Navigation appeared early in the evolution of animals and occurs in all mobile species. The vast array of navigational capabilities in various species poses a challenge to describe and understand these capabilities. This chapter proposes a unifying framework to formulate common underlying principles that operate across different taxa. This navigation toolbox contains a hierarchy of representations and processes, ranging in complexity from simple and phylogenetically old sensorimotor processes, to the formation of navigational “primitives” (e.g., orientation or landmark recognition) to complex cognitive constructs (e.g., cognitive maps), culminating in the human capacity for symbolic representation and language. Each element in the hierarchy is positioned at a given level by virtue of being constructed from elements in the lower levels and having newly synthesized spatial semantic contents in the representations that were not present in the lower levels. In studying individual species, the challenge is to determine how given elements are implemented in that species, in view of its particular behavioral and anatomical constraints. The challenge for the field as a whole is to understand the semantic structure of spatial representations in general, which ultimately entails understanding the behavioral and neural mechanisms by which semantic content is synthesized from sensory inputs, stored, and used to generate behavior.
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