200th Post – How flippin big is Brazil??! Our mental models of maps

Well here is my 200th post. I have been having thoughts about complexity, chaos, networks, leadership and what is happening in my dear Blighty right now, but I think I will save these thoughts for until such time that I have something positive to say about my own country which is struggling to come to terms with its shadow self. If you are not British you are only likely to have seen a very small part of a quite horrendous picture emerge these last few weeks, but that is all I have to say right now.

Fast track way to recover from Nature Deficit Disorder
Photo: Cristina Morini

But this is my 200th blog, and so I thought I would just keep things much lighter and slightly silly. I had an amazing holiday last weekend on Ilha Grande (Large Island) off the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro with my always wonderful wife Maria, and our friends Cris and Eduardo and Ana Paula and Miguel.

Beach Lopes Mendes on Ilha Grande

This is a quite spectacular island the nature of which is heavily protected, and there are no cars here. There is just one little town with a few pousadas (bed and breakfasts) and you get around either by walking along the natural trails, or by taking a boat to the many different beaches and lagoons, some of which can be the most incredible blue when it is sunny. While we were there it was mostly cloudy with some rain. This was fine for a hardy Brit like me, and to be honest probably suited me quite well since when the sun did come out it was blisteringly hot.

Ferry trip back to the mainland

Typically enough the sun did come out the day we were leaving, but that’s fine. I am sure we will be returning again some time soon. It was wonderful for me because living in São Paulo I am sure I am suffering somewhat from what Richard Louv calls Nature Deficit Disorder. So I took every opportunity to jump in cascading pools, waterfalls and mess around in the sea, which again being British was absolutely no issue, as I soon got used to the not-really-cold-at-all waters.

São Paulo to Angra dos Reis

Brazil does not have any railways and so we had to drive. To avoid the congestion we left São Paulo at 2am and arrived at the post of Angra dos Reis around 8am where we left the car and caught the ferry. This was a trip of 400km which is around 250 miles, which I reckon is London to Lancaster. I did this calculation to calibrate just how far it was compared to a journey I am used to. Of course London to Lancaster is pure motorway, whereas some of this trip was on some very bendy dual carriageway along the coast.

Above is a map of Brazil to put the journey into the context of the whole of the country. We travelled from A to B : )

Source: Wikipedia

I then went to look at Brazil compared to the UK on the map above. This is the Mercator projection, created by Gerardus Mercator in 1569. It is still in use today, and here you can better see Brazil (and most of South America) compared to Europe.

Look at the lines to see how much Europe is distorted, to become much larger than it actually is. In 1974 Dr. Arno Peters, a German historian and cartographer created his projection to aid in developing a realistic perception of the world (Reference Directions Mag). Here it is below.

Peters Projection

Look at the difference! Here’s the comparison with Europe and the whole of South America.

Peters Projection South America and Europe compared

Having a Brazilian wife has really made me think a lot about mental models and how we see ourselves in the world, especially as I actually live in Brazil and am experiencing very different world views and mental models to ones that I am normally used to. Ramona Currie writes that:

Unfortunately, many Northern Hemisphere residents whose educational experience has been limited to the Mercator projection and similar presentations often are displeased with the “different” appearance of the Peters projection land masses. They feel more comfortable with the familiar Mercator projection—even though the latter’s depiction of the world is unrealistic.

A More Realistic View of Our World

As a Brit I have to say that seeing the Peters Projection does make me feel uncomfortable as it is so different to what my own mental model of the map of the world looks like. Actually, I once drew the UK on a napkin in a restaurant to some Brazilian friends to explain the UK, and Maria laughed at me saying that my depiction of Scotland was far too large.

If I am in a slight state of confusion, I think it could be worse for many football fans coming to Brazil for the world cup in 2014. I think many could be in for quite a shock when they are more used to taking trains or busses from their bases to the stadiums. In Brazil, many fans are going to be flying between games, and they will be paying premium prices for their seats. I really don’t think they realise just how big Brazil is, and are going to be mightily cheesed off when they realise how political the choice of venues was.

(Actually, I was told by a certain person in project management here in Brazil that England is now the official back up plan should Brazil be unready to host the cup due to incompletely built stadium. England is plan C in fact, with plan B being holding the cup in fewer stadium. I think this is meant to be secret still although it is being discussed on internet forums. Who knows and only time will tell).

To live in Brazil is to have your eyes opened to a culture which is rich in potential, but still poor in terms of self-esteem, trust and education. And having lived with the Mercator projection for almost the entire lifetime of their country (founded in 1500) you can how this can also have a huge impact on their notions of self-worth and their own mental models who of which countries and cultures are to be valued far higher than their own.

So yeah, here I am in Brazil and although I have been coming here for the last two years, and now finally live here, layers of this enigmatic place continue to unfold and open up to me, confounding me in chaotic paradox. I am slowly beginning to find a little niche here teaching chaos and complexity, sustainability, innovation and creativity via Jung, Bortoft, Goethe and a little alchemy thrown in for good measure. Through these channels I hope to put something back into the culture here, to help people realise their true value to themselves, their families, organisations, and society.

As I alluded to at the start of this post, the veneer of democratic righteousness of the ruling class in Great Britain is slowly falling apart. Soon it will be Brazil’s time to step up to the role of guardian of the planet and whose business leaders transition to roles of stewards of living organisations who base their strategies on natural processes rather than mechanistic ones. It would be foolish to try and predict what is going to happen in the future, but by heck I’m going to try and play my role in the transition of consciousness, starting with myself.

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One response to “200th Post – How flippin big is Brazil??! Our mental models of maps

  1. It always really bugs me to see the Mercator in classrooms and schoolbooks here in Europe… it deeply skews one’s view of the world. I’ve always quite liked upside-down projections and ones centred on Asia for this reason- as a European it forces me to do a double-take and reevaluate my own mental image of the world every time I look at them.

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