Maps Aren't Territories

The Idea

Contributed by @philhagspiel |  Edited and curated by @philhagspiel

The model of reality is not reality itself.

The abstraction is not the abstracted.

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World View

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Mental Models

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The world is complex. As it is impossible to comprehend and account for all details from all angles and for all relations between parts, we need simplifications that help us navigate reality.

Actual city maps abstract from urban complexity to streets and buildings — usually good enough to help us get to where we want to go.

Performance reviews and evaluations at work are an abstraction from the nuanced complexities of everyday processes, communications, choices and outcomes in our job.

A full-fledged training plan with daily exercise routines is a map to the complex systems of health, physiology and metabolism.

Values and norms (such as honesty and integrity) are simplified navigation tools for what we believe is true about the complex reality of effective human interaction and cause and effect.

While basically everything we do relies on some form of map, the world both constantly changes and repeatedly provides feedback to us regarding how well the maps we use actually work.

Thus, our abstractions need to be updated with more information and our experience of using them.

Google maps needs to update regularly, performance review processes need to be adapted over time, training plans should adapt to your experiences with them, our values to life should evolve with our understanding of it.

When we believe our maps to be ultimate truth and if we close off feedback loops, we become rigid, dogmatic and ignorant.

"Maps describe a territory in a useful way, but with a specific purpose. They cannot be everything to everyone."

— Alfred Korzybski

“The only way we can navigate the complexity of reality is through some sort of abstraction.”

— Shane Parrish

“The map appears to us more real than the land.”

— D.H. Lawrence

“All models are wrong but some are useful.”

— George Bo

Explore

➞ A great view on the map-territory relation regarding reasoning and decision making can be found in this blog post.

➞ For an overview of the origins of this idea as well as its widespread applications, read through this short Wikipedia article.

Resources

If this idea resonates with you, some of these resources might add value to your life.

LinkNAMEFormatAuthor
Predictably Irrational
Book
Dan Ariely
Thinking Fast And Slow
Book
Daniel Kahnemann
Factfulness
Book
Hans Rosling
The Sovereign Individual
Book
James Dale Davidson
The Sovereign Individual
Book
James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg
VSI: Thinking & Reasoning
Book
Jonathan Evans
Antifragility
Book
Nassim Taleb
Skin In The Game
Book
Nassim Taleb
Fooled By Randomness
Book
Nassim Taleb
Principles
Book
Ray Dalio
59 Seconds - Think A Little Change A Lot
Book
Richard Wiseman
The Great Mental Models (vol. 2)
Book
Shane Parrish
The Great Mental Models (vol. 1)
Book
Shane Parrish
Enlightenment Now
Book
Steven Pinker
21 Lessons For The 21st Century
Book
Yuval Noah Harari
Paul Graham
Blog
Paul Graham
Farnam Street
Blog
Shane Parrish
Lesswrong
Blog
Edge.org
Blog
Untools.co
Blog
The Systems Thinker
Blog
Modern Wisdom
Podcast
Christ Williamson
You Are Not So Smart
Podcast
David McRaney
The Portal
Podcast
Eric Weinstein
Lex Fridman Podcast
Podcast
Lex Fridman
The Knowledge Project
Podcast
Shane Parrish
Philosophize This!
Podcast
Stephen West
Conversations With Tyler
Podcast
Tyler Cowen
Philosophy For Our Times
Podcast
Hidden Brain
Podcast
Kurzgesagt
YouTube Channel
TED-ed
YouTube Channel
Crash Course: Statistics
YouTube Channel
3Blue1Brown
YouTube Channel
Quanta Magazine
YouTube Channel
Primer
YouTube Channel
Veritasium
YouTube Channel
Talks at Google
YouTube Channel
Vsauce
YouTube Channel
Brilliant.org
Courses