The world isn’t even close to what you think it looks like.

Via on Jul 6, 2010

Back when I had a longterm girlfriend, before I became a workaholic, she had a strange-looking map on the wall. “The normal map makes third world countries look puny. This is what the world actually looks like,” she explained. I never got used to it. But it did shake, and stir, any notion that I knew what our planet actually looks like.


This is what we think the world looks like (Mercator map):

This is closer to what the world actually looks like (The Peters Projection):


I mean, check this out:

africa map


Bonus, via West Wing:

About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | | | | | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom


37 Responses to “The world isn’t even close to what you think it looks like.”

  1. Jay Winston Jay Winston says:

    Though, in both cases, it’s flat…

  2. Karen Ball Cabot says:

    Also, if you turn a map upside down (earth is an orb in space there is no up), you can see the prominence of other continents.

  3. NellaLou says:

    That's really interesting. The Mercator projection hung in nearly every schoolroom I can recall. It gave me the impression that the southern hemisphere was mostly water and uninhabited and that the equator cut across Texas somewhere. Thank goodness for National Geographic magazines which helped immensely in correcting those and many other childhood misperceptions. (We didn't have Internet when I was so young.)

  4. Doug says:

    I was fascinated by that West Wing episode for the longest time…thanks for reshaking my ‘world view’ again!

  5. Perhaps its best if those classrooms have more globes than maps…

  6. elephant journal elephantjournal says:

    Bonus: this is awwwwesome, and in the same vein:

  7. Reader says:

    Perception is interesting… and I miss West Wing!!!!

  8. […] More: here’s a map that’s incredibly PC, if not more accurate. […]

  9. Mike says:

    The Peters Projection is a terrible example of an "equal area projection" which still grossly distorts the SHAPE of landmasses and water bodies. Arno Peters was not a cartographer or geographer, but a very effective marketer. There are numerous superior equal area projections, including the Winkel tripel projection and the Robinson projection, but unfortunately they don't get TV product placement. So… the world may not look like the Mercator map, but it certainly isn't done any favors by the Peters map. Want more accurate spatial representation of planet Earth? Use a globe.

  10. IanP says:

    "The Dymaxion map or Fuller map is a projection of a world map onto the surface of a polyhedron, which can be unfolded and flattened to two dimensions. The projection depicts the earth's continents as "one island," or nearly contiguous land masses. The arrangement heavily interrupts the map in order to preserve shapes and sizes."

    • Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Map (1954) of "Spaceship Earth" is the only flat map of the entire surface of the Earth which reveals our planet as one island in one ocean, without any visually obvious distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the land areas, and without splitting any continents.

      All flat world map representations of the spherical globe contain some amount of distortion either in shape, area, distance or direction measurements. On the Mercator world map, the Robinson Projection, the Peters Projection and most other world maps, Greenland (for example) appears to be 2-3 times the size of Australia …. when Australia is actually more than 3 times the size of Greenland.

      Check out the Buckminster Fuller Institute for details of this highly superior tool.

  11. Dace says:

    In Europe one uses the second map.

  12. eugenia says:

    I've had the Peters map for years hung on my wall

  13. rianne says:

    Learning how inaccurate 2D map projections are at representing the planet was one of the only lessons from grade 8 geography I still remember. There's an old copy of a Mercator Projection map at my grandmother's cottage and as kids we used to laugh at how funny-looking it was all the time. This is old news.

  14. Tobye Hillier yogi tobye says:

    British isles are still way too big….Ireland's no more than about 150 miles from east to west….

  15. […] For the serious, and seriously interesting aspect of why the world map is how it is, and why not this way or… […]

  16. Ron Copfer says:

    Actually, neither of them are correct! Buckminster Fuller created the only true scale map of the world: the Dymaxion map:

  17. Mariana Wirth says:

    Great post, Waylon, thanks!!!

  18. neil says:

    For god's sake use a globe already.

    • Granite Sentry says:

      Exactly, the globe is geographically and geometrically accurate, and visually looks much more like the old flat Mercator projection the Liberals are so upset about. It's just political; they think the Mercator was insulting to the Third World and so had to come up with a kinder representation, reality be damned.

  19. OlliverM says:

    Not only that. One of the projections has correct continent sizes and the other one correct continent forms, you can't preserve both together.

  20. Robert says:

    I knew that because of the manner in which Hurricanes develop and track.

  21. sarah920 says:

    This was interesting.

  22. Johannes says:

    here is a vid that goes through many different maps, apparently they all have their strong points and flaws depends what you want to use them for. There is also a part on how much we can see (i.e. the small spectrum of light we as human can actually see) and making you aware that there is so much going on we cannot see. very interesting to my opinion.

  23. Maui Greg says:

    Sorry, like so many other posts on EJ this is click bait, and poorly thought out. No flat map projection is an accurate representation of our spherical world. If you want complete accuracy, a globe is the only way. All map projections are accurate for some data while skewing other data. Mercator was primarily used for navigation so is more accurate for bearing and distance data, while area and relative size data is skewed. Map projections are merely tools and as such, each has its own use. This is not some grand scheme to decieve the public and demean the developing nations.

    • Masis says:

      Whether or not it's intentional, I believe it stands that the prevalence of one map over the other skews the collective consciousness into one frame of perceptions over another, and there is little doubt in my mind that relative size is subconsciously associated with power, and that 'up' is subconsciously associated with superior in the (unconscious) perception of the average human. I feel that the relative bearing of water masses is of less import to the average consciousness than the relative size and orientation of land masses. In choosing maps as tools, shouldn't we choose the tool that fits more closely our needs?
      Consider how we associate qualities with axes as we perceive them relative to our bodies: up/down, front/behind, right/left. Up/Front/Right are all associated with positive qualities/connotations, down/behind/left are associated with negative ones. We understand all things in relation to how we understand the physical space of our bodies.
      This extends beyond the scope of our physical perception of our body, into how we perceive space in general. It's possible that other societies perceive space differently, though I would argue that 'western' society generally perceives this way.

  24. Boj says:

    I still don't get it. Are you saying The Peters Projection is a fair representation of the world map? Except for Africa, all other third-world countries still look small in The Peters Projection. Are there other differences that we are supposed to be noticing?

    • Elephant says:

      Also no continent is "sliced" in half in favor of murica being at the center of the world.

      • Boj says:

        Yeah that part is understandable but in the Mercator map, USA is still comparatively quite small. If they did it intentionally, couldn't they have made USA even larger? Greenland looks rather big.

  25. Hopp Topp says:

    Every map projection transforms 3d into 2d and thusly must include distortions of: distance, area, direction, etc. A map projection always compromises on some of these based on the purpose of the map. The Peters projection is essentially useless other than for pop stories like this which surface every decade or so among the geographically under-educated claiming cartographic conspiracy.

  26. Steven says:

    The Peters projection is the right area but its the wrong shape. I agree with another commenter that classrooms should have globes and online we could use a virtual globe.

  27. Thomas says:

    if they went to the moon and took a picture of earth it might be a little helpful.

  28. soul says:

    I’ve heard the earth is also flat. What if the continents were closer.No one can entirely cross the ocean to measure.You have the Bermuda triangle for example it will cause a prevention of measuring, or are they hiding something? Truth is everything can be a lie of what we are taught and since these rich liars have all the power it’s hard to prove entirely.But there is some evidence that expose some lies.

  29. Fuck You says:

    No flat map is an accurate projection of the globe because we don't live on a globe. It's a flat plane and proven by science. Wake up sheeple.

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