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Without GPS, hikers just walk in circles

Scientists in Germany believe that without GPS and other tech devices, hikers really do just walk in circles.

I know there are many in the tech world who believe people just shouldn't be trusted. Or listened to. Or even believed.

So it may be heartening to these defenders of our cyberfuture that there is yet another piece of evidence suggesting people aren't quite as clever as they think they are.

The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics decided to test a very simple form of human judgment: the ability to know where you're going when you're hiking.

You see, many intrepid humans believe it is enough for them to follow the sun, the moon, or the howling of wolves to reach their destinations and find their way home.

However, as the Institute's Jan L. Souman so elegantly put it to The New York Times: "People really do walk in circles."

As in life, as on a hike, you might conclude. And so it seems.

Could crop circles have been formed by incompetent hikers? CC Kecko/Flickr

Souman's fearless objectifiers followed a number of hikers as they made their way around the dense forests of Bavaria and the rather more sandy parts of Tunisia.

They discovered that without some celestial object to guide them, people fail to recognize a straight line and double back on themselves like drunken drivers being questioned by the police.

Apparently, if one just walks along and trusts either the images one sees at ground level or even the inner sense provided by the inner ear, the brain gets more than a little confused.

Perhaps it might seem obvious, but even clutching a compass doesn't provide one with the surest of answers. A small dissonance between the arrow and your brain and you could be off at tangent that soon describes a circle.

It's a little like golf caddies. While many still believe they can judge distance by trusting their eyes, there is an increasing prevalence of technological devices because they simply measure distance more accurately.

Similarly, most experienced hiking guides suggest GPS because, well, it doesn't see the sun or the moon and it doesn't hear ululations.

And it does tell you if you were in this very place just half an hour ago.