Books, Uncategorized

Why The West Won

Can-Asian-Think-Feature-Cover-v2A wide gulf separates the Indian and western thinkers. This is hard to miss. Indian thinkers are abysmally read, shallow and superficial. They do not understand the concept of abstract reasoning. When I read Indian and western nonfiction, I feel that these are entirely different kinds of literature. But, why? Of course, the average Indian IQ is 81. This means that the average Indian fellow is dumber than 89% of the people on earth. But, the differences in IQ do not fully explain this phenomenon. I have known too many people with high raw IQs—mostly in engineering college—and my experience is fairly typical.

Richard Nisbett and Takahiko Masuda have a good explanation:

“Easterners, the researchers find, appear to think more ”holistically,” paying greater attention to context and relationship, relying more on experience-based knowledge than abstract logic and showing more tolerance for contradiction. Westerners are more ”analytic” in their thinking, tending to detach objects from their context, to avoid contradictions and to rely more heavily on formal logic.”

If the concepts that people are taught to believe are true, I find this a very accurate description. Now, observe. What are the eastern thought habits?

1) Thinking more ”holistically.”

2) Paying greater attention to context and relationship.

3) Relying more on experience-based knowledge than abstract logic.

4) Showing more tolerance for contradiction.

These are precisely what intellectuals (whether eastern or western) see as virtues. The eastern values are not stated with much disapproval.

Now, what are the western values?

1)    More ”analytic” in their thinking process.

2)    Tends to detach objects from their context.

3)    Avoids contradictions

4)    Relies more heavily on formal logic

Most intellectuals would not see many of these as virtues. Yet the west has triumphed. Why?

What could have happened? Let me translate.

What the authors perhaps observed: The westerners are more analytical in their thinking process while the easterners are mush headed.

What the authors inferred: The westerners are more analytical in their thinking process while the easterners think more “holistically”.

What the authors perhaps observed: The westerners mentally isolate causal factors to draw inferences while the easterners are yet to comprehend such complex modes of reasoning.

What the authors inferred: The westerners tend to detach objects from their context. while the easterners pay greater attention to context and relationship.

What the authors perhaps observed: The easterners hold opinions which rest on their narrow experiences while the westerners attempt to build theories which are consistent with all the valid observations pertaining to the issue. 

What the authors inferred: The westerners avoid contradictions while the easterners rely more on experience-based knowledge than abstract logic.

What the authors perhaps observed: The easterners are not bothered by the inconsistencies in their worldview, but the westerners ruthlessly weed out such inconsistencies.  

What the authors inferred: The easterners show more tolerance for contradiction while the westerners rely more heavily on formal logic.

Now, things fall into place. Is it surprising that the western civilization triumphed over other cultures?

3 Comments

  1. Very interesting article. There is not really any reason why holistic thinking should allow contradiction. Allowing contradiction is actually a denial of holistic thinking. If two parts of the whole cannot be accepted without contradiction, then the ideas must be handled separately, and to accept such contradictions as truth means that the whole has not been property understood. There can be no contradiction in reality.

  2. Holding contradictory ideas in your head at the same time is one hallmark of high level creative thinking ability. Reality is complex, so that which appears to be contradictory may not actually be so. It takes a lot of brainpower to work such things out. Interesting post.

  3. George, Yes. But, holding seemingly contradictory views to integrate them into a more coherent worldview is not the same as holding contradictory ideas without knowing and caring whether they are so. Having lived in the east all my life, I know that it is the latter. 🙂 Thank You.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *