Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Summing up [maps]

I started doing a summing-up of where I've gotten to on this blog. The mappy part I got, I think, and is below. The Quakery part, not so much.


We measure the earth.

Our measurements are a way of paying attention, but when we measure, we pay more attention to norms than to idiosyncratic instances: we see a series of things in the same category—"road" for example—rather than the peculiar ways individual houses are different. When we measure, we are finding something out about the world that is not peculiar to ourselves. Or at least, this is true when we measure using rulers and standard units of measurement

The result moves us away from a record of direct experience—and thus from a connection to that experience—and toward understanding of the world through an abstracted filter. This abstracted version of the world makes it possible to work with strangers, and so also makes possible an alienated, broadly-based, urban society. Thus measurement isn't all that different from language, which both allows us to communicate with those who do not share our direct experience, and cages our own experience.

By defining and categorizing, this measurement of the earth also makes it clear that we are different and separate from the earth. The measurer and the measured are supposed to be distinct. When we measure the earth and also when we name parts of the earth, we reinforce a sense of separation from the earth; measurement places a measuring tool between ourselves and the thing being measured. By contrast, direct repeated experience reinforces a sense of connectedness to the specific piece of ground we are experiencing. We don't need the measured version of a familiar territory, but measurements with new tools may reveal something new and unfamiliar within familiar territory.

Measuring also allows us to comprehend a scale of the earth that is outside our everyday experience. When we use the results of measurement to talk about a territory that stretches further than we can see, our a route past that bend in the road, we can talk about that route or territory not just as accumulations of places, but as entities of their own. It's no accident that small-scale maps and cosmological drawings often leach over into one another. Both describe spatial ideas that encompass, but are beyond, our moment-to-moment experience.


Anonymous said...

Hello from Russia!
Can I quote a post "No teme" in your blog with the link to you?

natcase said...

Quotes from the blog are fine, as long as they're linked back here. I'd appreciate it if related discussions are mentioned here, so others (myself included) can follow them. Thanks for asking!