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A Map Is Only Useful If It Simplifies Things. To What Extent Does This Apply To Knowledge?

1519 words - 6 pages

“A map is only useful if it simplifies things.” To what extent does this apply to knowledge?”
The title of this essay claims that the usefulness of a map in knowledge is limited to its ability to simplify things. Before I discuss this, it is important to look at the key words used in phrasing the claim.
A map can be defined as a clear representation of any physical space or a place in existence. “The area depicted on maps can range from the entire world to just a neighborhood, and most maps are depicted on a flat two-dimensional plane. The purpose of a map is to describe spatial relationships of specific features that the cartographer or mapmaker chooses to represent.” (James Ford Bell Library) In using this analogy, the title, I believe, is referring to the models and representations in various areas of knowledge and not a cartographical map per se. Simplicity is the state of being simple and uncomplicated. It is widely held that the most effective knowledge is the simplest and the most straightforward, both to explain and to use, although this is not always the case. According to Ramm,simplicity embraces exactly the right details, the right difficulties, the right complexity, but because everything is tied together in the right way, you are left with a sense of clarity, and a sense that everything belongs exactly where it is. Simplicity is achieved when everything means something. (Ramm) Here it is seen that in the acquisition of knowledge, simpliticy is a good thing, ergo if a map is simplified, it must be good and useful.

The claim being discussed here is that the only way a map or a way of representing things can be useful is if it simplifies the knowledge that the actual territory gives, that is, if it reduces the salient information to the most important ‘two or three instead of a hundred or a thousand’ (Duck). This raises some knowledge questions such as, Do maps always simplify and is this its only usefulness? Can a map that does not simplify give knowledge? I shall be interrogating these questions in the Areas of knowledge of the Natural and Human Sciences.
Firstly, in knowledge, the analogy can be taken that a map here can be said to refer to the various areas on knowledge. These areas of knowledge have their various territories and without a map to show the limits and borders, we risk a confused understanding of the various Areas of Knowledge and its particular features. An example is the natural sciences, a branch of sciences which deals mainly with the physical world around us. “This includes our own physiology, of course, so anything in medicine that is involved with how our bodies work”. (IB Diploma Educators and Students). The various subjects under this include Biology, Chemistry and Physics. These are clearly delineated on the map to further simplify the various aspects of the natural world although they may not necessarily occur differently. For example I learnt in Chemistry that the bonds present in a molecule of water...

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