The map is not the territory

planted: 16/06/2020last tended: 18/07/2022

The territory is not the map.

"What a useful thing a pocket-map is!" I remarked.

"That's another thing we've learned from your Nation," said Mein Herr, "map-making. But we've carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?"

"About six inches to the mile."

"Only six inches!" exclaimed Mein Herr. "We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all ! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!"

"Have you used it much?" I enquired. "It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight ! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."

from Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Chapter XI, London, 1895

A concept is not merely its content – a symbolic name such as ‘nature’ or ‘pollution’ – but is a function of the context it is in. Alfred Korzybski (1933) famously captured this idea in his phrase, ‘the map is not the territory’.

Nature Matters: Systems thinking and experts

1. Elsewhere

1.3. Mentions

Recent changes. Source. Peer Production License.