Maps, Projections & Perspectives

Our view of the world & its things are very much primed based on the mental models we grew up with (and still maintain). One such example is the classic world map: the Mercator projection. This is what most of us regards as the “world” (even Google Maps uses it).


This was adopted due to its ease of use for nautical transport (straight lines, yo). However, it distorts the size of landmass. Africa is substantially larger than most imagine. Here’s a map that shows how similar size circles are represented across the world.

Tissot’s Mercator

Truth is: there’s countless ways to try and make a sphere into a 2d space.

On top of the various projections, there’s no real reason why we adopt certain orientations. Why north is at the top is a mystery. There were various circumstances where the top was East (to the rising sun), and South (Egyptians saw the Nile as flowing down in the map).

My favourite reasoning is that at the time of the printing press, the cartographers at the time particularly enjoyed Ptolemy’s (an unrelated Ptolemy) cartographical work (now with lines & curvature!) and started reproducing it en masse (with North at the top). It’s apparently unknown why Ptolemy chose North as the top.

There’s no reason why we could view the world with South Africa as North Africa.

In space, no one can hear you ponder maps.

I find maps, their projections & their orientations fascinating, because it is a simple tool to get a different perspective. The world is never really what we seem it to be. By just switching out a new mental model (like a new map), the world simultaneously becomes more interesting, more malleable and wondrous.

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