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Desc:Cartoon logic has a basis in reality
Category:Science & Technology, Cartoons & Animation
Tags:mystery, NPR, blindfold, straight line, Radiolab
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Comment count is 12
For the interested, this is from a program called Radiolab, which you can listen to online. It's really worth a listen.
Oh, good, now I have another unsolvable question that will rattle around in my brain until I die.
Koda Maja
Neat stuff.

Serious question: does the same apply for blind people?
If you're a hunter-gatherer, off in the jungle or forest or savannah, with no maps, and you set off hunting and gathering, you'd like to end up at the end of your trip back roughly where you started (or at least somewhere you're familiar with), so you don't have to backtrack. That way you can hunt & gather for your entire trip rather than just the first half.

Alternatively, staying in a perfectly straight course is _hard_. Going in a straight line over a significant distance (say, 1 mile) requires consistent accuracy for each step over about 2000 steps, or the ability to correct for past inaccuracy, which you have no way of knowing without visual feedback. Small things like the mentioned difference in leg strength, or minor variations lead to a small offset in natural bias that eventually overwhelms the normal random error vector in each step.

Last alternative: Coriolis effect.
Bees and ants and I'm sure other insects can travel in straight lines for great distances with incredible precision. These are essentially hunter/gatherer animals, too. Perhaps its easier for creatures of small size?

Robin Kestrel
Coriolis effect - I wondered about that, too. Can that possibly be in play here?

Doubt it. The Coriolis effect is hella subtle.

I wonder if it works on Australian Aborigines?

Interestingly, even that random error vector has the potential to bring you back home. In a 2D random walk, the "drunkard" is likely to reach the starting point again at some point. But involves turning in arbitrary directions, so I doubt it's fully applicable.

(It's dangerous to talk probability here anyway. Someone on Boing Boing said, "A straight path is only one, compared to the infinite non-straight paths." Yeah, and the sun coming up tomorrow is only one event out of an infinite number of alternatives. But it's not random.)

It's only when any reference points are taken away that humans can't walk straight. If you can see the sun, or a mountaintop, it's ok.

Bees and such rely heavily on the earth's magnetic field to keep their direction. I imagine if you were to mess that up they would have the same problem (I believe studies have been done with this in regards to bees and power lines.)

Radiolab=automatic 5☆
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