous times over the course of my life. I don't have a photographic memory, but it is extremely good for sequential visual details such as driving to a certain place. my boyfriend and my mom call these my 'Rainman moments'.

score another one for 'you're not crazy, merely different'
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:04 PM on June 15, 2006

I do it too, but I think it's neither normal nor insane; it's just a thing you do to help you remember things.
posted by smich at 9:13 PM on June 15, 2006

I know I'm going against the grain here, but I'm gonna have to go with "insane".

Weird because because you remember it, but the insane part comes when you relate that as a part of the story.

(Although now I'm wondering which direction Lincoln was facing when he read the Gettysburg address, and if that would make a difference to the directionally-minded folks from this thread.)
posted by IvyMike at 9:18 PM on June 15, 2006

The first rule of map reading is to orient yourself and the map to match your surroundings. You do this (based on your explanation). You do it whether you have the map in your hand or in your head (mental map). You win.

I do this all the time.
posted by maxpower at 10:27 PM on June 15, 2006

Unrelated to maps, but related to computer user interface design: I am using GNOME's "spatial" nautilus (a file manager) paradigm, which is now the default behavior. I love it. But then, lots of people could consider me crazy just for using spatial nautilus single-click with a touchpad! :)
posted by a007r at 11:10 PM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks guys! I suppose it *is* a bit nuts to say out loud that I was facing such-and-such a direction, but that helps me recall things. I liken it to knowing where on a page a certain twist in a noel occured ("On the left page, toward the bottom.") I realize I'm not right in many other ways, but I was pretty sure this wasn't one of them.
posted by notsnot at 11:12 PM on June 15, 2006

This is pretty common, and especially more so among men than women. That might also account for the difference in perception of its normality.
posted by anildash at 11:14 PM on June 15, 2006

Totally normal. I also use directional info all the time when remembering things, and I almost always know what direction I'm facing. (Unless I've been driving in New Jersey.) I don't do the map-orienting thing, though.
posted by equalpants at 11:46 PM on June 15, 2006

I would like to point out that even is this is normal behavior you may be insane.
posted by aubilenon at 11:47 PM on June 15, 2006

I think a lot of people think this way when recalling events, but to mention it in your story retelling does seem pretty weird to me.

You both win.
posted by agregoli at 7:16 AM on June 16, 2006

I think you have a special talent. To read about someone with a similar talent, and how he got that way, try The Revolving Boy by Gertrude Friedberg.
posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on June 16, 2006

That's similar to how I remember phone numbers without having to write them down. I just associate the location I was told the number along with it, and when trying to remember the person's number, think of where they told me the number and it comes right off the top of my head. Maybe I imagine it floating in midair, or associate some other visual clue, like if it ends in 1981, imagine |98|, or 1198 as the twin towers with a stylish "98" logo plastered on the sides, and incorporating that image with the room I'm in at the time makes for an oddball memory peg that I can recally really quick.
posted by vanoakenfold at 10:09 AM on June 16, 2006

You're not alone--I do the same thing, including remembering which direction I was facing within a dream. My uid comes from a nickname I've been granted because of my directional sense.

You and your girlfriend might find the book Inner Navigation to be an interesting read.
posted by truenorth at 8:22 PM on June 16, 2006

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