The map is not the territory.

Most people have no clue what that phrase means, but it's very important.

In a park near you, there is likely a tree of some sort. It doesn't matter if it's tall or short, evergreen or perennial, flowering or not. The tree exists.

You have an image of the tree, a concept of it, a description. You can reference it in conversations with others, or in poetry if the fancy takes you, because of this. But, and here is the tricky part, the concept you have of the tree is not the same thing as the tree itself.

The tree exists as a thing, whether you think of it or not, whether you name it or not, whether you comprehend it or not. The thing itself, the existence that is true even if there was nothing to observe it, is called a nuomenon. Your idea of the thing, your descriptions and memories and such, are called the phenomenon (which is "the thing as perceived"). The two are very distinct.

A single nuomenon can have multiple phenomena - in fact, there's at least one for every observer. Each person, animal, insect, or even bacteria experiences the tree separately and thus has a different, unique way of describing it. These phenomena can be related, shared between people (or other creatures) with words or sounds or scents.

The thing itself, though - the nuomenon - is singular. It exists independent of (and in fact outside) observation, and it cannot be related or experienced. In a sense, the phenomenon is the map of your neighborhood, while the nuomenon is the actual neighborhood itself. The map is useful, but it can't in any way represent the full reality of the neighborhood: the smells, the sights, the friendliness or animosity of neighbors, etc.

The point is, the two are separate. The description or experience of something, while useful, is not the thing itself. The map is not the territory.

The problem arises when people begin to think that the map is the territory: when they start to mentally think of their description of something as being equivalent to the thing itself. One very common but unfortunate example of this is stereotyping: someone recognizes a prominant characteristic of a group of people and then uses that characteristic (and usually whatever negative traits they associate with it) as the full description of anyone in the group. Individuals are, obviously, individuals, and usually differ drastically in many ways, but to the stereotyper, their description (the map) has become synonymous with the individual (the territory).

Other examples:
  •  In organizations, the tendancy over time is to being to treat the company like an org chart or process description with people merely filling in roles. This generally causes tension and discord, since organizations are living, fluid, dymanic systems.
  • In science, many scientists who have worked with certain theories over time begin to think like the theory is reality, rather than just being a description of reality; this often leads to drama when data arises that doesn't fit the theory.
  • In schools, grades have become the reason for the classes, rather than a method for demonstrating understanding of the content of the classes. A high test score is not equivalent to comprehension of the content.

Sometimes, people try to confuse map and territory deliberately. A good example of this is the "Tea Party", which is trying to get people to see the entire party as only one aspect of the movement (the anti-government portion) and completely miss the full spectrum of what the movement is actually doing/vowing to do (to be fair, most political parties do this).

Maps should be dynamic: they change as new information becomes available, just like Google updating their satellite photos. Too often, mistaking the map for the territory leads to undue dependency or emotional ties to a specific map. That makes it harder (if not impossible) for the individual to adapt as reality changes, and makes any decisions made based on the faulty map automatically suspect.

If you ever find yourself frustrated that something isn't behaving "as it should", this is almost always a sign that your map is faulty and needs to be adjusted: either your understanding is flawed or your information is incomplete (or both). The nuomenon is perfect (in the sense that it is entirely self-consistent), so any inconsistency has to be in the phenomenon (your understanding/experience of it).

Ignoring the realities of the territory and simply assuming the map is correct can lead you to walk off of cliffs, metaphorical or otherwise.

1 comment:

AndyDrewby said...

It seems to me that if this same concept could be effectively applied between two people?
Seems similar to your posting on facts but do facts ultimately lead to understanding the nuomenon of a thing or a process?