Maps, yum.

Cartography has always been an area that has interested me.  How do we express our relationship to teh landscape in depictions that are supposedly ‘accurate’?  what features of landscape or human relationship do we emphasize?  What details reveal how much (or little) we know about a particular area?  What markers and symbols to we place on the edges of maps, at the edge of the known world?  How do we orient ourselves?

But recognizing those prejudices also allows the way for something else.  Recognizing the flaws inherent in representation, we can begin to tell other stories with these same shapes – the outline of borders, the sizing of regions.  And technology is beginning to help us in this flow of information manipulation, in this case, new software that creates equal area cartograms.  Using the software and compiled data, a book has been written and a website launched, displaying visually some of the more interesting and startling comparisons between nations in the world.  In particular, I thought the span of the Shinto religion was very interesting and spread over a strange area.  I guess it’s the Pacific Islands that make it that shape, but still, whoa.

A body is just a body.

Health professionals have noticed that women might not get the best treatment possible from their doctors due to researching and making their own interpretations, not asking questions, not recognizing gender bias, and not trusting their intuition.  The first two are understandable in the modern world.  With access to an increasing amount of information on the internet, of course we research and make our own interpretations more than might be healthy.  We might bias our own doctors with our assumptions, where medical professionals normally should have the experience that would lead them to better assumptions.  The last three are more difficult to understand.  After the ages when contemporary medicine told us our pain was due to a wandering womb, or the widespread appellation of hysteria during Victorian times, you might think we would’ve learned our lesson and been a bit more skeptical.

Why then, are we not asking questions?  Why are we not trusting our own judgment when it tells us something might not be right?  On reason might be the idea of medicine as law.  Medicine is one of the few hard sciences that every single person will encounter in their lives.  Despite questions of intelligent design and what should be taught in schools, the culture of this society has a healthy respect for science.  However, one of the key aspects of hard science that is often overlooked is that it is an exploration of the nature of things, a constant questioning, rather than a stable doctrine.  Yes, there are some ideas we’re pretty sure about, like the idea that the universe is expanding from what we can observe and the idea that smoking can predispose cells to become cancerous.  But we don’t know everything.  We’re still learning, especially in the area of personal health, rather than assured that certain symptoms are the result of a certain disease, or that certain lifestyles cause a longer, fuller life.

Another reason might be our own body image, and the idea of the physical form as controllable, at least to a certain extent.  There have always been ideas of clothing and face and body shape as an expression of who we are, both as individuals and as members of a particular class or society.  With a fuller understanding of our bodies as strictly physical, and plastic surgery and other body-modifying techniques, I think we tend to see ourselves as more changeable than we really are.  While our physical form is not the complete identity we possess, it is also more than a space where we are temporarily sheltered.  It holds a deeper connection to who we are, no matter how we control or change it.

Finally, one of my architecture professors dismissed my attempts to spare a few measly trees from the axe in one of my public park designs due to their physical shape.  He described them as not able to reach their true potential (either height or branch span) due to disease or impingement of sidewalks, structure, and power lines.  But a tree in the forest is also impinged upon, and is also subject to disease and lightening strike.  It does not make the form of the tree less appealing, or stop it from producing new leaves or branches, or simply living, as best it can.  We should not forget that about ourselves.