Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Analytical Mind

How well do any of us think? Now that’s something to think about. It’s quite possible that most of us are wrong about most everything, me included, because of one factor.

Our culture.

No I am not talking about just American culture but any culture. When immersed in any culture, as all of us are, we accept many assumptions consciously and unconsciously as being beyond a shadow of a doubt. Culture dictates how we dress, what we eat, how we should interact with other people, our attitudes, even how we perceive reality. We call this rational thinking. Yet how rational is the unconscious acceptance of all the assumptions that we are trained from birth to make and how analytical can we actually be if this is true? If cultures are not exactly static and change with time doesn’t it follow that what we perceive to be reality our world view changes with time as well? So how sure can we really be that any of us has a firm grip on what we call reality?

In the 19th century anthropologists were studying Indian mounds in the south eastern part of North America. During that time it was widely accepted among whites that the Native Americans were mentally inferior to whites likely based in part on the idea that whites had superior technology which had allowed us to push the Native Americans from their lands hence whites were superior. In fact the anthropologists who were studying the mounds completely dismissed the idea that the mounds had been built by the Native Americans because since they were inferior they couldn’t possibly have built them. This was the analytical thinking of that time period. Also at that time it was believed that brain size had a direct bearing on intelligence. This led the mound investigators to take skulls of Native Americans and Caucasians and measure the brain cavities of the skulls. This was done by filling them with sand and measuring the amount of sand the skulls could contain. Today we of course know that the mounds were built by Native Americans and it seems laughable that the assumptions of the analytical anthropologists would keep them from coming to such a logical conclusion. But before you laugh you had better be damned sure that you are much more immune to the edicts of your own culture than the people of the 19th century were. You are of course … aren’t you?