Maps are Territories

This apparently fundamental role of space in ordering our knowledge and experience raises two different, but related, kinds of difficulties in exploring the nature of maps. Firstly it is difficult to explain the nature of maps without resorting to map-like structures in the explanation. This difficulty is a consequence of the inherent spatiality of maps, the very reason that they are so often employed as a base metaphor for language, frameworks, minds, theories, culture and knowledge. The second difficulty is that while spatiality may indeed be fundamental to all cultures, what actually counts as the 'relative location' of particular objects may not be quite so basic and may constitute one of the variables that differentiate the way cultures experience the world. That is to say, in any culture, what counts as a natural object and its spatial relations, rather than being an invariant characteristic of the world, may instead form part of that culture's world view, episteme, cognitive schema, ontology, call it what you will.


Of exactitude in science

. . . In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From *Travels of praiseworthy men* (1658) by J. A. Suárez Miranda

(Jorge Luis Borges, *A universal history of infamy*, 1975, p. 131)

Those who are imbued with what is sometimes called 'the Western world view' think of objects as having fixed characteristics and defined boundaries (see Putting nature in order, pp. 48-53) and as having a position specifiable by spatial co-ordinates (see Imagining landscapes, p.60). It may well be that Western ontology is in part reinforced by the centrality of maps in Western thinking and culture. Therefore, because of this possible circularity, one must be careful not to take one's own view as definitive of all maps.

There are many notoriously problematic issues, as well as some unexplored ones, bound up in such questions as 'What is the relationship between the map and the territory?' and 'When is a map not a map but a picture?'. Many of these problems are reflected in the apparent cogency of Korzybski's dictum 'The map is not the territory' (Science and sanity, 1941, p.58). After all, if the map were identical with the territory it would literally be the territory. It would have a scale of an inch to the inch and, apart from anything else, it would be unworkable as a map since you would have to be standing on it or in it. Lewis Carroll described such a map in Sylvie and Bruno concluded. In this fantasy, a Professor explains how his country's cartographers experimented with ever larger maps until they finally made one with a scale of a mile to a mile. 'It has never been spread out, yet', he says. 'The farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So now we use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.'

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