i need to become stronger

maps make meaning

mapmaking 2015-04-18

when i talk about the map and the territory, i talk almost exclusively about the map, and when i do mention the territory it's as some undifferentiated soup that exists 'out there'. turns about, that's because we literally cannot talk about anything other than maps.

there is a famous painting of a pipe with the caption "this is not a pipe". on the surface this may seem odd: you are most definitely looking at a pipe. but really the thing you see is not a pipe, but rather a representation of one. that is to say, a map.

let that sink in a bit. we say 'the map is not the territory', but here we are being quite explicit about it. the map of a thing is not the thing itself.

once you understand this, you are led to the inevitable conclusion that you have never directly known reality in your life.

since pipes are relatively rare now, consider the humble spoon. you may object that you've seen spoons in real life, held them in your hand, maybe even used them to eat. surely that was the territory. but consider, how did you even know that thing was a spoon, or even a thing separate from other things? how could you tell that some small part of the universe was distinct from the rest of it in a way that you might call that part of it a spoon? because you have a map that allows you to literally make sense of things: to tell stuff in the universe apart.

to put it another way, there is no spoon until you create it. as far as the universe is concerned (and it's not concerned with anything at all in such a fundamental way you can't even really say the universe is or is not concerned), spoons do not exist. the territory is just stuff that has particular properties. although the stuff you will soon call a spoon exists independent of your understanding of it, it does not really become a spoon until it is mapped into one. the map makes the meaning, and it is only in the map that the spoon appears out of reality's confounded state.

in fact, there is no territory without the map, because the separation of map and territory is itself part of the map. without the map, there would be nothing to call territory in contrast to it: it would simply be everything, with all its complexities and yet none of its differentiation. it is the map that makes the meaning because the territory is confused. not in the usual sense of 'confused', but in the literal sense based on it's etymology: all mixed together as to be indistinguishable. the territory is confused, and you will be confused without the map to help you make meaning of it.