Edev_501 Response wk9_4

Here’s my clarification.

This is what Paul (2007) wrote:

“[W]e need  to discover the extent to which our thinking is bound by a culture. Cultures are good in many ways. But, to the extent that they lock us in to one way of looking at the world, we need to transcend them. We need to think beyond them. Why is this important? It’s important because we, as creatures, are deeply determined — in our life, and in our behavior, and in our character, and in other ways – are determined by our thinking. We have no choice but to be governed by thought. The question is, do we govern the thought that governs us?  Ideas control us … Do we control them?” (Paul, 2007, my italics).

Paul recognises that culture plays a role in hindering the wider thought processes in some individuals when their cultural notions are generalised beyond their immediate cultural confines. For example, the idea that fireworks displays are summertime events is common in Japan but practically unthinkable in Scotland. Japan’s summer evenings are dark by 19:30 and family evening events are popular. Scotland is light until 22:00, a time by which most young children are in bed. The summer fireworks displays here are fun-filled, family affairs which people associate with light clothing, sweat and mosquito bites. Why would anyone wish to stand outside in the bitter cold and try to enjoy fireworks? is a sentiment I’ve heard often when I explain that we Scots don’t have summer fireworks events and that we need to have them in the winter. Scots associate fireworks with scarves and frosty breath. Cognitively, a Japanese can understand the value of winter fireworks displays, but many will have their full appreciation impeded by their own cultural notions that tie the event into their own webs of expectation, and vice versa. They are locked into a single version whereas possible versions exist. Their imagination is stifled by Whorfian determinism that limits their worldview.

Understanding how we think is an action Paul insists upon. Critical thinking is the key that unlocks the door to the worlds of other. We achieve this partially by understanding the genesis and development of our biological and cultural transmission and the enculturalisation process (Grusec & Hastings, 2006). By focussing on these aspects, some can rise above cultural imperatives. That is, they can place erstwhile unconscious transmitted and enculturalised elements into the cognitive domain and decide critically whether to maintain or abandon them.

In this way, critical thinking provides tools to transcend cultures. However, and this was my original point, it is quite imaginable that an individual achieves this state and yet forgets that their interlocutor may have not. The fallacy of ‘the curse of knowledge’, the egocentric condition when someone who has acquired knowledge in a particular domain exhibits an inability to perceive difficulties that another person may have in that domain (Ryskin & Brown-Schmidt, 2014): In other words, ‘Because I know it, you must know it, too’. Just because one individual has appreciated their own cultural imperatives and overcome them, it does not follow that others around them have done so either. Paul neglects to discuss this secondary point, and I feel that it needed articulation.

A Scot in Japan may understand why Japan and Scotland have different traditions regarding firework displays. But if that Scot talked to a Japanese and assumed that the Japanese had also come to the same understanding, there may well be some cultural misunderstanding.More relevantly, any ensuing cultural misunderstanding would be the result of a lack of critical thinking about what understandings the interlocutor may or may not share.

Grusec, J. E. & Hastings, P. D. (2006). Handbook of socialization: Theory and research. New York: Guilford Publications.

Paul, R. (2007). Critical Thinking in Every Domain of Knowledge and Belief. Retrieved 8 June 2015 from: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-in-every-domain-of-knowledge-and-belief/698

Ryskin, R. A. & Brown-Schmidt, S. (2014). Do Adults Show a Curse of Knowledge in False-Belief Reasoning? A Robust Estimate of the True Effect Size. PLoS ONE 9(3): e92406. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092406

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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