Defining places is vital for our cognitive understanding. It is natural for us to look for meaning. Spaces with no places — e.g. flat landscapes and open seas — are hard to navigate. Places are markers in space, forming networks of connections, often overlapping or containing each other, a grid of reference without which we would be lost.
Our ability to remember and imagine places makes it possible to conceive of a journey, to predict our movement in spaces that we do not inhabit. We can use a map in our mind to plan and assess situations before we venture to go there. Aside from physical travelling, we also travel in our mind, by projecting and reliving experiences attached to the locations where they took place. The expression to ‘take place’ is especially appropriate, since that is what the process of memorising is: attaching an event to a location in place and time.
Merleau-Ponty7 suggests that there is an important link between memory and perception: our understanding of the sensory stimuli relies largely on our past experiences that make up a memory bank — our frame of reference. It is through the memories of places that we can develop spatial understanding. Without relating the perception to past experiences, we would feel crowded under the constant flood of new, unidentifiable stimuli. Comparisons help us grasp our surroundings more efficiently.