Ming the Mechanic:
The Geography of Thought

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 The Geography of Thought2004-05-10 16:01
by Flemming Funch

From Adina Levin:
I've wondered idly whether the naming game between adults and infants was universal, or culturally-specific. It turns out that Western children learn nouns faster than verbs "that's a ball. see, ball" and East Asian children learn verbs just as fast.

Richard Nisbett's "The Geography of Thought" includes a variety of experimental evidence showing how East Asians and Westerners think differently.

When shown pictures of a cow, a chicken, and some grass westerners are more likely to group the cow and the chicken, while East Asians are more likely to group the cow and the grass. Westerners are more likely to organize things in categories, while Asians are more likely to organize by relationship (the cow eats grass).

Westerners perceive things as objects (a bowl), easterners as substances (wood). Westerners will group a wooden bowl and a silver bowl; easterners will group a wooden bowl and a wooden spoon. Westerners more likely to group items by rule, Easterners by similarity. Westerners are more likely to attribute human behavior to essential traits, Easterners to social context.

Some of the differences covered in the book are well-known -- the individualism of the west, compared to eastern group identity. Western culture -- particularly US culture -- thrives on debate, while East Asian cultures value harmony.

The book seems naive at times -- ancient Chinese images of bucolic scenes are taken as typical of Chinese life, rather than as conventional subjects of art, produced (I don't know, but guessing) for the wealthy. The book makes broad-brush assumptions about how East Asians are content with the hierarchical structures of their societies, an assumption that's falsifiable with the barest minimal familiarity with literature.

The most compelling evidence in the book was about low-level thought constructs that one might think are universal but aren't.
I've myself noticed many differences in how people focus on different things depending on what culture they come from. Like how one makes "mistakes" in other languages than one's own. The Korean yoga teacher who'll say "Touch your left shoulders". Maybe because he sees a whole bunch of shoulders in the room, whereas a westerner might expect that he'll talk to me personally. Or my Chinese co-worker who said he'd bring "noodle" to the company potluck. More than one noodle, I'm sure, but he focuses on the substance, I suppose, rather than the separate items.

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14 Aug 2004 @ 20:59 by QMAL @ : Thought geography thoughts
This is really quite interesting , I never realy thought about it in a geographic context but I do notice it a lot in sub culture , cliques, ect. I wonder what the telepathic element of this process might be and how deverse the differences are...I have not been all around the world but a little in n. america , I would say language and other cultural differences play the big role in the development of these thinking differences. My Uncle used to say I should try thinking in french, and if I could I would be in for quite a different experience.... I supose thinking in Korean for instance might be that much stranger. I downloaded "Gone with the Wind" in Korean once ,,, quite interesting , knowing the words in english and just listening to the tones of the Korean voice overdubs(I dont know any other Lang.) I Supose there is possibly genetic relationships too. One could probably come up with some cool cross cultural studies to figure these things with the tools of today. I think we all function in brain language and a lot processing occurs after the root of thought to form a language palitable monolog.  

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Diane,Once again you intrigue with keinepg us tuned (ah, your wonderful old fashioned t.v. does it still have a non-viewing hours test pattern?) with reminders of east-west, right brain-left brain, male-female?, certainly masculine as a metaphor-feminine as a metaphor, focus-take the wings off to figure out how it works wholistic appreaciating the whole, realities.Joseph Campbell commented the Western mind is to find wholeness through individuation , a Jungian term. We are not geared to defer to a great leader or be absorbed into the culture. His view of the East was in the whole nd in the main culturally they are.The point, of course, is we need both. Tracing new neurologically webways between right and left brain, functioning both as a laser sharp focused deconstructionist and and let's figure out how to put this whole thing together, soft-hard, analytic-intuitive creature.Your work continues to inspire in all dimensions. Thanks. John Shaffer  

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