Thursday, July 22, 2010

an infinite map

In The Book of Sand Borges describes an infernal volume whose pages change while the book is closed, "because neither sand nor this book has a beginning or end." In The Library of Babel he describes a “perhaps infinite” library of exponential proportions. On the Exactitude of Science describes the drafting and demise of a 1:1 map whose details minutely recorded the territory mapped, "the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire." And in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius he describes the creation of the world of Tlön - "the world will be Tlön." All more than 50 years ago.

Now, I can see no reason why it should not be possible to create a screen-based map of a world whose dimensions are not finite. Instead of using the existing terrestrial data and satellite/aerial photographic tiling techniques as in Google Earth/Maps, I propose a computer-generated system in which a core map is extended on-the-fly according to user "travel", and hence, given appropriate processor power and memory, could extend indefinitely.

Such an infinite map realises some intellectual challenges. As there are no edges to the map it must represent a map which is brimming with conundrums - a world which is essentially flat, as opposed to our near-spherical planet. Yes, maybe it could be a large spiral, or any another ribbon-based form, but both the mapping and the experience would be of flatness.

Not only can there be no meaningful cardinal points (there can be no poles on the flat surface), but there can be no longitude nor latitude, and conventional north-south orientation (way-upness) is meaningless. A new system is required for navigation and location.

The world referenced by the map could not support a circadian rhythm, nor seasons, nor lateral geographical zones as we know them. It would not have tides, nor gravity as we know it, nor the plate tectonics which shape our continents, nor the same volcanic and weather systems which shape our landscapes. Our terrestrial physical laws will not always apply. And unlike all current maps which are based on data culled in situ alongside photographic and satellite images, the infinite map would never have been visited or photographed. It is an accurate map of terra incognita, and a singular instance in which the territory is the map.

All would have to be synthesised - with all the magical possibilities that could bring - anyone could be an explorer.

Such a world, were it to exist, could have an infinite mass spread thinly over infinite space; and I have been told that time and distance would not be as we know them...


SimonT said...

sounds rather like a fractal landscape

Adrian Bregazzi said...

I suppose so, but I understand fractals to be largely self-replicating and single functions which cannot deal with the variety of landscape we actually encounter "out there". This infinite map is not an attempt to produce walk-through environments, though that could be an objective eventually, rather it should provide the opportunity for novel landscape phenomena to occur (say, cold volcanoes, very local seismic activity, negative gravity) within more familiar contexts. But I am also interested in how that world could exist without circadian rhythms, tides, and terrestrial weather, etc)

Many thanks for the comment - you must have known I was thinking of emailing you!!!