The quote, “The map is not the territory,” demonstrates a profound thought, and also a useful prompt for the TOK class. Before getting into connections between the quote and idea of models and metaphors, I wanted to put together a lesson on NYC subway maps (my school is in NYC). While doing so, I came across a bunch of different, and lovely, maps, each with its own representation of “reality.”
Click each image for a full size file.
1. Modern Day Subway Map
This is the map you see posted on the trains and subway platforms.
2. “Accurate Subway Map”
This map includes more accurate representations of distance and other features. Notice also it is more accurately oriented according to a traditional North-South map axis. The one above unintentionally (intentionally?) reorients the map around Manhattan.
3. NYC Station Map
This map focuses on the subway lines themselves and erases all other features.
4. 1972 Massimo Vignelli Map
Much has been written about this map and the response it got. It put into practice the design principles (started in the London Underground Map designed by Harry C. Beck) that are used in many of the world’s systems. This map, though, did not receive a particularly positive reaction and was soon abandoned.
If you’re interested in this topic, you can find a lot more maps and more information at: https://www.nycsubway.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway_Track_Maps (Click on the “Maps” tab at the top of that page).
How does this visual representation give us a different sense of meaning than a traditional map?
“This linguistic map paints an alternative map of Europe, displaying the language families that populate the continent, and the lexical distance between the languages. The closer that distance, the more words they have in common. The further the distance, the harder the mutual comprehension.
“The map shows the language families that cover the continent: large, familiar ones like Germanic, Italic-Romance and Slavic; smaller ones like Celtic, Baltic and Uralic; outliers like Semitic and Turkic; and isolates – orphan languages, without a family: Albanian and Greek.”
Here is a site with some additional posts and discussions of related issues by the creator of this image.
“What is it about maps that we find so fascinating? Ever since the Babylonians scratched two parallel lines and a circle — representing the Euphrates River and their walled capital — on a clay tablet almost 3,000 years ago, we humans have been producing flat spatial imagery to locate our place in the world. Maps anchor us, give coherence to our environment, help make visual sense of otherwise intangible realities. The most skillfully done maps, moreover, can be thrilling to look at, elevating cartography into art.”
“The Polynesians, scattered as they are over islands across the central and southern Pacific Ocean, are master navigators who tracked their way over a huge expanses of ocean without any of the complex mechanical aids we associate with sea navigation. They didn’t have the astrolabe or the sextant, the compass or the chronometer. They did however have aids of a sort, which though seemingly humble, were in fact the repositories of an extremely complex kind of knowledge. They are called Rebbelibs, Medos. and Mattangs.”
Below is a documentary about the Polynesians as well.