The Geography of Thought

I’ve been enjoying The Geography of Thought by Richard E Nesbitt. Nesbitt explores differences in the thinking between Eastern and Western cultures arguing cogently that the very way we filter and experience the world is powerfully affected by the culture we are brought up in. So that differences are experienced as rather more than just differences of opinion. I’m especially interested in his observations about how differences in language refect and reinforce different ways of experiencing the world.

For instance, in Western cultures, children learn nouns more quickly than verbs; it’s the other way round out East. This reflects a western world of separated objects and an Eastern world view of greater fludity and relationship. In Japan, there are lots of different words for what we English descibe as “I”. This reflects that in the East, there is less empasis on the self as unique, unchanging operator and more sense of everything as related.

I’m simplifying and generalising of course, and Nesbitt has a well-phrased caveat about being careful to be nuanced in presenting these differences. There’s lots of heterogeneity in all cultures.

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