Last week, I wrote about Jennifer Ackerman's "The Genius Of Birds," an amazing collection of the latest science on bird intelligence. One of the studies was looking into similarities between the way birds learn to navigate and the way humans learn to navigate.
Birds learn how to navigate by watching their parents and communicating with other birds and flying around learning where places are and by figuring out through experience how to accurately go back to those places. It turns out that if you raise a bird without this experience, the bird, no matter how innately smart, does not learn navigation skills.
Humans are the same way.
The conclusion of the science was something that society has begun to witness anecdotally. When people spend time studying maps and putting the information in them to use (such as driving cross country, or engaging in the sport of orienteering, or finding one's way in the canoe wilderness of Northern Minnesota and Ontario using nothing but a topographical map and a compass) people get very good at navigation skills. Drop a person with such experience into the wilderness at night with nothing but the sun and the stars for information, and they will have a good chance of finding their way out.
By contrast, if a person goes everywhere by listening to the synthetic voice in the car give directions, saying "Turn right in one mile, then turn left at the next intersection," the person never really gets a sense of where anything is in relation to other places. The person never learns geography. Drop that person into the wilderness, they are helpless.
The two people may have equal intelligence, but the one who figures out where they're going is dramatically smarter than the one who just follows directions.