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I Literally Made a Map is Territory Mistake at 19 Years Old
I'm writing 30 posts in 30 days. This is number 7.
I still remember this incident back when I was serving compulsory military service. There was this navigational exercise where we have to find 4 checkpoints per small team. Each small team consists of four members. Each team was also given a map of the area where the checkpoints are supposed to be. Not all teams have the same checkpoints to avoid copying the answers, so to speak. End of the day, we are assessed by finding the checkpoints and then heading back to camp.
Before my team even moved for more than 300m from the start point, I spent nearly 1 hr on arguing with my team mates about a fork in the road. We have less than half the day to complete all the checkpoints so 1 hour spent arguing is really a waste of time.
The issue is this: according to the map, the first fork is expected around 800m from the start point but we encounter a fork much earlier. Say about 300m in. It’s not supposed to be there! The map says nothing about a fork 300m in the main road.
And so we spent nearly 1 hr deciding which route to take. Okay, it was mostly me agonizing and lamenting why the map didn’t show this fork. Or the fork 800m in was this one and we estimated the distance wrongly. We were not supposed to split up as well. If caught we would be punished. So we couldn’t try both routes and find out.
Imagine four silly soldiers hung around 300m away from the starting point arguing while other teams walked past them. That was my team.
Eventually we just gambled with continuing the main road. And it turned out the earlier fork was just simply not part of the map. The fork we were looking out for was indeed there.
Immediately after this, I adjusted my confidence of the map we were given. I never forgot the embarrassment of shouting at my team mates for being so laissez faire about the accuracy of the map. Their idea was basically, “let’s just move around and see how it goes” whereas I was more like “No! We cannot get lost! We only have a compass, a map and knowing that every 100m is about 72 steps. We have to be very precise and very careful!”
In the end, the entire navigational exercise turned out to be more like my team mates way of doing things than my way.
This wouldn’t be the last time my overly precise, rational brain overweight the “official” information sources and tripped me up. However, this was the most memorable one. When people talk about the dangers of not mistaking the map for the territory as a metaphor for confusing the representation of an object for the object itself, I always recall this incident when I was 19 years old. Mistaking the map for the territory was quite literally the mistake I made back then.