You Think, Therefore I Am

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I spent a long weekend over Easter at a friend’s farm near Descartes in mid-France’s Loire valley. Being a country type through and through, one of the most enjoyable moments was sitting at a little cafe in the town square, having a breakfast of croissants & cafe creme, as the local farmers set up their Sunday market. The market was full of farmers and local townsfolk dicussing the price of fromages-de-chevre, the merits of buerre doux vs. demi-sel and being in the country, le bulletin météorologique.

Descartes was famous for his philosophical principle that ‘thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist’ more commonly expressed in Latin as ‘cogito ergo sum’ (I think, therefore I am).



But recent research casts doubt on the general application of this principle; that your thoughts are yours alone. A New York Times article on Is Justin Timberlake a Product of Cumulative Advantage? discusses the research of Columbia sociology Professor and small-worlds expert Duncan Watts. Watts’ research shows that people are often more highly influenced by what others think, than by what they think themselves. In experiments at his Music Lab, Watts showed that people asked to select unknown music based upon their perception of its quality selected different tracks when shown the number of times the track had been selected by others, compared to when they did the selection based purely upon merit. Tracks selected by others were far more likely to be selected than tracks selected purely upon merit, irrespective of their actual merit. This social influence both increases the variability in what makes a pop song a hit and thus reduces the ability to predict a hit.

You think, therefore I am.



What do you think? Do you have your own opinion? Or should you go ask your friends what they think first?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.



Graham Hill

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