Navigation is the key human skill. It's something we do everywhere, whether feeling our way through a bedroom in the dark, or charting a ship's course. But how does navigation affect our brains, our memory, ourselves? Blending scientific research and memoir, and written in beautiful prose, Finding North starts with a quest by the author to understand this most basic of human skills---and why it's in mortal peril.
In 1844, Foy's great-great grandfather, captain of a Norwegian cargo ship, perished at sea after getting lost in a snowstorm. Foy decides to unravel the mystery surrounding Halvor Michelsen's death---and the roots of his own obsession with navigation---by re-creating his ancestor's trip using only period instruments.
Beforehand, he meets a colorful cast of characters to learn whether men really have better directional skills than women, how cells, eels, and spaceships navigate; and how tragedy results from GPS glitches. He interviews a cabby who has memorized every street in London, sails on a Haitian cargo sloop, and visits the site of a secret navigational cult in Greece.
At the heart of Foy's story is this fact: navigation and the brain's memory centers are inextricably linked. As Foy unravels the secret behind Halvor's death, he also discovers why forsaking our navigation skills in favor of GPS may lead not only to Alzheimers and other diseases of memory, but to losing a key part of what makes us human.
Foy (Zero Decibels) ruminates on the primal skill of navigation and its metaphysical links to human nature while investigating the final voyage of his great-great grandfather Capt. Halvor Michelsen, who was lost at sea in 1844. Resolving to reenact Michelsen's final voyage, Foy begins with general research into navigation, traveling to the Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, which controls America's GPS system, and the Royal Institute of Navigation in London. He visits the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University of London, where he learns that the hippocampus, which governs our navigational abilities, also governs memory. This leads Foy to the philosophical revelation that "human identity equals memory; memory equals navigation; human identity therefore equals navigation." He spends some time discussing failures of the GPS system and continually muses on the perils of relying on machine-based navigation. He finally comes to the realization that navigation begins with loss: "Living, no matter how much it hurts, comes down to losing landmarks... and then striving to find where we are again." Deep waters and deep thoughts fill these pages. With skillful prose and insight, Foy's account of the different aspect of navigation packs a powerful punch, especially when he embarks on his own voyage at sea.