What do you mean? This map works great!

“What do you mean? This map works great!”

Imagine you encountered someone who believes the earth is flat. (Maybe you don’t have to imagine.) Setting aside any particular huff-ery about being right for a moment, you engage in conversation about the usefulness of this map in this person’s day to day life.

Does it tell them where the roads go, and how to get from one place to another? Check. 100% accurate.

Where are the rivers and the mountain ranges, and how can I navigate through and across them? Check.

How to navigate the land is not a problem with either map, yours or theirs.

In fact, again we could say this flat earth map is, contextually speaking, entirely accurate in that it entirely answers the questions we asked (points A and B, and what’s between).

Of course, this map would and does break down, become inaccurate and even useless, but only by asking different questions, by asking questions from quite literally a different perspective.


Of course, I write a lot about body stuff, and that was on my mind when starting this metaphor. And there are many. Perhaps biomechanics as an amalgamation of force lines — however complexly layered — is a good one.

There is a broad category of perspectives in which this kind of questioning — “what does this muscle do? is it weak or strong? what are its functional antagonists in this movement?” — are entirely reasonable, and will produce accurate, useful results.

Does that mean it’s an accurate map?

Depends on your point of view …


  1. Humility about what’s right, even in a strictly empirical sense. Knowing the earth is round may or may not help you answer any given question about navigation; for most earth-bound questions, it’s no better than a round-earth map.

  2. When the time does come — or rather, the question comes — when that flat map no longer answers the questions you’re asking … It is a kind of courageous step, I think, to set it aside and assume a new vantage.

    This new vantage is really in addition to, not replacing in a traditional sense, the old viewpoint.


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