How deep is the spatial question in geography?
Geography is understood as the subject of location of the “where”. Recently however I have wondered to myself how deep this question of location goes. Last year during a regular eye exam my optician paused, there was something irregular about my sight. Besides the need for glasses, I mean. They had caught a set of visual irregularities which suggested a radical change in the shape of the eye. After a few appointments, the term Corneal topography was thrown around a few times. This interested me, topography is a term that is inherently geographical it is a process used to map the unevenness of space to gain an understanding of elevation and depressions in a relative position. One might suggest that corneal topography isn’t a question of geography and simply uses the same technique, those people haven’t had the gift and curse of sitting in my more conceptual-led lectures at Nottingham. If geography is as we relish to say in the subject the process of “writing the world” then what exactly isn’t geography? If geography is the study of spatial distributions of the question of “where” then where does this question end? If topography in a non-metaphorical way can map the unevenness of a deviant cornea, then can it map other objects often considered non-geographical? This leads us back to the start; it leaves us to wonder how deep truly is the spatial question inherent to geography?
Tobler’s first law of geography suggests however obviously that all things are related to all other things but near things are more related than distant things. In our modern world of cyberspace and social media, it would be foolish to consider Tobler’s spatial law as only relevant physically, things can be close in very real and significant ways virtually, emotionally, or historically. Considering how these new dimensions of analysis open up Tobler’s first law suggests that the depth of spatial questions in geography has no conceptual limit. But what about a scalar limit? Here we need to be careful we aren’t reducing all disciplines to geography, a trick often fell into by maths students with their own subject especially. If a person goes out into the world looking through a red filter all they will see is red. However, there is a beautiful and captivaoting idea to consider the geography of atoms or distant long-dead stars.
My housemates when they head of Tobler’s first law criticised it for its simplicity, and it is a very simple idea that things be related by proximity in some sense be that emotionally, virtually, or physically but first simple ideas are good foundations for disciplines and second, simple ideas are what we start with before we build them up and refine them. These concepts led to the foundations for spatial dependence and spatial autocorrelation. The simplicity of the first law of geography isn’t what is interesting, the law is simply an observation, what is interesting is to consider why such a law is or rather may be the case, again social science disciplines must be cautious not to adopt what has been colloquially known as “physics envy” the practise of creating “laws” for subjects to justify their relevance against the epitome of science. But if it is the case, as it seems then it can become very interesting to study this phenomenon in the everyday. For example, consider how the first law of spatial science applies to your bedroom? What things are near each other and what does this suggest about their correlations. Then wonder maybe, what the spatial arrangements of your bedroom can imply about the spatial arrangement of the wider universe.