A map is not the territory, or is it?

‘A map is not the territory’ is a mantra introduced by the Polish-American mathematician Alfred Korzybski in an essay on the meaning of representation which he published in 1931. In it, he makes the very obvious point that an abstraction of something is not the thing itself and he uses the concept of the map to enforce this point. We all know what a map is. It is picture of the territory but with many details, in fact most details omitted. It may be similar to the thing but it can never be same. Korzybski’s thesis is a closely argued treatise about how close a representation must be to the thing it is associated with and in grappling with this problem, he implicitly defines a model, echoing to an extent the concept of the ‘digital twin’ that is preoccupying us somewhat in contemporary discussion of how we should build and use simulation models. In a previous editorial last year (Batty, 2018), I introduced the problem where I argued that such a digital twin must be an abstraction from the thing itself to which it is twinned. It may approach the thing itself but it can never be the same for the twin is a model as defined by an abstraction. Tomko and Winter (2019) took me to task in a rather gentle way for blurring this distinction in my saying that a twin is not the real thing but implying the twin needs to get as close as possible to the real thing. If we do get close, then the abstraction and the thing itself begin to merge. This does not quite reach the point where the twin is absorbed with the thing being abstracted but it does suggest that as our world – whether it be societies, cities, building complexes, etc. – evolves, then the digital landscape which hitherto we have regarded as something rather separate from the actual landscape begin to merge, producing a new landscape that is a mixture of both. We will elaborate this point below for it is intrinsic to the way in which material and digital societies relate to one another.


A map is not the territory, or is it?
Michael Batty
Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science

Source: journals.sagepub.com