Maps and Territories
Guides are helpful though
Alfred Korzybski (the founder of General Semantics) drew attention to the distinction between maps and territories in the 1930s when he said "the map is not the territory".
This idea is related to Kant's idea that we never know the reality as it is, but instead only know representations of reality. And the representations can be so different that each of us can be said to live in a different 'world'.
General Semantics' focus is on how the structure of language influences the way we think and perceive. In this example, we maybe very familiar with a map which can deceive us into thinking we know the territory. General Semantics didn't so much deny the usefulness or validity of maps, just warns us to remember which we are talking about maps or territories. If you think about it, the territory itself is distinct from reality.
Territories have boundaries for instance. Territories have owners. Territories have entities struggling to possess or defend them. You can check out reality and you won't find any of those things that territories have. I've crossed boundaries many times and unless they are very conspicuously marked in a territorial way they don't show up in reality.
If the map is not the territory and if the territory is not reality why do we bother with either? Why not just cut to the chase and deal with reality directly?
Wouldn't that be more efficient and bring us closer to knowing what reality is really like?
Don't you remember? When you were first born you were dealing with reality that directly. That state has been called a blooming buzzing confusion and for most people it doesn't last long babies learn very quickly to recognize Mom and make up maps.
As children we learn to be careful about the sort of maps we set up in our heads. We need to learn to stop vividly imagining monsters under our beds.
The territory/map relationship is an example of various levels of abstraction. There seem to be many situations where that relationship emerges.
For instance we can think of a dictionary as being a map it maps meanings onto the territory of words.And notice how the mapping is vulnerable to the same sort of flaws. Sometimes the dictionary meaning of words maps very poorly to the idea that is both transmitted and received.
I'm sure all of us found that out long ago. We rarely hear "define yer terms" in philosophy discussions anymore because we know that that rarely leads to increased understanding. In fact it's often a distraction from increased understanding.
Sometimes we can have an interesting inversion a map can become a reality For instance the military used to use big maps on tables to practice strategic games. Could we say that the map has become an abstract 'reality' within which the game gets played? And that within that reality various territories exist that don't show on the reality anymore than a border shows on the ground. And there could be maps of the map that showed where the borders are.
Perhaps we have seen the same inversion happen with money. Conceptually it's just a means of exchange that maps the value of one thing onto another. But that conception has inverted in many situations the money has become the reality. Our bank accounts are the territory. And accountants the mappers.
A final question what about Second Life? We call it a 3d virtual reality but it presents itself as a 2 dimensional cartoon on our monitors. I made a map of the sims that host Thothica that map has it's uses but nobody would mistake it for SL. Though it has some advantages-like labels :-) And in Second Life we use many maps for instance our inventories are maps of sorts. They map names to objects. And they do the same thing that geographical maps do they take a lot of information and strip away everything but certain sorts of indexing information.
Can you imagine trying to find something if you had to actually look at every item on every search? (Though sometimes I wish there was a really fast way to do just that :-) So does that make our inventories a reality?
What do you think?