[ExI] Seeing Through New Lenses

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu Jan 14 23:40:14 UTC 2010

Jef writes

> Forwarding an article with relevance to the Extropy list.  It's ironic
> that in a forum dedicated to the topic of "extropy" , which might be
> interpreted as increasingly meaningful increasing change, there's such
> vocal support for hard rationality, simple truth, and seeing the world
> the way way it "really is."

I haven't noticed that, lately. But then... that probably
supports your contention! :)

> Edge Perspectives with John Hagel: Relationships and Dynamics - Seeing
> Through New Lenses
> <http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2010/01/relationships-and-dynamics-seeing-through-new-lenses.html>

> while Westerners are more oriented to reductionist views. This basic
> difference plays out in fascinating ways, including the greater
> attention by East Asian children to verbs while Western children tend
> to learn nouns faster.
> One very tangible illustration of this is a simple test reported by
> Nisbett. A developmental psychologist showed three pictures to
> children – a cow, a chicken and some grass. He asked children from
> America which two of the pictures belonged together.  Most of them
> grouped the cow and chicken together because they were both objects in
> the same category of animals.  Chinese children on the other hand
> tended to group the cow and grass together because “cows eat grass” –
> they focused on the relationship between two objects rather than the
> objects themselves.
> [Which of these do YOU prefer?  Which of these do you think is closer
> to The Truth?  Why?  - Jef]

Naturally, it shouldn't be a matter of preference, per se,
but it is interesting which is more salient to one. I along
with most westerners (in line with the article's point)
would tend to lump the cow and the chicken together
"as animals", surrendering to abstract categorization.

Have you read Flynn's book "What is intelligence?".
In short, he tries to explain the Flynn effect as
greater practice (especially among westerners, I
suppose) at *decontextualizing*. This process causes
abstract categories to come more quickly to mind than
Hence, people today do better on IQ tests precisely
because of their greater familiarity and facility
with abstract categories, e.g. Animal, Mineral, or Vegetable.

What is amazing about your cite is that it flies very
much in the face of this. After all, east Asians are
no slouches on IQ tests, and if the tests are being
explicitly designed---as Flynn would have us believe
---to measure decontextualization, then this "cows
eat grass" answer goes against this supposed insidious
designing of the IQ tests.

I have no idea how to draw a bottom line to all this,
however, except to say that just as many of Tversky
and Kahneman's errors arise because humans today
find themselves in a very different environment from
which they evolved, most of the intellectual tasks
demanded of people today (that are relatively new),
would also seem to demand the ability to quickly
decontextualize. (For example, how many times does
the word "of" occur in a given sentence, or how
many zeros are there in a given binary string.)

Prediction: citified Chinese will go for the categorization
in the "cows, chickens, and grass" more than will the
countryside Chinese. Flynn has many amusing anecdotes
about the way rural people resist answering IQ challenge
questions in the hoped-for abstract way, and resort
to common sense relationships instead---which actually
would include "cows eat grass". Very puzzling.


> I found this intriguing in the context of our continuing work at the
> Center for the Edge on the Big Shift.  As I indicated in a previous
> posting, the Big Shift is a movement from a world where value creation
> depends on knowledge stocks to one where value resides in knowledge
> flows – in other words, objects versus relationships. Our Western way
> of perceiving has been very consistent with a world of knowledge
> stocks and short-term transactions.  As we move into a world of
> knowledge flows, though, I suspect the East Asian focus on
> relationships may be a lot more helpful to orient us (no pun
> intended).
> ...

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