The Human Approach

As you may expect, the human approach to spatial awareness and knowledge of the terrain is a very lazy one. As a consequence, its adaptation will be well suited to memory efficient applications. From a conceptual point of view, it can also easily be improved upon (e.g. an energetic agent that pays attention to every detail, like seen in many sci-fi films). As such, achieving scalability with regards to level of detail is simply a task of finding the right balance between these two attitudes.

There are six main characteristics of this approach, two concern the terrain's structure, two more relate to the detail, and the final two describe how the representation of this information is used.

The representation of the structure is symbolic.

In a complex building, only the important corridors and stairways are likely to be memorised. The mind would associate symbols with each room, and connect them together according to access ways such as doors and turnstyles. This is done over time: if you walk around such a building once, the chances are you will not remember how to get around. The connections between secondary rooms will usually be committed to memory after a certain amount of times.

Information about the structure is fuzzy.

If you take an adult back to his old school and allow him to walk around, he will usually be amazed. Firstly, because he finds it easy to remember the way around. This is understandable since he spent most of his days there for many years: the symbols are is still fixed in his mind. However, everything will seem different, even if nothing has been redecorated. When he was a child, the rooms left an impression on him, and he associated fuzzy attributes with each of them: “this room is very high”, “the corridor is long”. When he returns, the feeling he gets from the rooms will be different to what he remembers, since he is now an adult with more experience of the world. The ceiling will seem low in the first room, and the corridor will be of reasonable length.

The symbols can also vaguely be placed in space, relatively to the current position. Admittedly, this depends on your spatial awareness and sense of direction, but you can usually say:

“The room I just had a meeting in is a few floors above me, towards the right.”

Most details are forgotten when out of sight.

Things that don't get in the way usually don't have much impact on the mind: temporary objects that don't have any particular use have no reason to be remembered. This becomes obvious when you misplace something important: you often have to look for it! You can't remember where you put it down, or saw it last. Chances are it's somewhere obvious, but you didn't notice it. There would be a lot to remember if all the insignificant details of an untidy building were to be memorised!

Funnily enough, some very details may trigger memory. Details that shock, or that stand out, or spawn some intense feeling are likely to be remembered. These details are usually used to identify the locations themselves: “The room with the medieval knight on the pedestal.” Alternatively, the context of these details may be forgotten, but this piece of the puzzle will fall back into place when the room is revisited, creating an impression of déjà-vu.

Details in the immediate surroundings are often ignored.

Most humans tend to take details for granted, even those that are visible! As a consequence, people that pay more attention are admired (such as Hercules Poirot and Sherlock Holmes). However, the average person still manages to take these details into account subconciously. For example, you can step onto a curb without really paying attention to it. The combination of reflexes, experience and habit formed over the years allows the feet do deal with the problem succinctly. People tend to take this capability for granted, and bad things can happen under some circumstances (e.g. with high blood alcohol levels for example).

Path planning is done on a symbolic level.

Since the information about the structure is succinct, it is easy to manipulate and express. The mind can, therefore, quickly and accurately plan the path with the symbols remembered. Consider giving directions to the nearest toilet:

“Go down the stairs behind you, go through the double doors, and take the first left. You can't miss it.”

A planned path is composed as sequence of short relative moves

When talking about the environment - and also in general, laziness is rewarded among humans: the simpler the better! Only the strictly essential information is given. Expressing the path as a sequence of moves relative to the current position is the simplest way of doing this (see example just above).

The fact that these moves are relative allows someone to follow their path with minimal hassle. It's just like reading from a shopping list. And once planned, the paths do not need to be reconsidered. As such, someone can find their way without even thinking about it&hellip

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