The map as territory: Perception versus reality

Perception is not reality. Our perceptions are the result of information about the physical world being generated by our senses and converted into an internalized representation or simulation of reality.

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And it’s not just that our senses limit and filter information from the physical world. Our internal processes for interpreting information are influenced by a variety of factors as well.

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Among these factors, previous experience plays a key role. Our experiences of what has happened in the past (memory) also inform our expectations of what is possible (imagination). From our experiences and expectations we develop unconscious strategies to help us process information more efficiently. While perhaps necessary for optimal cognitive functioning, these strategies — our mental models, cognitive schemas, paradigms of consciousness, etc — often force what we perceive to conform to our internal representation of what our experiences and expectations determine we should perceive. Or, as Baudrillard describes, instead of reality generating our internal map of the world, our internal maps of the world generate our reality.

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If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where the decline of the Empire sees this map become frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts — the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an Imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing) — then this fable has come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.

Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: The desert of the real itself.

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