Eclectic Plagiodoxy- the map metaphor

From Martin Rudwick:

The Great Devonian Controversy:  The University of Chicago Press (1985)
P 454    “Bookish people with no practical experience of mapping often assume that a map is an unproblematic replica of reality, or merely a miniaturized version of what one would see from the air. Those who make intensive use of cartography know on the contrary that any map is a pervasively conventional representation. They also know that an indefinite number of different maps of the same area can be made for different purposes, yet all may be equally valid representations of the same natural reality. Even where such maps prove mistaken, they are always corrigible; but it makes no sense to talk of ever achieving a uniquely “perfect” representation, or a complete “correspondence” with reality, since different kinds of maps are designed for different uses, and there is no limit to the further representations that may be needed for new and unforeseen purposes.”

As field geologists know, any map is both a collection of data and an expression of theory. The theory is one answer to the underlying question that drives the science.

Global society today is caught up in a transformational process, the sharp point of the wedge of transformation being economic/financial. The maps/theories that have served as guides to the future for the past several decades are failing us. It is not that Atlas has finally shrugged. But rather he seems be showing himself as an old fool.

Pay heed to what Rudwick is saying. It is unsurprising to any one that maps are never “perfect”, because most of us can remember when we first started making simple maps, and frequently gave up on the process as not being attuned to our individual talents. Most people would rather write notes than draw maps.

But the notes, being just the expression of the other half of our intellect applied to the same reality, are no more perfectible than the maps. If we could remember our first stumbling attempts to express ourselves in words, we would be more humble about our word production efforts. Our grasp of the virtual nature of the world created in words, spoken, written or printed, would be more direct.

Correspondingly, we would have a greater appetite for alternative word-maps. We would look for different slants on the world. We would see the breakdown of our word-virtual image as an opportunity to look through the metaphor into reality itself a little more clearly.

But we are stuck with the fact that our memories are focused on the product of those first stumbling efforts and we can dredge up the feelings of frustration and inadequacy that surrounded that production only by great effort of internal examination. It seems to our minds that our knowledge of the world, expressed in words, actually precedes our experience in the world. In the current unfolding of historic time it is clear that this is in fact not so. It is simply an artifact of the data, the fact that our earliest memories are expressed in words.

Eclectic plagiodoxy- Let’s look for a diversity of maps , based on different slants.


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