Map versus God

God of the Philosophers : God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob :: Map : Territory.

The map is not the territory. You can’t get from Phoenix to Flagstaff on a map of Arizona. To get to Flagstaff, you must actually go to Arizona. The map of Arizona can’t get you there.

The map is not adequate to the territory. There are all sorts of things about the territory that can’t be shown on any map.

That doesn’t mean the map is useless. If the map was a perfectly faithful representation of everything about the territory, then it would be just as huge as the territory. It would be useless as a map; it wouldn’t be a map at all, but a territory.

Nor does it mean that the map is wrong. It might be wrong, to be sure; but the mere fact that it is a map does not mean that it is wrong.

Reading maps is an acquired skill. If you venture out into the mountains and try to use a topo map without first learning how topo maps work, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble. Maps can be very complicated, and their symbology is not always intuitively obvious. Beginners can find them confusing. This does not mean that maps are either wrong, or useless, or misleading. It means only that, as with most things in life, it helps to learn how they work before one begins to work with them.

Maps are not needed in order to find one’s way across an unknown terrain. Anyone can do it, if he is canny, lucky, and careful. Indeed, a skilled and experienced outdoorsman might carry a map only as back up, and refer to it only rarely, if at all. But it’s always nice to have a good map at hand, and to know how to read it, and how to map it to the territory. It can save your life. Especially if you yourself are not a skilled and experienced outdoorsman, but a rank beginner.

Map reading is a basic skill for outdoorsmen. A rank beginner is going to have trouble reading a map. But then, he is going to have trouble reading the water or the sky, or the sign of his prey, or the lay of the land. He is likely to get lost, unless he has a guide. A map is a guide; indeed, it is a distillation of the guidance of many prior explorers of the territory.

Maps are only as good as the information available to the cartographer. The cartographer must rely on the measurements, readings and reports of travellers, explorers, natural historians, and surveyors. He must, that is to say, rely on men who have actually traversed the territory. The more such information he has, the better his map. It helps particularly if the cartographer has himself travelled in the territory, as is so often the case with the philosophers who developed the God of the Philosophers, most of whom are saints.

That a map does not follow the cartographical customs prevalent among the denizens of the territory it covers does not make it inaccurate. Captain Cook did not follow the sophisticated cartographical conventions of the Polynesians; this did not mean his maps of Polynesia were wrong.

The map is not the territory. But it makes no sense to disparage the map on that account. It is not proper to criticize maps because they are not territory, but only because they are not very good maps.

A good map is authoritative, and useful, even when you have the territory itself right in front of your eyes, and under your feet. It can save you lots of time and effort, and it can keep you out of all sorts of really dangerous situations.

When a good map says, “Here be dragons,” you had better keep an eye out for seraphim.

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