A firsthand experience at a different, non-reductionist thought process

I would like to share with you an experience I had today.

I am working with two other people to write a paper that summarizes some work we did. One of the persons was born and raised in Taiwan, i.e., he is Chinese.

In today’s discussion I said to my colleagues, “We need to show how all the rules fall into five separate categories.”

The problem, however, was that the rules didn’t really fit into five neat categories.

The Chinese guy said, “No, the rules have some of this set of properties and some of this other set properties; we need a matrix which shows the rules are part this, part that.”

What a radical difference of mindset.

The third person explained to me: “In the Western culture we try to break everything down into tidy, independent categories. For example, in grade school we are told that the human body is composed of a liver, a heart, lungs, and so forth, and each works pretty much independently. This is called the reductionist approach. But in the Asian culture they don’t think this way. They are taught that everything is interconnected, e.g., depression in the brain affects digestion in the stomach, digestion in the stomach affects depression in the brain.”

This was a huge wakeup call for me. I feel very privileged to have had this experience. My tiny view of the world got shattered.

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