In 1933 Alfred Korzybski discussed the relationship between maps and the non-symbolic Territory in his book Science and Sanity. He used this metaphor of maps as a way to describe any human creation that attempts to illustrate our analysis and understanding of our experience of living and being. He used the word map to point towards other terms such as ideas, images, theories, metaphors, symbols, models, systems, etc. Basically he meant the term map to point toward any and all mental construction and mental tool that we make. Map making is the process of understanding and experiencing life. Seventy-seven years later the Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience, uses the term map in essentially the same way but he links it and roots it to the physiological processes of the brain/body.

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio, Pantheon Books, 2010

Chapter 3: Making Maps and Making Images

While the management of life is unquestionably the primary function of human brains, it is hardly their most distinctive feature. As we have seen, life can be managed without a nervous system, let alone a full-fledged brain. Modest unicellular organisms do pretty well at housekeeping.

The distinctive feature of brains such as the one we own is their uncanny ability to create maps. Mapping is essential for sophisticated management, mapping and life management going hand in hand. When brain makes maps, it informs itself. The information contained in the maps can be used nonconsciously to guide motor behavior efficaciously, a most desirable consequence considering that survival depends on taking the right action. But when brains make maps, they are also creating images, the main currency of our minds. Ultimately consciousness allows us to experience maps as images, to manipulate those images, and to apply reasoning to them.

Maps are constructed when we interact with objects, such as a person, a machine, a place, from the outside of the brain towards its interior. I cannot emphasize the word interaction enough. It reminds us that making maps, which is essential for improving actions as noted above, often occurs in a setting of action to begin with. Action and maps, movements and mind, are part of an unending cycle, an idea suggestively captured by Rodolfo Llinas when he attributes the birth of the mind to the brain’s control of organized movement.

Maps are also constructed when we recall objects from the inside of our brain’s memory banks. The construction of maps never stops even in our sleep, as dreams demonstrate. The human brain maps whatever objects are outside of it, whatever actions occurs outside of it, and all the relationships that objects and actions assume in time and space, relative to each other and to the mother ship known as the organism, sole proprietor of our body, brain, and mind. The human brain is a born cartographer, and the cartography began with the mapping of the body inside which the brain sits.

The human brain is a mimic of the irrepressible variety. Whatever sits outside the brain—the body proper, of course, from the skin to the entrails, as well as the world around, man woman, and child, cats and dogs and places, hot weather and cold, smooth textures and rough, loud sounds and soft, sweet honey and salty fish—is mimicked inside the brain’s networks. In other words, the brain has the ability to represent aspects of the structure of nonbrain things and events, which includes the actions carried out by our organism and its components, like limbs, parts of the phonatory apparatus, and so forth. How the mapping happens exactly is easier said than done. It is not a mere copy, a passive transfer from the outside of the brain toward its inside. The assembly conjured by the senses involves an active contribution offered from inside the brain, available from early in development, the idea that the brain is a blank state having long since lost favor. The assembly often occurs in the setting of movement, as noted earlier.

A brief note on terminology: I used to be strict about using the term image only as a synonym of mental pattern or mental image, and the term neural pattern or map to refer to a pattern of activity in the brain as distinct from the mind. …But why complicate matters, for myself and for the reader, by using separate terms to two things that I believe to be equivalent? Throughout this book, I use the terms image, map, and neural pattern almost interchangeably. On occasion I also blur the line between mind and brain, deliberately, to underscore the fact that the distinction, while valid, can block the view of what we are trying to explain. (pp 63-65)