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Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

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Wayfinding in the Noosphere

Have you heard of the hippocampus ? It's one of the most ancient parts of the brain, located deep within the temporal lobes and adjacent to the amygdala. This horseshoe-shaped structure plays a central role in learning, memory, and wayfinding. We know rats rely on the hippocampus for maze navigation. It's essential for both path integration and the processing of cognitive maps. We know neurons called "place cells" are intensely active when a rat revisits familiar locations. And we know animals and humans experience severe disorientation when the hippocampus is damaged.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have shown an enlarged posterior region of the hippocampus in taxi drivers, and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans show increased hippocampal activity when drivers are asked to recall routes around the city. In recent years, researchers have conducted similar experiments in virtual environments. Sure enough, when subjects are exploring a virtual maze or the artificial terrain of a video game, those same neurons light up. Does this constitute evidence of a biological basis for the validity of wayfinding metaphors on the World Wide Web? Not quite. Virtual mazes and semantic spaces are not equivalent. But it does remind us that when we enter the artificial noosphere, we bring our natural instincts and our physical bodies with us.

A Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher by the name of Teilhard de Chardin popularized the notion of the noosphere or "sphere ...

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