Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Thoughts on Thinking

Shiho Fukada for The New York Times
Zhou Youguang's Take

In today's New York Times there is a remarkable profile of an incredible man. Zhou Youguang should be a household name in China. He is 106 years old. As a Chinese language learner, I have immense respect for this man, who invented Pinyin. According to the Times, "Mr. Zhou is the inventor of Pinyin, the Romanized spelling system that linked China’s ancient written language to the modern age and helped China all but stamp out illiteracy."

This is what he had to say about fostering creativity in the Communist system in a 2010 book of essays: “Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don’t grow out of the government’s orders.”

Responses to readers responses

Remember, my question was, "What do you think about how we think different [sic] than one another?"

Chris Nevins response was anthropological:
My short answer is yes and no, but the 'no' is second intentionally. Yes, there are social and cultural differences that account for meaningful differences among the ways all sorts of differing groups think, let alone nationalistic ways. But, no, we do not think differently in more existential ways. There is a universal culture that trumps other essential frameworks in ever so slight ways. 'Emic' versus 'etic,' and I guess I come down on the 'etic' side, though if you ask me tomorrow I might have a different answer.
Chris references something I don't know much about so I will simply provide the reader a bibliography--"emic" vs. "etic":
  • Creswell, J. W. (1998), Qualitative Enquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Traditions, London, UK: Sage.
  • Goodenough, Ward (1970), "Describing a Culture", Description and Comparison in Cultural Anthropology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press): pp. 104–119, ISBN 978-0-202-30861-6.
  • Harris, Marvin (1976), "History and Significance of the Emic/Etic Distinction", Annual Review of Anthropology 5: 329–350.
  • Harris, Marvin (1980), "Chapter Two: The Epistemology of Cultural Materialism", Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture (New York, NY, USA: Random House): pp. 29–45, ISBN 978-0-7591-0134-0.
  • Headland, Thomas; Pike, Kenneth; Harris, Marvin (eds) (1990), Emics and Etics: The Insider/Outsider Debate, Sage.
  • Jahoda, G. (1977), "In Pursuit of the Emic-Etic Distinction: Can We Ever Capture It?", Basic Problems in Cross-Cultural Psychology (Y.J. Poortinga, ed.): pp. 55–63.
  • Kitayama, Shinobu; Cohen, Dov (2007), Handbook of Cultural Psychology, New York, NY, USA: Guilford Press.
  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987), Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate, ISBN 978-0-691-02714-2.
  • Pike, Kenneth Lee (ed.) (1967), Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of Structure of Human Behavior (2nd ed.), The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.
Donna Schnur Birholz wrote an anthropological response, as well:

I think the question which needs answering first is what you mean by "think." Are you speaking of values, beliefs, hierarchy of principles inherent (for the Chinese, and then conversely, for Americans)? Are you speaking of the actual steps in one's reasoning process, or of the rationale for those steps?

And then of course, there's the acknowledgement that there are significant differences in the way those within a group will order their values/beliefs/hierarchy of principles. Some of that reflects subculture membership, and sometimes even with a control for those subculture memberships, we will find that there are differing values/priorities.... Although we are more likely to find agreement about what the "general you" should be prioritizing/valuing (whether the individuals would be making the same choice or not).

The "think differently" argument often made about the Chinese, is that they prioritize the general good, rather than the individual good - family/ancestral respect, rather than separate, individual accomplishment, and that any individualization must be justified by the benefits for the greater good of the group [family, region, country] .... I'm not sure how much anthropological research has been done in the area, I suspect very little peer-reviewed work since the revolution, although work prior to then might be illuminating .... and of course, the question would also be how that has been changed by generations of communist rule. [/anthrogeek rambling]