There are maps of the Earth’s landmasses, the universe, the ocean floors, human migration, the human brain: maps are so integral to how we interact with the world that we sometimes forget that they are not the world. In When Maps Become the World (University of Chicago Press), Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther considers how maps get made, used, and abused, and how processes and problems from cartography can be found in the ways we create and use scientific theories. Winther, who is professor of humanities at the University of California – Santa Cruz, shows how “pernicious reification” – taking the map or model for what it represents -- can arise in science, and he argues for a form of pluralism about our understanding of the world, called contextual objectivity, that lies between realism and constructivism. The maps and drawings filling the book highlight Winther’s discussion and illustrate the power that maps and theories have to shape the way we think about the world.
Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.