The Map Is Not The Territory

"the map is not the territory"

"El mapa no es el territorio"

"la mappa non e' il territorio"

"la carte n'est pas le territoire"

"die Karte ist nicht das Land"

"kartta ei ole maasto"

"kaart ei ole territoorium"

"kartan inte terrĀ§en"

by AlfredKorzybski? who created GeneralSemantics (thanks to HowardFear for the tip) and elaborated by GregoryBateson and others

"...but, you can't fold up the territory and put it in your glove compartment"

And, of course, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe"


When it comes to electronic circuits, faithfully engraven upon semiconductors, TheMapIsTheTerritory. Or, perhaps, TheMapBecomesTheTerritory. When it comes to network construction, laying out wires and wireless access points, and examining communications path capabilities between nodes, TheMapIsTheTerritory.

When it comes to evaluation of formal programming languages, mathematics languages, logic languages, graphs and AbstractSyntaxTrees, TheMapIsTheTerritory.

When it comes to description of digitally encoded information of any sort - bits, bytes, ones and zeroes, pixels and alpha channels, two-dimensional matrices, encodecs and decodecs, etc., TheMapIsTheTerritory.

For the majority of everything ComputerScience studies, TheMapIsTheTerritory. The exceptions are at the border between machine and humanity - HCI, policy, politics, service requirements, fulfilling human whim, etc. These aren't trivial exceptions, but one should not focus on them to the point of ignoring the fact that representation = reality for everything else.


Maps are, however, a UsefulLie.


"the map is not the territory" is useful because its a reminder of two things: -- HowardFear

The first time I heard this statement, I was immediately reminded of the (in)famous koan, "What is the sound of OneHandClapping?" Both are expressions of the same idea. -- TimLesher

I always wondered what the point of that koan was. *claps with one hand*

...I still don't get it. -- DanielBrockman

Me neither. Or I don't see them as the same idea. To me, this is about not confusing different levels of abstraction (another version is "DontEatTheMenu"). A map is an abstraction of the territory.

It's hard to repeat the effect of the koan in written (or electronic) form, and I hate to even try, because it's a far more wonderful thing in person when you "get it".

But imagine me asking you, "what is the sound of OneHandClapping?" What do you do next? If you open your mouth and words come out, that is incorrect. That is the sound of you talking. If you try to mimic what the sound might be like, that is also incorrect--that is the sound of you mimicking. The only way to truly, utterly, and accurately convey the sound of OneHandClapping is to do it (as Bart did in one episode of The Simpsons). Hence the similarity to TheMapIsNotTheTerritory.

The idea behind the koan, at least to my mind, is to come to understand, really grok, the difference between the representation of a thing (talking about a sound, for example), and the thing itself (the actual sound). Of course, now on some level I feel I've cheated you of that... --tl

That's not the traditional interpretation of the koan (see http://www.metta.co.uk/Wds/wds7.htm for that.) Some of us can audibly clap with one hand, making the koan harder to fathom.

Maybe I'm reading it differently, but I don't think that's entirely incompatible with my learning, either. Maybe I'm being too obtuse with the above (note that I didn't give the answer, just walked to a step away from it, but that's about as close as I can get).

I've often believed that parroting Suzuki's famous single-word answer, in itself renders the answer incorrect. --tl


Clapping with one hand is not the answer.

Now we're on to something... the response I'd hoped to get is "but you can't clap with one hand--that doesn't make sense". That leads us down the path of "well, then how could you expect to describe an answer that is no-answer?" No-answer doesn't have an abstraction (oral description, written explanation, answer key in the back of the book) that we can use to simplify away its difficulty--which brings us back to why this page reminded me of the koan. Anyway, feel free to delete or move this thread mess to another page. I think it's TargetReached. --tl


Do not confuse the moon with the finger that points at it.


This is not as fuzzy a concept as it may sound. The map really is not the territory. Sometimes the map's representation of the territory is really good. Sometimes it really sucks -- as is seen with a badly-drawn map. Sometimes it's because the friggin' territory changed.

The representation is not the thing. And because it is not the thing, the assumption that the representation is accurate or even meaningful can be misleading -- to the extent that actual harm can result.

I use mapping software. Sometimes it's saved me hours. Usually it's pretty good. It's an adequate representation. Occasionally it fails, but I'm aware enough of the disparity that I no longer get suckered into the really egregious navigation errors that could result.

The point is not that you shouldn't use maps, but that, in addition to having maps as accurate as possible, it is equally important (more important?) to have an appreciation for the degree to which the map can be trusted, and how to detect the places where the map's rendering of reality goes awry.

And, of course, it helps if you have some way of amending your map when you find it veers from its landscape.

Yes, this is also a metaphor, and it's even profound, but it's not mystical.

-- GarryHamilton

(This goes hand-in-hand with another principle: ObservationWithoutAssumption?, also known as ObservingTheObvious?. Discussed obliquely in Heinlein's exposition of the FairWitness?. There are times when you just want the facts without all the baggage of "what does it all mean" so that you may see all the data, rather than filtering it against beliefs and presuppositions.)


I have this globe on my shelf.. I spin it around some times and I put my finger on it. I imagine I'm causing several problems by sticking my finger on the spinning globe if the globe really is the real globe. I think I just discovered CommonSense.

Uh... the globe is the real globe. It is, perhaps, not the Earth. But a globe it is.

Hehe, well nice NitPick. But, looking the word up I find that globe means anything that is spherical, including planets themselves, or models of them. Also consider when we say global we don't mean according to some map - but the actual earth.

{What will happen to programming languages that use "global" as a reserved scope word when humans expand into space? Switch to "universal"? And then if somebody punches through a wormhole into another universe?}

On Exactitude in Science . . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

{This sounds like my experiences of being asked to provide GoldPlating for apps by the naive PointyHairedBoss, and then watching it die a miserable death as the Gods of Practicality and Reality chew it up. Sometimes you have to learn to enjoy the journey itself: ask the deck musicians of the Titanic to play your favorite Vivaldi piece to sooth your soul as you compose your CYA letter. At least the Vast Map above remained as a visible reminder of stupidity past. However, software can be gone forever from view via a single Delete button.}

See DontEatTheMenu, MentalModel, AllModelsAreWrongSomeModelsAreUseful, TruthIsaPathlessLand, TheTwoLawsOfDimensionalOntology
CategoryMetaphor

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