The Geography of Thought (by Richard E. Nisbett) Book Report

Richard Nisbetts The Geography of Thought examines possible explanations (from an environmental point of view) as to how and why Asians and Westerners think in a different manner. Through geographical explanation, Nisbett offered an ecological pre-assumption which justified the difference between Asian and Western mode of thinking (Nisbett, Richard E. 2003) the low mountains, fertile plains and navigable rivers of China which favored agriculture and centralized societal control in oppose to Greeces wine-dark sea and mountains which favored fishing, herding and trade. Ecology lies at the root of his whole model of influences on cognitive processes (Nisbett, Richard E. 2003).

 What is at stake here is the contention that various perception and thought systems exist and have existed several thousand years ago. Philosophical and historical evidence, including a wide variety of surveys, ethnographies and laboratory research offered up Nisbetts predictions as to where we are headed convergence versus intensified separation (Nisbett, Richard E. 2003). His implication of thinking is that each societys intellectual aspects shed light with respect to their social characteristics.  For instance, the ancient Chinese focused on collective rather than personal agency. What was important was harmony within the collective group and that in order to minimize friction with others within the village and family, self-control needs to be promoted (Nisbett, Richard E. 2003). It is in this respect that it was easier to follow state requirements as administered by magistrates. Chinese were technologically advanced relative to the Greeks however, their achievement was not based on scientific investigation and theory, rather, it reflected a genius for practicality (Nisbett, Richard E. 2003).

In The Social Origins of the Mind(Chapters 23), Nisbett continued to compare ancient Greeks with Chinese by identifying various homeostatic socio-cognitive systems as responsible for the differences in cognition and origin of mentalities. The influences on cognitive processes may be summarized using his schematic model Ecology  Economy  Social Structure  Attention  Metaphysics  Epistemology  Cognitive Processes (Nisbett, Richard E. 2003). Nisbett claimed that his economic-social account of cognition relied using a more materialistic approach (instead of deterministic) and that he argued that modern Westerners and Greeks exhibited an object-oriented way in oppose to East Asians relationship-oriented cognitive thinking and style.

With respect to his comparison between the modern East Asians and Westerners, he claimed that the former live within an interdependent world that is, the self is a part of the larger context. On the other hand, the latter live in a world in which the self is a unitary free agent (Nisbett, Richard E. 2003). Easterners valued success with respect to the groups they belong while Westerners viewed it as a personal merit (fitting in versus individuality collectivist versus individualist)  indeed a satisfactory theoretical justification and evidence as to how and why people attend to the things they attend. Dealing with the difference according to him is affected in areas like law, debate, medicine, international relations, science and religion in which formalism, a two-valued logic and fundamental attribution, may be exercised (done by ignoring the situation and invention of strong behavior dispositional explanation). It is in this respect that Easterners must improve patterns of thought by acquiring lessons from the Western point of view since formalism is considered a Western habit of thought.  


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