Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Geography of Thought by Richard E. Nisbett

The Geography of Thought
How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why
Richard E. Nisbett
Free Press
Published by Simon & Schuster New York
$12.19 from Amazon:

As someone who's been a gamer master and tinkered with writing, the idea of HOW people think and what makes them think that way fascinates me. When I heard of the Geography of Thought, I figured “Hey, now I can know why that dude from Legend of the Five Rings thinks differently than that Paladin in 5th edition D&D.”

Let me start by saying that I don’t know if I agree with everything that Richard E. Nisbett puts forward. And that’s okay because he makes a lot of allowances. He points out that NOT everyone in the different regions thinks this way. He points out that “Asians” is a huge umbrella and that there are differences within that vast branch, just as there are with Westerners.

Nisbett also points out that things are changing more and more as the world continues to become flat. As more cultures cross pollinate, there are more and more examples of each one’s thinking on the other side.

To get the ball rolling, chapter one, The Syllogism and the Tao, breaks down some of the historical roots as follows:

Westerners: “The Greeks, more than any other ancient peoples, and in fact more tha most people on the planet today, had a remarkable sense of personal agency – the sense that they were in charge of their own lives and free to act as they chose.”

Asians: “The Chinese counterpart to Greek agency was harmony. Every Chinese was first and foremost a member of a collective, or rather of several collectives – the clan, the village, and especially the family. The individual was not, as for the Greeks, an encapsulated unit who maintained a unique identify across social settings. “

Nisbett goes into several more differences and his thinking as to why those are vital to understanding and he tries to make his case for it with illustrations, examples, modern testing, and other fun bits over the course of the next few chapters.

For example, comparing Greece and its city states, it’s maritime trading, it’s piracy, it’s connectivity to a greater world, it’s desire to prove something right, to China and it’s huge centrally located empire, it’s farming, it’s connectivity to itself, and its desire to compromise between two opposite.

The good news is that the book is written so that anyone should be able to understand it. The illustrations as testing are a quick way to see which path of thinking you may fall under. The ideas presented testable.

If you’re a fan of creating cultures, the Geography of Thought can force you to think about why those cultures act the way they do and what causes them to evolve.