Map Theory

Originally published Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Maps are windows to the past, though many hold a map and pretend they see the future. “Here is where I will go,” they say pointing to a location on a map. That location represents their future to them, but it is actually the past. If I hold a map created in ancient Greece that depicted the streets and shops in Troy, I could point to a location and say, “I’m going there,” but it is impossible. I am pointing to a location that existed in the past, that does not exist today, nor will it exist tomorrow. Hold a street map of New York City, created in 1999, and locate the World Trade Center. Plan your route from any other location in New York to the World Trade Center. Your route is meaningless as you are attempting to travel into the past, into a time when the World Trade Center existed. Sure, you can occupy the exact same coordinates of the World Trade Center as the map indicates, but you will not be at the World Trade Center.

Even if you rely upon real time satellite imagery to take a picture of a city, the picture is of the past, at least is the past by the time you see it. It may only be a few seconds into the past, but it is only an indicator of how the place will be in the future.

Do not trust maps to plan your future. All we know for certain is we are here, right here, at this moment, and this place is as we see it. We can make predictions regarding how it will be in the very near future, but have no way of knowing how it will be in the far future.

“Don’t worry, I have a map.”

Maps, like plans, are crutches. At some point they are almost as valuable as folklore as a way to navigate your future. An explorer has gone to and returned from a remote location, created a detailed map of his journey. He hands you the map and say, “You too can make this journey.” No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to replicate the explorer’s journey. The terrain shifts over time. What has been marked on the map as a creek is now a raging dangerous river. A clearly indicated path on the map has become overgrown with underbrush. Safe drinking water has been become tainted, and a cave used for safe lodging has been taken over by a large bear.

We can’t help but use voices from the past to help guide our way into the future, but we must be fully aware, the past is the past and the future is unwritten, unexplored. Our journey to the future is a singular one. We cannot follow another person’s footsteps exact enough to duplicate his successes and failures. If someone tells you he has the map to success, you know that the map is faulty because it only represents how success was accomplished in the past, not how it can be accomplished now or in the future.