What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning

- Werner Heisenberg

Both geography and GIS deal with the Earth's surface and modern GIS can learn from the spatial analysis tradition in the discipline of geography. For example, Dr. Snow's analysis of cholera cases in London in the 1850s and Ian McHarg's overlay method in landscape ecology - both originally applied by hand - have been copied by GI analysts. Likewise thinking spatially is nothing new. It requires us to construct questions of a geographical nature and then to build logical relationships between our questions and methods of processing geographical information.

In this topic you will explore two issues. The first issue concerns how we can use space to tie things together. You will investigate ideas of spatial cognition, geographical enquiry and logical reasoning. It has been said that people have produced three main ways of communicating ideas: language, music and maps. Maps have specific qualities and power which are not present in other forms of communication. Ideas can be expressed in a map form which simply aren't possible in other media. In practice this requires specific skills to create and interpret maps. Map reading and photointerpretation (skills much undervalued and neglected in recent years) are skills which some people seem incapable of mastering. Others find them natural and are able to 'read' the world through a map - and just as easily translate the real world to a cartographical representation.

The second issue considers how the ideas expressed in spatial thinking are formalised and put into practice in GIS. For example, the processes and consequences of transforming our 3D world into 2D maps. This transformation distorts the geography we are interested in. As well as projection systems you must also think about other mathematical properties of our data such as scale and the geometries used to represent entities. How you implement these ideas impacts on everything you will do with GIS.