The map is not the territory.

This lesson is designed to be taught early in a ToK Course. It is designed to encourage students to question the veracity of their reality. It is a classic ToK / Psychology / Philosophy lesson, I include it here as help for teachers who may be new to teaching ToK.

Like all lessons posted here you should adapt this so that it is appropriate for your class group.

As a foundation of ToK the lesson relates to all AoKs and WoKs. The metaphor of the map is a metaphor to explain why AoKs exist, and what their weaknesses are.

Learning Intentions:

for students to understand that Knowledge can be thought of like a map:

knowledge is a representation of reality.
there may be multiple representations of the same reality,
there may be multiple realities pertaining to the same representation.
Knowledge is constructed for specific purposes or functions.
The intended function of knowledge will shape that knowledge.
The process of construction of knowledge shapes the actual knowledge.
The mere possession of knowledge is not the same a knowing.
What we know does not define what there is to know (albeit the illusion of the knower).

This list could go on & on.

The Metaphor of the Map helps students to reify knowledge,  to understand that knowledge is constructed and representative. Knowledge is also conditional, and contextual, just like a map.

Some of the lesson ideas here come from my erstwhile ToK teaching colleague Mr Gareth Stevens, check his site out for many other cool ideas.


1. Start with this YouTube video of 42 Magical Maps of the World.

2. Cool Presentation on the Metaphor of The Map

Students list things that they ‘know’. e.g. “I know….”:

that France exists, that Thailand is hot, that bottles are made of glass, that The Wizard of Oz is made up, etc etc

Students then classify their ‘knows’ by WoK. Language should be a big part of this / apparent.

Draw out the contrasts in WoKs.

3. Play the game Broken Telephone (once known, in less politically correct times, as Chinese Whispers).

exemplify that most knowledge is passed on knowledge, only known by 3rd hand, 4th hand etc etc.

4. Contrast Knowledge by experience with knowledge by description:

  • What do I know through primary experience ?
  • What do I know through secondary description ?
  • Is one more informative than the other ?

5. Descriptive labels are arbitrary.

Ways to say hello in different languages around the world.

Signified and Signifiers: explain.signifier-and-signified-7-728


Use slideshow: 




Descriptive labels need context, and contain symbolism.



6. Meaning is not fixed. Descriptive labels have multiple meanings.

Eats shoots and leaves.


7. Chomsky on language and meaning.

Video of Noam Chomsky discussing the use of language during the 1991 Gulf War.

8. Wittgenstein’s Language Games:

Our language defines our reality.

This essay is a good place to start (see the section on language games).

The School of Life YouTube Video on Wittgenstein.

Students to describe experiences for which there is not ‘a word’.

or if you have multi-lingual speakers ask them to list words / concepts which do not have direct translations to / from each language.

with gratitude for reference to:

Ian Rutherford’s ToK Blog and the absolutely wonderful Cartastrophe !


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