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Christopher Kemp

Jan 27, 2022

Dark and Magical Places

The Neuroscience of Navigation

W. W. Norton 2022

Inside our heads we carry around an infinite and endlessly unfolding map of the world. Navigation is one of the most ancient neural abilities we have―older than language. In Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation (Norton, 2022), Christopher Kemp embarks on a journey to discover the remarkable extent of what our minds can do.

Fueled by his own spatial shortcomings, Kemp describes the brain regions that orient us in space and the specialized neurons that do it. Place cells. Grid cells. He examines how the brain plans routes, recognizes landmarks, and makes sure we leave a room through a door instead of trying to leave through a painting. From the secrets of supernavigators like the indigenous hunters of the Bolivian rainforest to the confusing environments inhabited by people with place blindness, Kemp charts the myriad ways in which we find our way and explains the cutting-edge neuroscience behind them.

How did Neanderthals navigate? Why do even seasoned hikers stray from the trail? What spatial skills do we inherit from our parents? How can smartphones and our reliance on GPS devices impact our brains? In engaging, engrossing language, Kemp unravels the mysteries of navigating and links the brain’s complex functions to the effects that diseases like Alzheimer’s, types of amnesia, and traumatic brain injuries have on our perception of the world around us.

A book for anyone who has ever felt compelled to venture off the beaten path, Dark and Magical Places is a stirring reminder of the beauty in losing yourself to your surroundings. And the beauty in understanding how our brains can guide us home.

Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland.

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Galina Limorenko

Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland.

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