Cartograms and Homunculi

In Alchemy, a homunculus was the successful product of an alchemical procedure that would create life without resorting to heterosexual intercourse. As much distinction that I want to make between woo-woo and the term that the sort of people who invented the term woo-woo would rightfully claim as theirs, such as “energy”, I actually found the medical homunculus so much more valuable for what I wanted to talk about. The sensory homunculus substitutes size of a human body part (in the Platonic ideal proportions of a human body) with an alternate value, that is, how much of the world that body part experiences.

And then I superimpose that upon a cartogram, a map in which some thematic mapping variable (literacy rates, internet use, gross domestic export of the nation, income per capita) is substituted for the size of the land. Thus, the geometry or space of the map is distorted to show the value of this alternate variable. Of course, whatever information is being transmitted through writing can only exist between individuals in parts of the world that produce texts and individuals in parts of the world who can read those texts.

Of course, I trust that the research data is accurate, that the hard numbers are true enough to remain applicable (between the time this data is gathered and the time that it gets to me), that the website program runs smoothly enough that I’m not looking at another map by accident instead, and that these categories and values are worth looking into.

Geena Davis, founder of the Institute on Gender in Media, stated recently on NPR: “We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study, where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there’s 17% women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50. And if there’s 33% women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

While Davis correlated this with the representation of women in media, she voiced the concern of the representation of women in everything from cardiac surgery to tenured professors. Tali Mendelberg, professor of politics at Princeton University, and Christopher F. Karpowitz from Brigham Young University, found that a room full of people discussing politics required women to be in the majority by 60% to 80% before women “spoke as much as men” (I’m guessing that they timed it, rather than measured the volume of voices) and “encountered fewer hostile interruptions.”

While that last sentence is very qualitative, and the entire study certainly* concerned purely cisgender issues, that is what inspired me to think about cartograms and homunculi again. I see a lot of explaining that needs to be done with how a corporeal element such as body (/part) size or time-given-to-converse confers any sort of value, but it becomes those corporeal elements that set the benchmark or standard for when any value other than that primary is inflated or compressed.

* for the given value of certainty