A Perspective on Perspective

Some years ago, I purchased a wall map like the one shown here — a Gall-Peters Projection map. This is supposed to be an improvement on the standard Mercator Projection map that most of us are familiar with, in that it gives a more accurate depiction of the real estate occupied by third-world countries. I had no idea that Africa so so big.

Gall–Peters projection SW” by Strebe – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, perspective is perspective. It’s always going to be coloured by someone’s point of view. A projection of a sphere onto a flat surface is going to entail some sort of distortion. It’s important to be aware of which distortion you are choosing, and it’s benefits and shortfalls.

In 2001 I taught English to (mostly) Korean kibbutz volunteers in Israel. (I had come to Israel to learn Hebrew, and they had come to learn English. Go figure.) One day, I drew a map on the board.

Sea of Japan Map en” by Sea of Japan Map.png: Chris 73 derivative work: Phoenix7777 (talk) – This file was derived from: Sea of Japan Map.png . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I pointed out the Sea of Japan.

“That’s the Sea of Korea,” one of my students volunteered.

Well, how about that? “And here is Korea and here is Japan.”

This is where the students objected most vehemently. Korea could not possibly be that small compared to Japan. They were insistent. Which has me wondering to this day: Do Korean atlases depict Korea as bigger than Japan? Or is this just something Koreans seewhen the look at a map? But if that’s the case, why did they see my map any differently? Did I draw Japan out of proportion, somehow influenced by a bias of which I am unaware to this day?

We all have our biases. To suggest otherwise is like insisting that you don’t have an accent. (Because you do. Everyone does.) The value in learning about other points of view is to become aware of one’s own biases. Even if we retain our original point of view, we see it for what it is — a point of view.

And that in itself goes a long way to improving perspective.