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Stephen Hawking's Pipe.

In his book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking says:

There is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality. Instead we will adopt a view that we will call model-dependent realism: the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations. This provides a framework with which to interpret modern science.

Does this mean I no longer need a disclaimer on my apps saying the Map is Not the Territory?

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That's Rene Magritte's (non-)pipe, of course. He drew it well before Hawking was born :-). But why do you need the disclaimer? Do you have clients (or viewers) who would mistake the map for what it depicts? – whuber Jun 27 '11 at 18:47
@whuber Years ago the multipurpose cadaster was to the GIS community what the Grand Unified Theory was to physicists. Lately it seems like interest in a multipurpose cadaster has waned. Still, it seems like maintaining two different models of something like an electric network (schematic and "actual") is viewed by many as a reflection of poor database design. Should we, like the physicists throw in the towel and just maintain different models? – Kirk Kuykendall Jun 27 '11 at 19:38
Here's a link for Multipurpose Cadaster, vintage 1980. – Kirk Kuykendall Jun 27 '11 at 19:45
@Kirk There are some deep questions here but they can be side-stepped by pointing out that a database "model" and a physical theory, qua "model," are two different things. Of course they share many characteristics, whence they both come by the name "model" honestly, but one problem that multiple physical theories do not have is the very problem one worries about with two database models of the same thing: namely, the difficulty in maintaining currency, consistency, and integrity whenever an item in one of the databases is updated. – whuber Jun 27 '11 at 19:46
@whuber This may seem esoteric, but I've seen a lot of effort put into converting pretty looking CAD drawings of an electric utility circuit diagram, making it reflect "reality" with a GPS survey, then spend even more effort to make it usable for mapping by deliberatly moving lines so they look nice, or more recently using cartographic representations. Some times I wonder if it is worth the effort. The "call before you dig" never trusts the maps anyway - they send field inspectors. – Kirk Kuykendall Jun 27 '11 at 20:43
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Does this mean I no longer need a disclaimer on my apps saying the Map is Not the Territory?


Model-dependent realism would say that every map creates its own reality. The map is not the physical reality, it's a model of the physical reality that we can comprehend. The physical reality is unknowable. The map is still not the territory. Model-dependent realism says that we can never know the territory, we can only know maps.

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Oh Wikipedia! You keep me amused (or tie me up at work) for hours.

Following your link led me to "The Blind Men and the Elephant", where six blind men describe an elephant by touch, each having a different description based on the part they touched.

Based on that theory I don't know you need a "Map is not the territory" warning. But you might need a "your interpretation of the elephant might not be the full picture" warning.

For example, I believe that there was a lawsuit of some sort in the UK when someone reading a map assumed a ski-lift pylon was depicted in an exact position, when in fact its color on the map was meant to indicate only an approximate position.

Perhaps (to borrow from that page) your warning could be:

So oft in cartographic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Or you could just go down the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy route and state: "Beware: The map is definitive. But reality is frequently inaccurate."

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Funny -and- informative. My kind of answer. – Nathanus Jun 27 '11 at 22:27

I am going to have to say yes that you need a disclaimer. You want to protect your integrity in that a user may look at data in/on your map or application and assume that it is always 100% correct because it looks like a map.

Several offices/agencies I have worked at are very specific with there disclaimers in that the data depicted is a representation of the object/location but only a appropriatly licensed authority can or will say that depiction is correct.

In some cases Surveyors have complained that a GIS print/plot with a text blurb of a partial legal description required a PLS stamp. To ensure your integrity; its always best to say that only the appropriate authority can say if 'X' is true and correct.

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