The moment the right idea clicks into place is like fog rolling back from a vast horizon. A puzzle suddenly becomes a trivial thing. One’s mind is elevated and the map of reality begins to stretch to all directions. At once everything makes sense. It is the pure joy of such discovery, that we the editorial board of Jakobsleiter wish to bestow upon our readers and authors alike. The first issue of Jakobsleiter, an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed scientific journal for high school students to be published in the autumn of 2021 is dedicated to the theme of Maps and Models.
According to a famous thought experiment of Nick Bostrom, it is likely that the entirety of our human experiences is nothing but a simulation projected by our distant descendants. Bostrom’s argument, as well as those of his predecessors, ranging from Plato through Zhuang Zhou to Descartes might only be ruminations, but the quest for simulating reality, whether in the form of maps, models, imaginary or physical forms of our experiences is a time-tested way of human learning.
Modeling often helps us make sense of our chaotic and diverse experiences. Maps drawn by sixteenth century cartographers turned the Atlantic Ocean into a traversable body of water. What awaited the traveller beyond the waves was no longer a mere assortment of wondrous sea creatures, but new islands and continents: the visual representation of their existence fundamentally changed how people viewed themselves: England for example was, for the first time, not on the periphery of the known world, but the last safe harbour before the long journey toward distant shores.
The sea monsters populating these maps hint at another exciting case of what making sense of the world through models may yield. The dazzling diversity of the shapes and forms of animals have puzzled scholars for centuries. And yet, there are structures to be discovered among animals so different. Modeling the relationship among them in the post-Darwinian perspective of evolutionary taxonomy replaced mere listings of species with a vision of phylogenetic relationships: the fauna was no longer haphazard, but endless forms evolving from a simple beginning.
Drawing maps and creating models has its perks. And it also has its problems. Confined by the human limitations of representing reality in its entirety, models are often simplified: Mendeleev’s periodic table allows observers to recognize elements with identical electronic configurations, but it does not accommodate the complexity of hydrogen the simplest element of all. The mercator projection made travelling by ship immensely easy in the 16th century. However, it makes Europe and North America appear both on paper and in our minds disproportionately bigger than they really are.
Modeling may also reveal entirely new frontiers of research. Should one give up the mercator projection for that of Mollweide? Should one substitute Euclidean geometry by its hyperbolic alternative? Whence does the legitimacy of a model arise: from its accuracy or from its pragmatic value? Are all human-made models and maps necessarily distorted?
In the first issue of Jakobsleiter, entitled Maps and Models we invite contributors to submit their papers on these and similar challenges, the advantages and disadvantages of drawing a chart or representing reality. We accept contributions related to all scientific disciplines and we particularly encourage applicants to consider interdisciplinary approaches.
If you are interested in learning more, in participating in the workshops we organise for students who wish to submit an entry, please register HERE.