Where It Started, Part One

A few months back, I started asking God to reveal anything I might be missing…

I was just wrapping up my first blog (Turning Selfish into Service), which focused on discussions about Truth. But I was aware there could be cracks in my foundation. Things I thought were settled that needed to be re-examined.

I prayed, “Lord, what things do I take for granted as being true—which aren’t necessarily so?”

Oh, boy, reader.  The answers weren’t anything like I expected.


I love the title of this article:  We Are Not the World

It’s lengthy. But this entire blog will focus on the concepts covered (and questions raised) within it.  So, let me recreate the message the best I can, for my readers who probably won’t click the link…

For years, anthropologists have been using different research “games” to learn about human behavior, such as how people define fairness and equality. (The specifics of a few experiments are described in the original article.)  Unfortunately, most of these tests had been conducted almost-exclusively upon Americans and other Westerners. That is, until Joe Henrich decided to teach a “game”to the Machiguenga people of Peru.  It turns out, they give gifts and divide resources very differently from their Western counterparts…

And, when Henrich took his experiments to other remote parts of the world, he shook the very core of sociology by discovering that even basic principles of right, wrong, and fair are not understood the same way by all humans:

“At the heart of most research [before Henrich’s] was the implicit assumption that the results revealed evolved psychological traits common to all humans, never mind that the test subjects were nearly always from the industrialized West. Henrich realized that if the Machiguenga results stood up, and if similar differences could be measured across other populations, this assumption of universality would have to be challenged. Henrich had thought he would be adding a small branch to an established tree of knowledge. It turned out he was sawing at the very trunk. He began to wonder: What other certainties about ‘human nature’ in social science research would need to be reconsidered when tested across diverse populations?”

So, we all perceive things differently.  So what?  It doesn’t seem that ground-breaking, does it?  I mean, we all KNOW that.  At least we say we do.  But, just how far do these differences go?

Let me give a couple A-M-AZING examples (from the article), starting with the Muller-Lyer optical illusion.  You’ve seen it, but click on the link.

It turns out that foragers in the Kalahari Desert often aren’t fooled by this at all. Yes, they can tell the middle lines are equal, even though they look completely different to Westerners.

In fact, Americans have the most radical reaction to the experiment of any people group in the world—believing the lines are very different lengths—when many others see them as being just slightly unequal.

If this doesn’t give you a jolt, let me break that down in different words: if you grew up in the United States, you VERY LITERALLY see things differently from others.

In fact, for almost every area studied by Henrich (“in spatial reasoning, how we read the motivations of others, categorization, moral reasoning, the boundaries between the self and others”) people behaved differently depending on their community upbringing.

Do we really understand this concept as much as we claim?


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