3

It seems that it is correct usage to talk about the topology of the brain, but not the topography of the brain. And it seems like correct usage to talk about the topography of human organs, but not the topology of human organs.

Then what is the precise difference between topology and topography?

9
  • 2
    Have you refered to a dictionary for this question? Both are quite technical, and an appropriate technical definition from a dictionary might answer your question, or at least avoid an answer that just quotes dictionary defintions.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 6:28
  • 4
    You can't use "morally correct" here. Perhaps the word you want is "appropriate".
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 10:30
  • 2
    Morally correct is even worse! That refers to good and evil, not whether something is correct English or not. As Billy said "appropriate" or "correct" or even "idiomatic" are possible. Why do you think it is not correct to talk about the topography of the brain. If you are mapping how the parts of the brain are related, "topography" seems appropriate to me. Indeed here is wikipeidia article about that subject.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 11:16
  • 1
    I edited the question to refer to "usage". Apologies if that is not the way things are done here on ell.se, and go ahead and reject the edit. (I'm used to math.se's customs.) And to the OP, feel free to reject my edit if you feel it distorted the intent of your question.
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 15:41
  • 1
    @JonathanZonstrike No worries. Your edit is what I intended.
    – Fomalhaut
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 19:31

2 Answers 2

6

topology

(1) is a branch of mathematics that studies of how properties of points and sets become connected spaces and how the properties of these spaces change or do not change under continuous transformations

(2) is more generally the way in which the fundamental constituents or components of a physical or abstract space interrelate and are arranged to form the whole.

topography

(1) is the mapping or description of the physical features of a geographic area and especially the location and height of natural and artificial land features

(2) is more generally any mapping or description of the locations of features on a surface on, or within an entire composite object.

So:

When we speak about the topology of the brain, we are concerned with how the fundamental components of the brain (neurons) interrelate and are arranged to form the whole brain.

When we speak about the topography of human organs (with careful respect to a certain anatomical surface, for example the thoracic cavity), we are talking about describing with a visual or verbal description of the location of features (organs) on that anatomical surface, inside of the body.

2
  • 1
    MW gives the topography meaning as the first definition for topology: "Topology noun to·​pol·​o·​gy tə-ˈpä-lə-jē tä- pluraltopologies 1 : topographic study of a particular place specifically : the history of a region as indicated by its topography 2 a (1) : a branch of mathematics concerned with those properties of geometric configurations (such as point sets) which are unaltered by elastic deformations (such as a stretching or a twisting) that are homeomorphisms" Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 1:42
  • Huh, I'm completely unfamiliar with denotation (1)! Neat. It's not in OED. I wish they gave some usage - none of the eight examples they provide pertain to that entry. Can you find any use that clearly intends (1) here? It's not just a synonym of "topography" here, they seem to be saying it's a history of a place dictated or influenced by its topography. Thanks for sharing.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 1:45
3

I am not going to give you a definition of these terms because you can easily look them up in a dictionary, and the other answer given already explains these words.

However, here's a tip if you ever find yourself without access to a dictionary, and you find a word you don't understand. A good starting point to help you guess the meanings of words in English of Latin/Greek origin, or at least get a rough idea of their meaning, is to learn the meanings of common suffixes.

-logy = branch of learning/study

-graphy = something written or otherwise represented, such as by drawing or imaging, etc.

Incidentally, the root word "topo" here comes from Greek τόπος (topos), which means place/location.

There are many words that use these suffixes. To name but a few: geology, geography, theology, calligraphy, morphology, stratigraphy, meteorology, photography, biology, biography, criminology, radiology, radiography, etc.

There's a good resource here on Wiktionary for a list of common suffixes used in English.

4
  • 2
    But, while there is some value in this answer, I don't see that it helps the OP in the slightest. Even in their primary meanings, it only slightly illuminates the distinction between topology and topography, in that topography is about mapping. But in the metaphorical uses the OP was asking about, it is no help at all. Also consider whether it would be any help at all with geology vs geography.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 10:50
  • 1
    I'd say topology and geology essentially concern abstract understanding of the various properties & relationships in their respective fields, where topography and geography are more concerned with categorization & measurement of real-world features. Theoretical versus practical, if you will. Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 12:46
  • I'm not sure that is quite right. As an example: in college I had a job as a network engineer. We spoke of both the topology of the physical machines in the server room - the way that the servers were interconnected to form the entire network, and the topography of the server room - the way the servers were organized into groups north, south, east, and west, in other words on the surface of the floor.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 1:36
  • There could not have been an implicit distinction between abstract and physical, because we spoke of the topology of both the "physical network" and the "logical (abstract) network". This is near-universal terminology.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 1:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .