The map is not the territory

It's easy to forget the word for something represents what the thing is, rather than the thing. If I say the word dog to you, your brain thinks of a four-legged animal covered in hair that barks – but the word D-O-G isn't a dog, it's your mental shortcut for a dog. And a useful shortcut at that, we don't want to spend 30 seconds talking about a four-legged animal that barks before we show our friends the latest doge meme.

But D-O-G is not our four-legged friend, and the map is not the territory. If you think something will happen and it doesn't. You were wrong. Nothing weird happened, you predicted incorrectly. 

Maps are not the territory because maps represent reality. If maps were reality, a map of Australia would be the size of Australia.

The same is true for your models of reality, if what you believe doesn't fit in with what you see, you are wrong. Not reality. Our ideas are not (and we should not treat them as) concrete. Mental models are abstractions away from reality and it's wrong to treat them as anything else. You throw away any mental models that don't fit reality, and update ones that warp your predictions.

Words are both ambiguous, and the best tool we've got. Reification is when we treat abstraction (like a word) as real. 

Remember, D-O-G != four-legged hairy barking animal.

For my fellow etymology nerds out there... Reification comes from the Latin word res meaning thing and -fication, a suffix related to facere meaning to make. So it loosely means thing-making.

Reification is a natural part of our vernacular. Humans love to personify. Look at how we personify nature in water wants to flow downhill. Yes, it makes it easier to remember, but water doesn't want to flow downhill. At least not how I want a coffee. Water flows downhill because of physics, not by the same desire I have for my morning coffee.

So next time you're arguing with someone about the definition of a word, gently remind them the map is not the territory. Words are nothing more than abstractions from reality. Abstractions that can be twisted and tweaked to fit your models. And no, please don't pull out a dictionary. Just because some people can use words to explain things better than others doesn't mean we aren't all using words to make life easier. 

D-O-G != four-legged hairy barking animal.

The map is not the territory and we should keep a diligent eye on our use of reification when we are reasoning from first principles. Words can be misleading.