Friday, October 21, 2011

Cogito Ergo Sum part 1

Rene Descartes a French Philosopher is probably best known for his statement Cogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am). This statement means that if a person is even wondering about his/her existence then they must exist. There must be an "I" doing the thinking therefore they are.

So far we have talked a lot about the behavioral studies that look at stimuli as  the motivator behind everything we do. The ABCs (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence) of our lives; those behaviors that can be directly observed. During the 1930s and 1940s this was the way everything was looked at and there was little to no thought given to those things that were unobservable, what a person was thinking and feeling.

Tolman, E. C. (1948) is known as the father of cognitive behaviorism. He proposed that not only do humans and animals think but that it can be observed, if indirectly. He created rat maze experiments that proved this point. You can read more about that here. In a nutshell he said that we have cognitive maps that help us get to point a to point b even if blocks are placed in our usual path. So imagine if you were heading to your local grocery store and there was some construction in your normal path. Most of us would be able to determine an alternate path to get to that point. This is how a cognitive map works.

Tolman then expanded this to thoughts on society. If a person has a narrow strip map, meaning they have little perspective (trapped in their box) then they can become prejudice and negative human conditions. While on the other hand, others have broad strip maps and can expand there thinking and include or at least understand other ways of thinking.

This brings us back to the original statement by Rene Descartes "Cogito Ergo Sum". Our characters need to think through situations understand the broader meaning of what is happening around them rather than just reacting to stimuli.


  1. I understand where Rene is coming from however, I believe he got it completely backwards. "I am, therefore I think!" is more proper. One seems to suggest that something must still be proven, dealt with or justified. The other point of view is, I would suggest, that life is already justified, so get on with living it!

  2. This is too deep for me! But so true! Even when we have our routines, we can think around them!

    I was just thinking about people who are OCD and autistic. If you block their 'usual' path, there's a lot of freaking out going on...

  3. Hmmmm, I think I have met some people lacking that cognitive map, and yet they still exist.

  4. I like thoughtful characters--and it's always interesting to read about ones who talk out what they're thinking...and the ones who keep everything inside their heads. Either way, I like it when a character takes a step back!

  5. I love the narrow vs. broad strip map characterization of human behavior. Fascinating post!

  6. I think the Indiana Jones movies with Harrison Ford are perfect examples of this. He's always getting into impossible circumstances- the walls around him start moving in, snakes appear out of no where, and his reaction is fear. But then he saves the day by using his whip or a branch or something else to get out of his trap. And we all cheer. If it were a Christian character perhaps they are being sexually harassed at work, they don't want to cuss, they need the money, maybe their spouse is ill at home, what are their options? Pray, quit the job trusting God will provide a new one, speak to HR... but what will really get them out of this mess? And that's where the story gets interesting.

  7. I guess what I'm thinking is that the mazes for our characters to navigate through can be physical, financial or moral. I'm sure there are others too.

  8. I like that analogy--and great point about characters. They have to prove they can analyze things and make decisions based on a wider strip map.


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