Cultural background bias in observing an image. A scientific test.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by salvatore.mele, Feb 3, 2006.

  1. I just came across an old article of the New Scientist, not exactly my favourite reading, actually, with something possibly relevant to this forum. I apologise for those who already bumped into this six-month old piece of news.
    Chinese and American people see the world differently � literally. While Americans focus on the central objects of photographs, Chinese individuals pay more attention to the image as a whole, according to psychologists at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, US.
    Read more on New Scientist or at the source (registration required for the full text, the abstract is free).
  2. >>Nisbett hopes that his work will change the way the cultures view each other. モUnderstanding that there is a real difference in the way people think should form the basis of respect.ヤ<<

    I've spent 12 years in the Far East, and this is basically old news to me. The difference in outlook and even logic patterns runs very, very deep. Most westerners think according to logical patterns and philosophical concepts (especially in epistomology) developed by the Greeks (or at least first described by the Greeks) 2400 years ago, and Westerns tend to regard those logic patterns as laws of nature.

    They AREN'T laws of nature, and Asians don't think that way.

    For most surface-level communication, the differences don't matter much, but the differences reveal themselves in surprising ways with in-depth communication when you really try to determine if everyone really understands things in exactly the same way.

    It's the reason, for instance, Westerners regarded the Chinese as "inscrutable" for so fact, Chinese thinking IS inscrutable from a Western perspective. That doesn't imply it's wrong--it may well better represent reality, but the problem, of course, is that I can never know if you really see the same color as "red" that I see, or if we've both just learned to call that color "red" even though we actually see it differently. In other words, if something is "unreal" by Aristotelian epistomology but real by Chinese epistomology, is it real or not?

    Interestingly, scientists have also discovered that unlike Westerner languages, it takes the simultaneous use of both sides of the brain to speak Mandarin...what furious though processes must be going on when a native Mandarin speaker is translating to English on the fly!
  3. Would it be reasonable to say that the Oriental approach is gestalt in nature?
  4. Even worst. Canadian and Americans (US) see the World differently through the lens. Even worst: east coast in US see world through the lens differently than west coast. How about guys in the middle (between east and west coast) of US.

    And it is why I say do not learn about art photography from any book from anyone. Get one close to you with as more variables as possible. Egiptian art is very different from greek one,... Chinese and Am never ever met so how one can even get on end of main that art of that two different worls can be similar.
  5. Interestingly, scientists have also discovered that unlike Westerner languages, it takes the simultaneous use of both sides of the brain to speak Mandarin . . .
    There's a profound difference between what scientists have discovered and the dumbed-down and distorted oversimplifications and generalizations that get reported to the general population. Everyone researcher I 've known in the cognitive sciences would cringe to hear that kind of nonsense attributed to them.
  6. Kirk, I do want to note that I agree with your other observations regarding the cultural differences between "Eastern" and "Western" thinking (I've also spent several years living in Asia). It's just the bit of pseudoscience at the end of your post that I'm objecting to.
  7. >>There's a profound difference between what scientists have discovered and the dumbed-down and distorted oversimplifications and generalizations that get reported to the general population. <<

    Well, that's true, and not just in science.

    >>Everyone researcher I 've known in the cognitive sciences would cringe to hear that kind of nonsense attributed to them.<<

    However, when someone knows better, it's always nice if they'd just say what the truth actually is instead of just saying "you're wrong."
  8. The truth is that both sides of your brain are highly involved in the processing and production of any language (as well as essentially every other thought process, perception, and activity).
  9. Both the Chinese and Japanese use ideographs whereas we in the West use phonetic characters arranged linearly. The Chinese and Japanese read their texts from bottom to top, right to left (Hebrew also ?)whereas we read top to bottom left to right.

    What is the relationship between thought and language - and how does that influence other perceptions, e.g pictures and music?
  10. Which scientists? Let's hear some names and give us access to some of their "findings" or..don't make up stuff..
  11. I was told by an Israeli who was teaching me some Hebrew that the reason that they wrote right-to-left was that the language predated paper. Most people are right-handed, so if you are chiseling into stone, it is easier to observe your work as you go right-to-left. When it comes to Asian writing, the order of their writing probably does have a reason behind it, but it may or may not have anything to do with their brain function.

    People in north China will give directions differently from people in the south. One will say go left-right, the other will say north-south. Both will get you there.

    In women's brains the Corpus Callosium, the bundle of nerve tissue that connects the two halves of the brain, is larger than in men's. It has been said that perhaps women are better at multi-tasking for this reason. What about the Asian brain ? If in fact they see and compose photographs differently from Westerners, is there a physiological reason for it, such as this ? Perhaps someone with a medical background who has worked in Asia can shed some light here.
  12. Apparently it ain't just cultural -- it's even gender based. I have a photograph of a traffic jam in Paris, which includes the image of a very shapely older woman walking across the street, dressed in a tight-fiting jumpsuit with a large target-like patterns on it. You can almost see her wagging her behind as she walks. It is definitely very Vulgar! Men see the picture, like it, and grin, while every woman that I've showed it to (including several visual artists) hate the picture and say that it's Gross. They are unable to seperate their feelings about the prime subject matter from the image as a whole.
  13. Interesting discussion. I've lived in Asia for the past decade and I read a lot about the way Asians look at art, etc. If you turn the discussion around and look at how they MAKE art, or how they take photographs, there isn't much difference in what "they're" doing and what "we're" doing. There are a few photographers who stand out as doing something that seems particularly "asian", and one of those men is Wang Da Jun. This link shows some of his work:

    (Scroll down past the Chinese to the photographs)

    I would suggest thinking about the use of negative and "empty" space that is found in several of these works. Of course, Western photographers also show concerns for these issues. It is fun to look at work and think about the cultural origins. What's a bit sad is that with globalism, western sensibilities are being taught and learned all over the world. I remember reading about a French photographer who went into a Chinese village and gave point and shoot digital cameras to a group of teenagers, told them to go shoot anything they want in any way they want. Then he had an exhibition of the kids work. Maybe this is one way to discover 'new' ways of seeing.
  14. It's a fascinating topic Salvatore. As a quick introduction let me recommend one of my favorite authors - Edward T. Hall: "The hidden Dimension". Chapter VII includes short study of art in cross - cultural context. Following chapters (XII) contain thoughts on Japanese and Arabic sensitivity among others. BTW somewhwere there he mentions the movie based on my favorite Japanese author. Regards,
  15. Two points: 1) Chinese readers process written Chinese in the visual cortex, while readers of alphabetic languages process writing in the temporal lobes. Alexander Luria demonstrated this in studies of brain damaged people. There is probably some more recent research on this subject. 2) Chinese and Japanese art was traditionally more "two-dimensional" than Western art due to the use of the brush and the importance of calligraphy in those cultures.

    Not sure what this says about photography, but it does seem to be true that some people respond to patterns or "flattened" forms in photographs more than to points of focus or "depth." And it is true that a photo is essentially a two-dimensional object, though it is often meant to represent three dimensions.
  16. So true, Graham. Let me share an anecdote. Once I took an ikebana class but arrived late. The person sitting next to me said the goal was to make triangular arrangements, and so I did. When the Japanese instructor came to my station, she smiled with embarrassed and set about correcting the arrangement. I tried to show her how the flowers formed triangles when looked at from an appopriate angle, but she retorted that you had to look at the arrangement from one angle, which made it appear two-dimensional.
  17. Emre, sounds right. They also like to work with "threes" in Japan. You can see wonderful "two-dimensional" art in Japanese woodblock prints, where much of the aesthetic involves overlapping patterns of nature, clothing, architecture, etc. China also had a great woodblock tradition but less of it was preserved. There are many other examples of this in landscape painting, calligraphy, etc.

    I am not sure how this relates to photographs, but do believe that when one has a sensitivity to two-dimensional form, some images will seem much more dramatic and pleasing than if one does not. Be interested if someone else has some insights on this matter.
  18. You raised a nice issue, not a common one to come up in the usa. The point of view and the interpretation of images is entirely different between cultures and if the article(cant read it at the moment) is a one that relates to the reasons, it is a good read. It basically has to do with our ways of living(apartment vs open ground and etc) and collective wisdom.
  19. I've been in Japan for a while now and being an avid photographer, I naturally had to take a look at the Japanese photography. When I first saw it, it was very refreshing and different to the stuff I was used to seeing, like Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, Ansel etc. The landscape of Western photgraphers tends to be a lot more dramatic, with colour as a very main point, and grand sweeping views. But from all the Japanese works I have seen, there is a tendancy to tone the colours down and to look at details of a scene. Of course there are exceptions and there are Western photographers who take close up landscapes and Japanese photographers that take larger views. But as a whole, I see the trend above.

    I feel the Japanese have a different sense of aesthetic to Westerners. The Japanese images are more soft and romantic with the Western ones being more in your face. I'm not saying I prefer one over the other, although I sometimes find the Japanese stuff a bit boring and seemingly random, they are both different and attract different audiences. Having said this, its strange that a Japanese company produces films like Velvia and Fortia!

    Of course, the above is referring to landscapes, my main area of interest. However I have looked at some of the more street orientated work and that I find different too. I'm not talking about the candids of people on the street, but found still lifes or snapshots of things that are seemingly ordinary. This is not in the professional realm by the way. Just stuff I found on people's blogs etc. I find that the Japanese snap type shots are so much more thought provoking and they hold a sort of romance about them. As if they were taken in a quaint little world with no worries. The Western ones I see are usually of no real merit in my eyes. Maybe this is because I was brought up in the West and the stuff in the Western photos is just normal for me and the Japanese content is still relatively fresh. Either way, I feel drawn to the Japanese works more than the Western ones for some reason.
  20. "Having said this, its strange that a Japanese company produces films like Velvia and Fortia!"

    Adding to that is Epson, which produces great printers. It's business. They rely heavily on Epson Americas for marketing, hence the frequent "plane to Japan" which is of paramount importance to their business.

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