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Cultures of Reason

Thinking styles may take Eastern and Western routes

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4:35pm, June 21, 2002

In July 1931, Russian psychologist Alexander R. Luria led a scientific expedition to central Asia to probe the minds of nomads who lived in that harsh, mountainous region. Luria wanted to explore whether members of what scholars at the time ranked as "primitive" communities could reason logically, like inhabitants of modern European and North American societies.

He got a rude shock. Upon hearing the scientist describe carefully phrased problems designed for simple, logical analysis, one nomad after another balked. They looked at Luria as if he had just asked them to run naked through a snowstorm.

For instance, Luria told one man that "all bears in the North are white" and that a friend who lives in the North "sent me a letter saying that he had seen a bear." Luria then asked the man to name that bear's color.

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