The Geography of Thought

Richard E. Nisbett explains and illustrates the fundamental differences in East Asian and Western thought in The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why. He traces those differences back to our respective cultural/philosophical roots and the subsequent thousands of years of relatively independent societal development. That’d be the ancient Confucians for East Asia, and the ancient Greeks, notably the neo-Platonists and Aristotle, for the West.

Some of the major areas of difference are getting their own posts; it helps me sort this stuff out into my neatly arranged, mechanically-related Western categories.

The critiques I read say Nisbett’s strong on the “How Asians and Westerners Think Differently” part. He has international clinical studies to back up his analysis and as a well-known and respected social psychologist, he speaks authoritatively regarding insights from his particular academic domain. It’s the “…and Why” part that seems to draw the most criticism. He ranges over thousands of years of history, philosophy, and politics to produce a very neat explanation of how we got this way. Some people think he’s being too simplistic for the sake of convenience and should be more careful outside his particular area of expertise. However, since the list of academic awards he’s received over the last four decades is longer than your browser window, and I don’t have the academic perspective to evaluate those evaluations, I’ll just cut the ol’ boy some slack.

Posts on some of the major ideas are in the pipe.

3 thoughts on “The Geography of Thought”

  1. Having also read the book I agree with you Joel. He does conceed that even the term “Asia” is problematic and if memory serves me correctly, his main test groups are Japanese, Chinese, and Korean? Good book, makes one think twice before attempting to make a blanket statement.

    Have you asked any of your friends to read it and offer their input?

  2. Our on-site practicum supervisor is reading it himself. And when he’s done with that one, we have more. He seems to actually really enjoy helping us study the culture.

    JR – yeah I remember those cartoons… that was back in the day when cartoons were allowed to smoke.

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