Uses of geographic knowledge

Geographic knowledge is essential to us. We use it to know where things are and to use that knowledge as memories to make decisions and solve problems. We retrace our steps, take shortcuts, and navigate through unfamiliar territory easily.

We also associate variabilities in our environment with places to make them make sense. This is how we try to turn complicated, unintuitive spaces into complex but navigable spaces.

Importantly, we are so good at using this geographic knowledge that we tend to use it in all sorts of other contexts. The Method of loci or “memory palace” technique relies on our skill at Mapping and remembering those maps. Wayfinding conventions for the internet evolved to let us use those same skills in a brand new context.

Q: This seems like a key context for spandrels? 1 A reference to the spandrels of San Marco, an essay by Stephen J. Gould. Evolution happens in ways we don’t always expect.


Avraamides, Marios N., and Jonathan W. Kelly. “Multiple Systems of Spatial Memory and Action.” Cogn Process, 2008

We need to do two kinds of spatial processing (p. 93) - Online, to make decisions in the moment - This is unconsciously dynamically updated as you move through space, but decays quickly (p. 94, 97) - This is how you keep from bumping into things as you walk (both when you can see and when you’re moving through a dark room) - It’s very hard to notice yourself doing this kind of thing. - Offline, to deliberately remember spaces to communicate or reason about them - Planning how you’ll get somewhere, giving someone directions, or deliberately thinking about where something is are all off-line. (p 93) - This spatial reasoning is harder to update, but lasts much longer (p. 97, 99) - You can do it on purpose, but it’s at a coarser level of detail

Golledge, Reginald G. “The Nature of Geographic Knowledge.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 92, no. 1, 2002, pp. 1–14.

We use geographic knowledge for two fundamental purposes: To establish where things are and to remember where things are as we make decisions and solve problems. p 10

Good geographic knowledge is needed to trace your steps, take shortcuts, and navigate through unfamiliar territory. It lets you take multiple pieces of unrelated information and turn them into an integrated image you can use. p 11

The human brain doesn’t handle extreme diversity well, but it can handle variability, as long as it can find reasons for that variability, to allow it to categorize the variations and associate it with places. Associating a variation with a context is our way of making sense of chaos, and associating with a place is one of the things we are best at. p. 11