Archive for February, 2011

The Map

February 14, 2011

Once there was a Cartographer who was committed to mapping all the islands in the South Seas. He apprenticed many junior cartographers, and equipped them with his Master-Map, a map that contained the size, location and shape of every island in the South Sea. He sailed with his apprentices to those islands in the ship Geloof, taking many months to arrive. His ship would leave the junior cartographers on one of the islands for several months, and then return for them. Their task was to study the island’s features and return their work to the Master Cartographer.

His Master-Map was invaluable. In fact, were it not for the Master-Map, the junior cartographers would not have been able to orient themselves to the landscape they were looking at. They would have been simply overwhelmed by all the details of the land. With Master-Map in hand, they understood what side of the island they were on, recognized coast-lines, and gained a good sense of proportion and direction. Their work would have been impossible and meaningless without the Master-Map.

Once on the island, the cartographers set up camp and began their work of studying the features of the island. They measured inland lakes, noted topographical features, sketched the paths of streams, and returned each evening with their diagrams, measurements and calculations. Around a hearty supper and fire, the cartographers would compare notes, and imagine how the Master Cartographer would put it all together.

However, after several months, a change came over some of the men. They began becoming very restless with the whole exercise. They started withdrawing, refusing to go out in the morning with the others and instead sketching their own pictures and diagrams in their make-shift huts. The others continued to go out each day to do the hard, sweaty work of exploration and mapping.

Inevitably, these differences came to a head, and arguments broke out. The Reclusives began accusing the other cartographers of denying the sufficiency of the Master-Map. They said that such men were inserting their own subjective views of the island as authoritative. They claimed that respectable cartographers would trace the Master-Map and do nothing else. Cartographers who honored the Master-Cartographer would re-draw the Master-Map in miniature, or in sections, or some other way. But only arrogance would cause a cartographer to draw his own map and dare fit it into the Master-Map.

To this the other cartographers responded with some puzzlement. After all, they replied, had not the Cartographer given them the assignment of understanding the islands he sent them to? Did he not want them to discover the details of the islands first-hand, and return with that knowledge?

One cartographer, Engel, tried to placate the fears of the Reclusives. “We are not trying to contradict the Master-Map, or even adjust it in any way. Indeed, its presence is what makes any other mapping possible. If we discovered something that contradicted the Map, we would doubt our own senses. But the Master-Map was never meant to function as an intricate guide to all the details of the islands. These we must discover by investigating the islands themselves.”

“Our point exactly!” said one in response. “If the Master-Map did not include those details, then they do not matter. The Cartographer himself would have included them had they mattered. If the details are not in the Master-Map, they must be features that are changeable, and not worth recording. ”

Engel tried to keep his tone even. “The Master-Map does not include those details because they are not the reason for the Master-Map. This does not make them insignificant. For example, just yesterday we discovered a ravine with a sheer drop of 150 feet. This is not on the Master-Map, but it does not contradict the Master-Map. It is important that we know this and return with such knowledge. It will perhaps spare many lives, if we do so.”

“Nonsense. The Master-Map provides all an explorer needs for life and healthiness.  For all your sophistry, you men are subtly denying the final and ultimate authority of the Map. The great battle-cry of modern exploration has always been de kaart alleen.”

With that, the Reclusives went back into their huts and rejoiced in their commitment to the Map alone, and congratulated themselves for the fact that they were not like their misguided fellows, who were so given to the debating of areas on which the Map was silent.

The others went on studying each day, trying to understand the island, by comparing what they discovered with the authoritative Master-Map.

And then the Cartographer returned.