(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Hungarian philosopher Ervin Laszlo and American neurologist Allan Combs
are behind this study of cognitive maps.
American gestalt psychologist Edward Tolman can be credited with coining (in 1932) the concept of a "cognitive map": a rat knows how to navigate a maze because it maintains a cognitive map that covers much more than the rat has ever experienced directly. He proved that rats build a cognitive map of an environment even without any reward, simply because they "were there".
A cognitive map is a mental representation of the world in which we live. A cognitive map both represents and participates in the creation of our experience of the world. A cognitive map is created and continuously improved through the individual's experience and by interaction with other cognitive maps. At the same time, the cognitive map "is" the world, insofar as the individual is concerned. The map is how the world appears to be to the individual. The individual onle knows her or his map of the world. This map thus works as an anticipatory schema, that determines what we expect to see and, ultimate, what we indeed see.
The cognitive map determines the behavior pattern of the individual. Animals can take advantage of two kinds of memory: genetic and neural. They both contribute to determine behavior. Most animals have to rely on genetic memory, because their neural memory is not capable of creating dramatically new cognitive maps. Mammals, that undergo a long period of parental guidance, can avail themselves of a highly-sophisticated neural memory. Ditto for birds. These are animals capable of creating "cultures" because they are capable of learning from experience, and of transmitting the learned experience to the next generation (thus different populations exhibit different behavior, despite sharing the same genetic memory). Humans are capable of even more sophisticated cultural maps and, unique to them among all animals, of moral maps.
The book mixes neurology, etiology, anthropology and history in a highly readable format to provide the foundations for an innovative theory of mind. In fact, most of the book is concerned with cognitive maps of societies, not of individuals, as it careens through the ages examing Egyptians, Greek, Jewish and modern civilizations.