The Brink of Chaos

How We See The World

How We See The World

What do you see when you look at this picture?

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: エン バルドマン via Compfight

Those from the West are typically drawn to focus on the Shark then search for other objects of significance. Those from the East still see the shark, but also pay attention to the overall context (like the school of fish on the right hand side, or the light rays coming from the sky). From the time we were very young, we were taught by our parents how to perceive the world.

In the excellent book, “The Geography Of Thought”, the author describes in broad strokes how the eastern mindset differs from the western mindset. For example, in East Asia it is more common to learn verbs before one learns nouns. Western thinkers learn nouns first (“Ball”, “Car”, “Balloon” – just listen to a mother and her young child). Eastern thinking is more aware of connections — they had a much easier time conceptualizing radio waves than the Western world. Western thought focuses on Platonic categories and objects. Even our language creates nouns from adjectives. In English, we describe the quality of white for a particular object we describe its “whiteness”. In Chinese would use a simile — as white as a snow leopard.

These are all broad generalities. They certainly don’t describe every person from either culture, but I lent the book to a Chinese friend and he said it helped him better understand working with some of his western colleagues. In meetings, people would talk about problems in the system and see the problem either with Part A or with Part B where he saw the problem as being in the connection between the parts.

All of us carry a framework through which we perceive and understand that world around us. It’s what we notice, it’s how we talk to ourselves about it, it’s how we make connections. Our framework helps us make sense of the world around us, but it can also cause us to miss important things. Because we live and reason through this framework, it is not possible for us to even fully understand it until we expose ourselves to others with a different framework. This is one of the reasons I love to both read and travel.

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