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New ways to look at the world

July 09, 2017 — Glyn Faulkner

Here's a map of the world, courtesy of Wikipedia. Spot anything wrong with it?

A map of the world

A map of the world

That's right, there's distortion towards the edges, an inevitable result of projecting a sphere onto a flat surface. Or maybe you weren't looking at the odd curvature of Australasia, East Asia and Alaska. Maybe you thought it was upside down?

If so, ask yourself why you thought that. The Earth is a ball floating in space, and the universe doesn't have any fixed notion of up and down. Putting north at the top is just a convention, and an arbitrary one at that. The early influential map makers lived in the northern hemisphere and noted the navigational significance of the north celestial pole, which appeared as a fixed point in the night sky. Had they lived below the equator they would perhaps have attached the same importance to the south instead.

Nevertheless, it is surprising how "wrong" the south-up world map looks, compared to upside-down text and faces. And surprises are often a sign that we have made an incorrect assumption about the world.

What other assumptions are you carrying around? What possibilities have you unconsciously ignored by accepting that things "just are" the way they are?

Tags: perspectives, geography, unconscious-bias

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