Maps and Metaphors


The other day my friend Jennifer, from the MEP, gave me a tutorial on GIS mapping (geographic information systems mapping), I used arcgis and made a map of all the mints with my son who is obsessed with gold.  Jennifer and I then went through a series of story maps.  Story maps are like essays with maps, maps that tell a story or explain a point of view. They can show different perspectives or changes over time. We have medium for writing, and youtube for video, why dont we have something for maps, why are maps less of a narrative medium? We went through the story maps and described what we liked and did not like about each story and what we are going to include in our own story map that we are building.. stay tuned. 

I have been fascinating with mapping for a long time. In fact one of my early skills, before GPS, was reading maps, and my parents would say things to me like “Meredith, you are good at reading maps, where are we.” And it was true I was good at reading maps and I loved maps.  

As I grew and learned about the situationists and psychogeographics. I am still not entirely sure what  psychogeographies is, especially if both Guy Debord and Robert Macfarlaine are both psychogeographers, one a marxists using psychogeography as a way to live more ‘authentically’, the other writing poetic meditations on walking knowledge, nature, and history. But whatever, the journey is more important than the destination and perhaps psychogeography is about that.  

There is the idea of the Derive, what is my personal journey through the urban landscape if I am motivated by nothing other than the terrain itself (versus say my need to get to a meeting).  However this idea of a personal journey plus a map is also interested, because I am interested in the map as a landscape but really I am interested in navigating the map via routes. 

Then there is knowledge embedded in the land (this can be extended to physical objects, or perhaps psychic objects like memory palaces). There are some excellent discussion of this in books like Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places, or Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta. We can understand why people walk pilgrimages – like in the Canterbury Tales or the Carmen de Santiago.  Knowledge and experience, knowledge and the journey are of a piece and they interact with the moving through the land (walking) and the land itself. 

All these things titillated me, but not enough to actually make a map until this past week when I fired up ARCgis. And suddently I was wondering why people dont make more maps.

But what is my meta interest around maps and here I drew inspiration from Conner Habib’s podcast with Peter Bebergal. The main take away here is that maps are metaphors. I don’t know if that is true, but maps are something, they are a gauze over the world that enable you to see things from a particular vantage point and isolate particular features. A hill in a topographical map, is something different in a nature map (like what is growing on the hill). So we see an item in many different perspectives, or perhaps we can call it world views.  Sometimes you need the right map to highlight the route you want to take. Like I want to see a topographical map of San Francisco not just a road map, because SF is hilly and I don’t want to deal with that. 

How is a map a world?  A map is a tool, it is a technology. It is a world building technology. It outlines a particular ontology – ie it outlines beings. What are the tools that outline a metaphysics, ie the assumptions of the world. The map exists in a metaphysical frame where there are different world views. Ie metaphysics create an environment for tools. Or perhaps tools create a world in tandem with a metaphysics. 

One thing I would like to note is the discussion on technology in the podcast. There was a discussion on the role of the consciousness of the user in interacting with a tool – this I think is non controversial, although there is the one perspective of tool building that commodifies sense perceptions in that they standardize inputs and outputs.  The possible range of measurements that come from a ruler with inches and feet will always result in inches and feet, and this ruler will look at everything in terms of length (or two dimensions). There was a discussion of the film My Friend Dahmer, and how Dahmer would have fake seizures, but then had a real seizure and would not stop – that is when the ‘complex’ took hold, when he became a serial killer. Tools are things we can use to displace these sorts of personal transformations, we can work on a tool before we work on ourself. 

Personal work makes a difference. The particular practices an individual undertakes, whether it is religious, athletic, meditative, or what not affects a person both internally and externally. Tools and technologies are a way to transform the world with minimal transformation on the self.  If we imagine ourselves in co-creation with ourselves and the world, this additional variable what are ways to act on the world in a low footprint way is an ecological perspective. 

Living in world can be a heart hardening experience, how can we preserve the softness in our heart?