I was introduced to this article, Sushi Science and Hamburger Science, last semester in one of my favorite classes, and it’s still making me think. It’s written by a Japanese biologist visiting America, who says:
I had always regarded science as a universal and believed there are no differences in science at all between countries. But I was wrong. People with different cultures think in different ways, and therefore their science also may well be different.
He first compares the cuisines of the East and West. According to the Easterner, in the West, we overcook food, but at the same time have some dishes in which the genius of the chef is truly apparent. In the East, on the other hand, many of the meals are not cooked at all, and although there are many skills needed to be a good preparer even of sushi and sashimi, the materials speak more than the cook does.
His religion panel also sums up differences that he says are evident in many cultural practices. In general, westerners are more focused on one God, intentionality, the individual, and rational facts. While dichotomies are pervasive in Western culture, they are absent from Eastern. Motokawa sums the difference up by equating Western thought with the concept of “one” and Eastern thought with the concept of “many.”
This “one-many” distinction is very clear in the two cultures’ beliefs about science. In the West, we assume that nature is uniform and rational, and the goal is to discover universal rules. Instead of seeking universality, Easterners focus on finding differences and specificity (which Motokawa attributes at least in part to their belief in many gods). He writes that according to Eastern philosophy, “To interpret is to create your personal world, which always closes the way to the truth.”
If this is right, it explains why 70% of psychology citations come from the West. In psychology, the goal is to discover how the human brain/mind works. This implies that every human brain (and primates and rats too, since they’re frequently the subjects used in studies to learn about humans) behaves the same way under the same traditions. Are our mentalities are so different among different cultures that we don’t even see value in studying the same things? I wonder if there’s any way to reconcile the Eastern and Western cultural beliefs in order to study the mind? Maybe this is an important step in coming closer to a true understanding, as opposed to an understanding based on constricted cultural beliefs.