The nature of reality
Before analysing how physical geographers understand and measure the world, it is important to discuss the nature of the reality physical geographers believe they study. This may seem like an odd place to start, as it seems clear that the physical environment is a real and solid thing that, although complex, is open to study by our senses and the various instruments we have designed to enhance our senses. Such an initial assumption immediately sets up the concept of an objective, real reality of which physical geographers can have knowledge. Indeed, improvements in methods and theories to explain this reality could eventually result in a complete understanding of the physical environment. With this view it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that what is sensed and measured is real, that there is a direct and absolute correspondence between what we think exists and what really exists. All our models of reality capture at least part of a true representation of reality. Refi ning our measurements or theories, or both, results in a ‘truer’ representation of reality. In this view of reality, scientifi c progress means increasing our knowledge towards a true representation of reality, an absolute understanding of it.