How culture affects the ways we learn to organize the world

Culture, perspective, and systems

In this 2012 Clever Apes: Nature and Human Nature podcast, scientists described research comparing the ways Native and non-Native children learn to think about the world. Although non-Native children’s thinking involved hierarchical categories (organizing by type), Native children’s thinking involved ecological or “systems-level” principles (organizing by relationships). These represent very different degrees of complexity in how we think about systems. How does culture, and the organization of thoughts and actions it embodies, influence how we learn about and come to understand systems?

How we see our place in the world depends on where in the world we’re from… As kids, we usually learn about nature from a decidedly human point of view. The world exists in relation to us. People are the stars in this scenario: We are Hamlet, while nature is like Denmark – the place where we happen to be. The conventional wisdom has been that this is a universal way the mind develops its awareness of the natural world.

But an eclectic group of researchers are challenging that…

Native kids tend not to have that anthropocentric view in the early years. They come to see the biological world in terms of relationships and connections – what psychologists call “systems-level thinking”…

This goes deeper than just having different beliefs. The scientists say those distinctive worldviews actually change the way we think, learn and reason.

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Clever Apes #29: Nature and Human Nature | Gabriel Spitzer