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Nobel Prize for brain GPS: they didn’t include me

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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This is the front side (obverse) of a Nobel Prize medal in Physiology or Medicine awarded in 1950 to researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota (Credit: Jonathunder [photographer]/Erik Lindberg [sculptor & engraver, 1902] via en.wikipedia.org)

The Nobel prize for physiology or medicine has just been announced: three scientists have received the award for discovering the brain’s “GPS system.”  John O’Keefe, Edvard Moser, and May-Britt Moser will share the award for discovering how the brain knows where we are and how to navigate from one place to another.

It turns out we have “place cells” in the hippocampus that form a map within the brain, as well as “grid cells” that help us judge distance and navigate.  According to the Nobel committee, these cells constitute “a comprehensive positioning system, an inner GPS, in the brain.”

Prof. O’Keefe and the Mosers did not include me in their studies.  That’s understandable, since they are in Great Britain and Norway, respectively.  But if they had, I might have skewed their findings.  You see, I am “directionally challenged.”  My wife tells me that when I come to an intersection, I should decide which way to go, then go the other way.  She can find a place she has never been; I cannot remember how to get to a place I’ve visited 10 times.

For years I thought I was just dumb when it comes to directions.  Then I learned that there is actually such a thing as “spatial intelligence,” and that some people have less of it than others.  It turns out, I have much less.  The GPS in my car has been God’s gift to me.

While I may not be good at directions, I know Someone who is.  He promises his followers, “your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).  The One whose will is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2) wants us to know his will even more than we want to know it.  When we choose to listen and then obey, he will lead us wherever it is best for us to go.

Israel, the first people to receive this promise, would then reject the idols they had been trusting for direction and purpose: “Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images.  You will scatter them as unclean things.  You will say to them, ‘Be gone!'” (v. 22).  As a result, God “will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous” (v. 23).

I wonder what idols our culture is trusting for direction today.  Can popular opinion be an idol?  Financial success?  Physical health?  The affirmation of those who matter most to us?

What choices are you facing today?  When last did you make time to listen to God’s voice, seeking and submitting to his perfect will for you?  His GPS never fails.  He always wants to direct us “in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).  But no GPS, not even God’s, can help us if we won’t ask for directions or go where it instructs us.

You probably have better GPS in your brain than I do.  But God has better GPS than us all.