Cities cells Many Minds podcast
Sep 25, 2022

Cities, Cells, and the Neuroscience of Navigation with Hugo Spiers (podcast)

How does the brain support our ability to find our way through the world? And why are some individuals, cultures, or species better at this than others?

By Templeton Staff

Dr. Hugo Spiers, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, is interested in how our brains construct representations of the world to remember the past, navigate the present and imagine the future. Listen in to his conversation with the TWCF-supported Many Minds podcast to hear about cognitive mapping.

Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

"For mobile organisms like us, navigation is life or death — it’s as basic as eating or breathing. So when we dig into the foundations of these spatial abilities, we’re really digging into some of the most basic foundations of mind.

In recent years Hugo and his group have used a wide variety of methods—and some astonishingly large datasets—to shed light on central questions about human spatial abilities. 

Here, Hugo and I do a quick tour of the neuroscience of navigation — including the main brain structures involved and how they were discovered. We talk about research on a very peculiar population, the London taxi driver. We discuss the game Sea Hero Quest and what it’s teaching us about navigation abilities around the world. We also touch on what GPS might be doing to us; whether the hippocampus actually resembles a seahorse; the ingenious layout of our brain’s inner grids; navigation ability as an early sign of Alzheimer’s; how “place cells” actually map more than just place; and how the monarch butterfly finds its way."

Play the full episode with the above player.

Learn more about Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences priority.


Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from assistant producer Cecilia Padilla. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork is by Ben Oldroyd.