Monday, 15 November 2010

Weird or what?

According to New Scientist (Nov.13, p.42), people who read or write blogs are likely to be WEIRD. They make this claim because such people are likely to be Educated and Rich (compared with peasants in underdeveloped countries), and they live in a Western-style society which is Industrialized and Democratic; shuffle the letters and there you are:- WEIRD.

What you may not realize is that compared with most of the world's population you are also weird in the accepted dictionary sense of the word, meaning strange, unusual, and incomprehensible. This is because WEIRD people like us think differently to the vast majority of the world population.

Psychologists now realize that 96% of the people they have studied in the past have been from the WEIRD population, and in fact more than two thirds of the subjects who have taken part in psychology experiments have been university students. Recent studies in many different cultures have shown that this WEIRD minority has very different ideas about their sense of self, their sensory perceptions and their views of morality compared with the majority of non-WEIRD people.

WEIRD folk like us almost always fall for optical illusions, of the type such as the one with two lines of equal length which appear different because of the way the arrows on the end are oriented. San bushmen just don't get it, the lines are exactly the same length, it's obvious, and most 'primitive' tribesmen throughout the world are less susceptible to visual illusions than we are. Other experiments have shown that rural peasants regard themselves as just a part of Nature as a whole, whereas WEIRD people are much more egocentric. WEIRD children taught a dance-routine that involves a sequence of hand movements such as right-left-right-right will still perform it in the same way when they are asked to turn around 180 degrees, whereas non-WEIRD desert-dwelling children will change the routine to left-right-left-left when they turn around. The WEIRD kids orientate things in relation to themselves, whereas the desert-dwellers relate directions to nearby rocks or bushes. Much more useful if you're going to spend most of the day looking for water or sticks or food in a vast territory with no sign-posts.

There are many other important differences. Weird people think analytically and want to distinguish themselves from others, whereas non-Weird people tend to accept things as they are, and want to fit into the natural pattern. Weird people are concerned about justice and their rights, whereas non-Weird people are more concerned with their obligations to their community and their gods. In some I.Q. tests, the only 'right'answers depend on analytical thinking, whereas there may be other holistic ways of looking at a problem and reaching a different answer.

I recall a wonderful TV programme in which a team of aborigines agreed to participate in a gruelling 5-day race around the Australian desert, pitting themselves against aa crack team of soldiers carrying food and water supplies and with modern navigation and survival equipment. The tough soldiers won of course, because the aborigines only travelled slowly to the nearest water-hole, where they killed a kangaroo and then they rested for 5 days. They just couldn't see the point of it. How could you get lost or thirsty in the desert, and why would you want to show off?

1 comment:

  1. When my son was little, we bought him some block shapes that had to fit through holes in the box lid that were the same shape, ie star through the star hole. I demonstrated it until the box was full and then emptied it out for him to try. He looked at it for a second or two, then took the lid off the box and put all of the blocks in, putting the lid back on afterwards. He sat back with a smile, and pushed the box back towards me. He'd make a good Aborigene.