At first, Nisbett believed in the unanimity of human thoughts, where people think alike and their perspectives follow the same stream, based on all the conjectures of well known philosophers. However, he was able to confront these conjectures with a different take on human thought influenced by cultural ideologies and principles. Nisbett illustrates the difference in thought between easterners and westerners through an encounter with one of his students who is of Chinese in origin.
The ongoing discussion between Nisbett and this student of his about social psychology and reasoning led to the utterance of a statement that defied his idea of a universal or common perspectives on how humans think. His student views the world in a cyclical manner where everything revolves around a circle and where everything is a piece of the larger whole. Generally, this represents the eastern worldview. Westerners, on the other hand, view the world as a lane that only moves in one direction and focus more on the smaller parts of the whole.
This idea unexpectedly aroused the interest of Nisbett to learn more about the influence of culture on how humans think and perceive the world. The “universalistic” perspective on human thought adhered to certain theories and principles that rationalize the idea of a common train of cognitive processes. It disregards the influences of culture but sustains logic and the differences between reason and reasoning. These ideas fuse the standpoint of Nisbett regarding human thought.
These ideas were the bases of validation and inferential studies on human thought. These ideas led Nisbett to believe that efforts to transform or modify man’s way of thinking through learning and teaching would be impossible. However, further studies and investigations have proved the flaws and imperfections embedded in the “universalistic” viewpoint on human thought. Nisbett discovered that people who are taught particular ideas also have different ways of thinking. In addition, modifying man’s way of thinking takes time.
Nisbett proved these ideas to be true and started to base assumptions on the idea that training and learned habits, ideas and behavior, starting from birth would prove to be responsible and significant in the differences of human thought. Nisbett has done further research and investigation by reading and evaluating theories and perspectives written by various credible resource scholars regarding the eastern and western culture. This has been an enlightening and informative experience for him.
From this, he learned that even in the past, Easterners and Westerners behaved and thought distinctively. The ideas illustrated by his student of the “Easterner’s circle” and the “Westerner’s line” was proved to be veritable. People from different cultures have conflicting frames of mind regarding the ways of the world and thought processes and that this people’s thoughts are based on what makes sense in the nature of the world that they believe in. In other words, people fit their thoughts in the kind of world that they see.
Therefore, aside from the differences in cultural teachings and ideologies, the differences between Easterners and Westerners also lie on the different cognitive processes utilized by them to explicate and behave in a world they perceive it to be. Further research and study has been conducted to answer several questions that arise about the effects of these differences on thought and human relations. These have proved the interrelationship between human behaviors and how man sees the world, worldviews and human thoughts, and these human thoughts’ influence to human behavior and how man sees the world.
In simpler terms, human behavior and practices are patterned on man’s view of the world, and this view of the world influences how man thinks. Therefore, how man thinks substantiates human behavior and worldview. Despite however these conflicting ideologies and differences between Easterners and Westerners, harmonious relationships and understanding may still flourish through communal understanding and acceptance of how they think and act differently.
Nisbett, Richard E. “The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently and Why. ” NY: The Free Press, 2003.