Naïve geography

According to research in the fields of cognitive psychology and geography, people tend to make sense of landscapes, navigate through them, and make calculations about them in a similar set of ways. I’m going to focus on the way untrained people do this without exerting too much effort. People who are experts in a field (like trained geographers) are often trained to think about the world in a different way. Some theoreticians call this usual way of interacting with landscapes “naïve geography.”

There’s a related field of study called “naïve physics,” describing how we all calculate the trajectory of an item into a trash can, how far a ball will go when we kick it, or whether something will break if we drop it from a certain height. Naïve geography describes how we constantly engage in a similar set of explanations, descriptions, and predictions with the landscapes we live in. “Naïve” in this sense means “intuitive” or “common sense,” not “showing a lack of experience.”

Spatial knowledge is phenomenal, we know landscapes in our bodies.

Naïve geography is part of us because geographic knowledge is essential for human life.

Principles of naïve geographic thinking

  1. The earth is flat and square
  2. Maps are more real than experience
  3. Distance is measured in travel time
  4. Incomplete geographic information is fine
  5. Multiple maps at different levels of detail

See: Wayfinding for legible landscapes


Egenhofer, Max J., and David M. Mark. “Naive Geography.” Spatial Information Theory A Theoretical Basis for GIS, edited by Andrew U. Frank and Werner Kuhn, Springer, 1995, pp. 1–15.

Hayes, Patrick J. “The Second Naïve Physics Manifesto.” Computation & Intelligence: Collected Readings, American Association for Artificial Intelligence, 1995, pp. 567–85.