I read this article a while ago:
*‘US-born neuroscientist John O’Keefe has jointly won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering the brain’s navigation system. Is it any surprise then that he loves Ordnance Survey maps, writes Luke Jones.
O’Keefe came to the UK from the US in the late 1960s. He was supposed to stay for only two years as part of post-doctoral study. He decided to relocate for good.
The 74-year-old told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was “very attracted to many aspects of British culture”.
Two aspects that he named were the NHS and the Ordnance Survey map. “I like walking on the weekends and finding my way around,” said the professor who found that the brain has an “inner GPS system” in 1971 by discovering nerve cells that help create maps.
Simon Garfield, author of On the Map, agrees with O’Keefe that OS maps are an integral part of British culture.
“Ordnance Survey maps were originally inspired by 18th Century cartography in France,” he says. “But they’ve been associated with sodden walks in the Cairngorms and the Lakeland Fells for so long that they’ll always be thought of as British as roast beef and Big Daddy. What else makes them so? Their indefatigable finicky detail and their historic quirkiness. The maps show bracken and drinking fountains, not something you see much of on satnav.”
So perhaps these are two of the many reasons that we enjoy maps so much. I have a third – the idea of being lost and ‘seeing where the day takes me’ has never really appealed to me all that much. I like to know where I am and if I have a destination, I like to see how I’m going to get there. So having a map is really important to me.
With this in mind, I’m staging a little experiment the next time I’m at our water cooler. I’m going to unfold a map and ask all those that approach if they can find a point on the map and see the reactions. Will it be the time old chestnut where the men will harrumph and pore eagerly over the map eschewing any help and the women will refuse to even look at it or will I be surprised? I shall report back anon. J
*excerpt from an article in the BBC Magazine Monitor