My White Paper – Dale Hamstra

White Paper: Walking in a Straight Line

Topic Background: Can we Walk in a Straight Line

Common sense would tell us that it would be a simple task for us to stay on a straight path while walking, and assuming that you’re not blindfolded it is. However, as soon as you put on a blindfold it becomes an impossible task that will send you walking in circles. Research done by Asa Schaeffer and Jan Souman has shown us that it is impossible for us to walk in a straight line without the aid of a visual landmark of some sort. We do not know why this phenomenon occurs, although there are a few theories of why it happens. For example, some people have legs that are slightly longer or stronger than the other, which would influence how we walk, and that walking is a fluid motion that has many inconsistencies that go uncorrected and we eventually end up going in a circle.

Physiology of Walking:

During each step while walking the center body mass vaults over the limb that’s supporting it, sort of like an upside down pendulum. It is also sometimes described as a controlled falling. However, all fifty muscles in each leg are free to move. Since all of these muscles have freedom to move walking cannot be perfect. Walking includes complex muscle movements and contractions, and therefore has a high potential to make mistakes.

Counterintuitivity Note:

Walking in a straight line is one of the easiest things to do. Just about anyone can easily walk in a straight path, if they’re not blindfolded that is. As soon as you put on a blindfold it becomes impossible to stay straight. It would seem crazy to think that something so easy could become impossible just like that.

Navigation in Animals:

Animals actually use many of the same techniques we do to keep on a straight path. It is proven that many migrating birds use the sun as a navigation tool, and many migrating land animals use landmarks. For example, whales traveling up and down the west coast of North America in The Pacific Ocean will keep the continent on their right at all times while traveling north and keep it on their left while traveling south. However, many animals will migrate using scents or magnetic fields. In these cases they can be easily drawn off course by a similar scent or a man made magnetic field that may replicate the magnetic fields of the planet. There was a study done with sea turtles that make their eight thousand mile migration route the first time that they ever see it. The turtles were first intentionally moved off course, and using the magnetic fields of the planet they were easily able to get back on track. However, a second experiment was preformed where the turtles were introduced to many man-made magnetic fields throughout their journey. The turtles went off course and were unable to find their way to their normal migration spot.

Navigating the Open Ocean:

Just like waking in a straight line, the same problem arises with sailing on the open ocean. Ancient sailors used many methods to make sure that they were staying on course. There, of course, was the obvious answer of land masses, but what if there was no land mass? The navigators would immediately turn to the sun. The sailors would use the placement of the sun, and the stars at night, to determine what direction they were headed in. Another method of navigation would be to follow the birds. The sailors would occasionally notice a sea bird flying over head. They were smart enough to realize that if the bird had an empty beak it was more than likely that it was flying from land out to sea to get food, and vies versa if its beak was full.

Topics for Smaller Papers:

There are many different tools that humans have made to help us navigate. A topic for a smaller paper could be how these tools work and how they were made. Also, the impact that navigation tools have had on our society as a whole.

Current State of the Research Paper:

The research paper is going well. I have the majority of the sources I plan to use. I have tried to broaden my topic by adding in the physiology of walking, and comparing the way humans navigate to the way that animals navigate. However, I am having some concerns that my paper may not reach ten pages. As for my own experiment I am still trying to come up with other sounds I can use to help guide someone I a straight line. I have decided not to do the trial without sound since it has already been proven that we cannot walk in a straight line. My next step is to find a large enough field and willing participants.

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1 Response to My White Paper – Dale Hamstra

  1. davidbdale says:

    I don’t understand why we should take walking in a straight line for granted, Dale. If I asked you to walk across a balance beam, you might be willing to try it, even if the beam was 5 feet off the floor. But if I asked you to do it blindfolded, you’d object instantly because it’s clear you’d be at a tremendous disadvantage not being able to look at your feet. Why should we be surprised that we can’t guide ourselves accurately toward a target a mile away without being able to see that target?

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