The Science of Getting Lost and Getting Found

Photo by Malte Schmidt on Unsplash

Getting lost, is terrifying.

If it’s ever happened to you, you will know what I mean. It was likely one of the most stressful days of your life. The terror is real, you can die if you get lost.


We humans, have evolved to find getting lost stressful. Once we realise we are lost, adrenaline sets in and we lose all ability to reason. This makes getting found difficult.


Rescued people have been asked to explain their actions when they were lost and they often can’t remember. The panic caused them not to make reasonable decisions.

Below are some tips on:

  • How to get found if you are lost
  • Understanding how to find someone else who is lost
  • How certain people react when they are lost (we don’t all act the same)

How to Get Found

Stop moving!

Wait 30 minutes.

Half and hour is enough time to calm down, then the rational part of your brain will work again.

Retrace Your Steps

30 minutes have passed, no one has found you…

Now, that you’re calm, retrace your steps. Your instincts might tell you this will get you more lost. But it helps, you may spot something you recognise and be able to find your way back to safety.

The Hub-and-Spoke Method

Retracing your steps hasn’t got you found.

Pick a landmark that stands out to you (a tree, a cliff or church) and treat that as a centre point. Something tall works best, so you can see it even as you walk away from it.

Now walk in a straight line away from it to see if you spot something you recognise or find civilisation. Each time, walk out only as far as you can still see the centre point. Then walk back and head out in a different direction. Your footsteps will follow spokes on a wheel, where the middle of the wheel is your centre point.

The hub-and-spoke method

Head to High Ground

Climb high (if it’s safe to do so). Look for a known landmark, like a particular building or rock formation. If you have a map, even better, this can help you figure out which direction you’re facing and where you need to go.

It’s Not Safe to Go Alone, Take One of These

Preventative measure, bring someone with you. Pairs are less likely to panic and so more likely to make good decisions.

Finding a Lost Person

You may be the person who is safe, but you have lost a loved one. A little understanding of the mindset of a lost person will help you find them and get them back to safety.

Go to the Edges

Humans love boundaries, so even if we don’t know we are doing it, we will head to the edges of things. Depending on the general area the person got lost, check the nearest:

  • Roads
  • Hedges
  • Edges of fields
  • Buildings
  • Shorelines

Who did you Lose?

A Child

Children are generally easier to find as they are more likely to stay put. Head to the last place you saw them and call out to them.

An Autistic Child

Autistic children tend to take shelter in structures.

The structure could be as complex as a building or shed or as simple a bush.

A Person with Dementia

People with dementia tend to head in one straight line and keep going. Even pushing through obstacles.

If you know where their destination, keep going in that direction. If you are in the woods, look for broken up bushes or trees where they may have barged through.

A Solo Male

These are the worst! I don’t know why, but us men move the most. We tend to keep moving non-stop until we are found. If you are looking for a man on his own, you’re in for some trouble, he could be anywhere.

These tips come from a NewScientist article on the psychology of people who get lost: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532710-800-people-who-get-lost-in-the-wild-follow-strangely-predictable-paths/#

Why People Become Terrorists

If you understand a problem you can solve it. I don’t expect this post to be used to train Intelligence service officers, but it was a question I was interested in. NewScientist answered this question in their Collection – 17 MORE Ideas You Need To Understand.

What is a Terrorist?

Marc Sageman, of the CIA, says you can’t reduce terrorism down to ideology, religious motivations or personality disorders. In fact you can’t point to a pattern of actions and say “that’s a terrorist”, the same way you can point to types of serial killer like organised and disorganised killers, there is no terrorist type, just people who commit acts of terror.

From a terrorism prevention point-of-view, this makes things difficult as we can’t categorise potential terrorists.

In a 1981 paper by Martha Crenshaw (Causes of Terrorism), she found that what most terrorists have in common, is they are all really normal. They aren’t the Lex Luthors of the world, they’re the Average Joes.

Terrorism Depends on Whose Side You’re On

People who commit terrorist acts are usually part of a group, like a shared religion or country. This group will fear that another group will kill them or destroy their way of life. This is the same motivation many people have for the leave campaign in Brexit and that doesn’t make them terrorists.

A normal person who feels threatened will eventually lash out. Inside the group, the people who commit terrorist acts are seen good people, who are just providing a warning to the outside group to leave your group alone. They are heroes, protecting their families.

Someone in the west may see these bombers as evil people who just want to cause us harm, but suicide bombers consider themselves the victims to western military power.

Terrorism as PR

The author of the NewScientist article, Peter Byrne, says that for the terrorist, their act of terror is just a military public relations scheme to make a political point. It’s not a day job or an inbuilt ideology. These people don’t wake up a terrorist, go to work a terrorist and go to bed a terrorist. It’s just a tactic to make a point.

People Don’t Always Know Their Motivations

Criminologist Andrew Silke, at the University of East London, has interviewed people who have committed acts of terror and most of them say that they did it for their beliefs. The characters we see on TV shows and the videos that accompany horrific violent acts would back this up.

Silke interviewed terrorists, gathering a detailed history of their lives. These interviews usually reveal family issues, school issues or employment discrimination and wanting revenge for their people’s deaths as coming way before they were drawn into the ideologies of ISIS or the group they joined.

When Silke presented this evidence to Western Governments fighting terror, they chose to believe that terrorist threats were down to Islamic Radicalism, rather than try to understand the complex social and psychological issues that could be preventable.

Blame the Elites

In the “Causes of Terrorism” paper by Crenshaw, she found that the first people to turn to terrorism, who then convert the masses of underprivileged people, are more likely to be members of the upper middle class. The Jihadi leaders are often medical doctors and PhDs.

Before it was commonly believed that terrorist leaders were from underprivileged backgrounds.

Locals Just Want a Job

People living local to terrorist groups often are often very poor due to wars and violence destroying their neighbourhoods.

Terrorist groups offer competitive salaries, health insurance and benefits to keep sending money to your family, should you die in battle. This makes the job quite attractive to someone who is struggling to provide for their family, wives have been known to even encourage it.

It would be shameful to let your family starve when a well-paid job is readily available to you. You don’t have to join because you fully agree with the ideals, you may just want to feed your family.

Availability of good jobs is an economic problem. The kind of problem that can be much more easily solved than defeating terrorism. ISIS could be dealt a real blow, if there were just better job opportunities provided to locals.

You Can’t Fight them On The Beaches

Many experts believe that defeating ISIS in Mosul (a known hub for ISIS) through military action won’t stop the threat of terrorism.

Killing leaders of terrorist groups like Bin Laden and al-Baghdadi doesn’t stop these groups being able to carry on with their mission.Terrorist groups can easily splinter off into new groups, re-organise and carry on committing acts of terror without their previous leader.

Drone strikes that target high profile leaders have been shown to increase the number of terrorist attacks, because the threat of a drone strike gives these terrorists groups fuel for their anti-western propaganda.

How To Actually End Terrorism

Military force not being effective isn’t all doom and gloom. Terrorist groups do disband, they tend to do so because of:

  • Political solutions to the problems they face
  • Grievances that originally angered them being solved or dissipated
  • The group losing support because it displays too much brutality and the insiders don’t approve

The more we know about terrorism the sooner we can stop it. There is much more information in the original article, which doesn’t have a link available yet, but it will be on here soon and you can get a copy in stores.

This was a much more complex and sensitive topic than I usually write about, so please feel free to let me know if I was unclear or wrong below.