Map and Territory

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Human: In this conversation, we edit the micro-wiki page "Map vs Territory", intended to be an overview.

v1: vague, and unnecessarily ingroup-coded:

Models of reality are often mistaken for reality itself, and clarifying the distinction is an important rationalist technique.

v2: very brief and yet precise

Our beliefs and assumptions are not always accurate reflections of the real world. It's easy to confuse our mental models of reality with reality itself. Recognizing the difference is important for clear thinking and open-mindedness.


v3: slightly less brief, with everyday wording, additional details, and comparisons to other names for the concept:

Our mental frameworks for understanding the world often differ from reality itself. It's easy to mistake the map that we hold in our minds for the actual territory it's representing. Recognizing the difference between the map and the territory is crucial for clear thinking, open-mindedness, and avoiding biases.

Other names for this concept include:

• Theory vs reality • Beliefs vs facts • Mental models vs what's really there

For example, we might assume that all neighborhoods are as safe or unsafe as the one we grew up in, or that all jobs involve the same daily tasks as our current one. But those are just maps in our mind - the territory, or what's really out there, differs. Updating our mental maps to more closely match the territory leads to better choices and less surprising encounters with the unexpected.

The "map is not the territory" is a key idea in fields like productivity, rational thinking, and cognitive psychology. Keeping an open and curious mindset focused on what's really there rather than our preconceptions helps us achieve our goals and gain a more accurate understanding of the world.