WALKING IN CIRCLES.
In the winter months, we not unfrequently hear of travellers in this country losing their lives in attempting to cross snow-covered moors while the light is imperfect . Even though the distance be only a few hundred yards, yet in the absence of a definite track or distinctive landmark, the traveler toils on through weary hours, until physical exhaustion overcomes him, and he falls into that lethargic sleep which is the terror of the traveler in cold regions. When the track of such a one is examined, it is found to be more or less of a circular nature, tending, no doubt, to irregularities, but such only as we should expect of an exhausted and despairing man. This tendency to walk in a circle when the individual is unaided by the eye, may be said to be almost universal; and it is in virtue of this tendency that explorers journey only by aid of the compass. Some of our readers may recollect that in their school-days, walking blindfolded was a favourite pastime, some individuals diverging to one side, some to another, and but few walking in a straight line. These facts are so commonly known as to be beyond dispute; but we believe that the cause is not so generally understood, and is not perhaps even yet definitely ascertained.
Recently, the subject has been discussed in Nature, and the opinions of the scientists who have taken part in the discussion have brought out, that though the individual is unconscious of the tendency to walk in a circle, yet it is probably due to a physical inequality on the part of the individual. Let it be considered that if, in walking, the strides are unequal in length, they will tend to carry the individual in the direction of the shorter stride, so that in a certain time and space the walking track will assume the form of a circle. That the strides of an individual generally are unequal, we have proof in reminiscences of some experiments by Mr G. H. Darwin, who, with his eyes shut, started to walk in a grass field, and found that he had described a circle of about fifty yards' diameter, the divergence being towards the right; and in repeated experiments, he was unable to impose a sufficiently strong conscious bias in one direction to overcome the unconscious bias in the other. Further experimenting with eight schoolboys, six of whom were strongly right-handed and two feebly left-handed, he found that the six had a longer stride from left to right, one of the others from right to left, and the remaining one had equal strides. When these boys were caused to hop, the six used the left limb; the next one, the right; and the other hopped on the right on the first trial, then on the left on the second. Offering a prize to the one who should walk straightest, the boy who had equal strides and hopped equally well on either limb walked straight to the goal; the six left-legged boys diverged to the right; and the right-legged one to the left . These results tend to show that inequality of strides is due to physical inequality of the limbs; and one correspondent having suggested that the lower limbs differ in length, and hence cause variation in strides, an authority—Dr J. G. Garson, Royal College of Surgeons, London—adduces proof that this is so. In seventy skeletons, he found by measurement that seven—or ten per cent.—only had the lower limbs equal in length; twenty-five —35.8 per cent.—had the right limb longer than the left; and in thirty-eight instances—or 54.5 per cent.—the left limb was the longer. When these facts are considered, it becomes apparent that if the limbs are unequal in length, the individual cannot possibly walk straight unless when guided by the eye, so that the circular track of the lost traveller is just what we should expect in the circumstances.
-- Chambers's Journal, 1885
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