marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

The Geography of Thought

The Geography of Thought by Richard E. Nisbett

Did you know that American and European children learn nouns a lot faster than verbs, and Chinese, Japanese and Korean children learn verbs about as fast as nouns?

That Americans are better at picking out foreground objects and recognizing them in different situations, while Japanese are better at taking in the whole picture?

That native speakers of English are likely to correlate object by category, and native speakers of Chinese, by relationship?  But if you teach native speakers of Chinese English in their teens or so, which language you use will influence which way they are more likely to use.  And if you teach native speakers of Chinese English very young, correlations will even out between category and relationship, but be independent of language.

OTOH, if you "prime" them by showing them American images, or Chinese images, you will get differences in their correlations according to the culture you've primed them toward.

A long discussion of the very many differences between East Asian (Chinese, Japanese and Koren), and Anglo-American thinking.  And some speculative history of how they arose, with definite history of how long they have been around.  Aristotle vs. Confucius.  Except that the Chinese had philosophers in the Greek mode and the Greeks had philosophers in the Chinese, so the differences were already there, and influenced which philosopher was influential.

Gets a few things wrong.  Like asserting that the Greeks didn't practice religious persecution (read Maccabees!)  But that was literally the only historical error I ran across, in a book full of discussions of history.

Though in the Fundamental Attribution Error -- you give someone an essay, tell the person that it was an assigned topic, and then ask them if the writer agreed with it.  Both Americans and East Asians are prone to say yes.  If you prime the East Asians with the reminder that it was assigned, they would be more likely to say it was not evidence.  But I look at that and say, "How good was the essay?  And did the writer, in fact, agree?  What if they ignored the stated context because they picked up clues about the truth?"

Ah, well, I'm picking nits.  Fascinating treatment.  And a reminder that benefits all world-builders, of how cultures can differ.
Tags: ethos, non-fiction: science, thinking

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