Why make maps?

Maps are interpretive cognitive constructs that are used to represent physical (I.e. objective) territory. Maps (or constructs, frameworks, structures, or any other useful synonym) are a primary interface between subjective and objective perspectives, in the sense that they are actively applied as the lens through which we view the world. Given this tremendous power, it might be worth having good maps. A good map provides predictive power and is proactive, while a bad map might be primarily reactive and provide poor consistency of representation; the test of a good map is the verification of predictions across different domains of the model (though simplicity is also important for ease of application).

In application, maps are used intuitively much more frequently than they are deliberately. Most of thought is provided by the parts of consciousness responsible for drawing connections between disparate chunks of data, and while this process allowed for the successful evolution of our species it is hugely non-rational and takes the path of least resistance every time. I would suggest that the heuristics used by this general process represent our true subjective maps, and that until a framework becomes intuitive it is not yet, fully, a representation of our own internal map. This makes sense in the context of development as described by Wilber et al., where differentiation precedes integration; there must first be a laborious process of identification and refinement of elements of a new structure of consciousness before it can become a deep structure.

So why do we make maps? I think, most simply, map-making is a transformative process. The labor of painstakingingly exercising awareness in order to shine light into the shadows of consciousness is a tradition as old as written language itself; Emerson and Aurobindo, for instance, used writing as their primary contemplative practices. The process requires continual objectification, and as such has transcendence at its end, when all has become object. Perhaps the last step is to abandon the map altogether and become the territory…

Side notes:
-Map making is reflexive in that maps (structures of consciousness) are required to make maps, and the quality of the initial structure limits the potential of the product. Less developed structures can make use of less data, etc.
-The process is only transformative (maybe) instead of translational when new constructs become intuitive and reflexive; the degree of transformation is directly related to the degree of incorporation into intuitive consciousness
-The process can be therapeutic, with a directly applicable metaphor of uncovering shadow (I.e. the fog of war)


  1. #1 by tevondubois on July 22, 2012 - 1:24 am

    The intuitive/deliberate conscious/subconscious distinction is important and I think we could explore it a little more. They are both forms of maps- I was seeing a sort of cartographic iceberg whose tip represents deliberate maps. The question of the direction of causation comes up here too (surprise!) It’s clear the tip is influenced by the body- that is, that our capacity to deliberately make maps is influenced by our ‘deep structural’ or intuitive maps. Deliberate maps all of a sudden become a lot more important, though, if causality can be drawn in the other direction (which I guess is what the prompt was indirectly asking about). Your comment about the therapeutic fxn of maps is key here, and I think we can answer that sure, the deliberate can influence the intuitive (the maps themselves or the process of making them?), and that’s pretty cool. It would be interesting to look at cartography as a line of development, and look at it as a brand of therapy as an example of they way developmental lines can facilitate the development through stages.

    The fact that maps are required to make maps which are require to make maps leads to a point that came up for me: map making is really a primal/primary impulse- the whole process of early symbolization and figuration and early schematic formation is really about making maps. Semiotics is a cartographic study where signs are the maps and signified the territory. Also brings up a feeling that it’s a little dishonest to to talk about these things and use the world ‘reality’ like some a priori corkbord we can tack our ideas to without really addressing the [eternally and exhaustively discussed] question of weather such a cork board exists…


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