Cognitive maps: the example of Diego Guitierrez

This map of the Atlantic by Diego Guitierrez if very much interesting not only because it dates of 1550 but also because of it distortion of Newfoundland and North Canada. This anamorphosis is voluntary and the author perfectly knew what he was doing and the consequences to be condemned by the authorities. Of course, breaking the conventions and the scale in visual representation and most of all mapping is a fault. But sometime it seems that conventions are less accurate or relavant than reflexion and pragmatism.

If Diego Guitierrez decided to represent the North Canada longer that it is actually in regard of the proportion of the other parts of the world is because this visualization is closer to the experience of this part of the world than strictly mathematical one. This is due to the magnetic field of the North which is not on the North Pole but moving somewhere in North Canada, that means that compass does not have a constant attraction according to the position on Earth, and an angle becomes narrow close to the magnetic North the viewing measure would be bigger than there are. Diego put this information inside his map such that using the same compass every where in the North Atlantic will allow to read the landscap as it appears to be within the experience and measures on the field instead of it should be according to the mathematical projection from the North Pole.

But this is still a map, with latitudes and parallels, it permits to draw calculus on this representation of Earth and paths in the World. It is very much interesting that this kind of smart representation has been condemned because it breaks the formalism. In fact, formalism is ou ought to be a tool to mark a certain cognitive representation, not a stranglehold that limits and narrows the thought.

The representation of Atlantic by Diego is deep, bold and highly relevant: it started with formal consideration and mathematical convention, gathered practical knowledge, and reinterpreted the first draft taking in account the user's skills, interpretations and experiences to produce a tool that could be used, i.e. a good tool.

This example fits perfectly with the notion of cognitive map: Diego Guitierrez not only drew the Atlantic, but also the conventions of his time and most of all the reading of the world by the navigators of his time. This is not a picture of the Earth, but rather a cognitive prothesis for seeking a path on the reality. This is rare and precious, relevant and useful.

You can see this map at the French National Library, BNF.