Apples, airplanes, Alan Shatter and general semantics

Many philosophers and writers who like to think and discuss the relationship between words and reality, between sign and signifier, such as Alan Watts or Robert Anton Wilson, like to quote Alfred Korzybski’s famous dictum that “the map is not the territory” when explaining that the description of something is not the thing itself. It’s a handy and neat way of delving into the bottomless pit of general semantics and subjective reality. Watts used to also say “you don’t eat the menu” and Wilson liked to use an anecdote about moving house, to help further illustrate this point. Korzybski maintained that we used abstractions, symbols, signs, etc. to help us understand the world, but we end up mistaking these symbols for reality.

Today, the unlikely collision of Apple computers and Irish Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, has resulted in a wonderfully bizarre addition to the cannon. Apple have just unveiled their own map application and initial reaction has been less than favourable due to widespread reports of missing or incorrect information on their nascent service. Such an example has been found in Ireland where ‘Airfield Park’, which is a 35-acre estate, and not an airport, has erroneously and literally been deemed an ‘airfield’, signified as such by a small ‘airplane’ icon.

Enter into the fray Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter who has fired a concerned missive at the American electronics giant, urging them to correct this error post haste, citing that it

is dangerously misleading in that it could result in a pilot, unfamiliar with the area, in an emergency situation and without other available information, attempting a landing.

What is even more delightful (beyond the idea that airplane pilots might be using iPhones to navigate and simply using a little picture of an airplane as guidance) is Shatter’s suggestion for alternative imagery:

In context of Airfield there are a variety of possible alternative images that could be utilised such a cow, a goat, a sheep, a flower or any indeed other type of plant as Airfield operates a nursery.

Which, for me, offers us a unique portal into the mind of Mr. Shatter. He concludes:

An aircraft is an entirely inappropriate flight of imagination.

The map is not the territory, and the plane is not the airport. But the goat is the park.