Forming one body with heaven, earth and myriad things.
(Wang Yangming, 1472-1529)
Since the more inductive East and the more deductive West are both part of a gigantic ecosystem called Earth, it is important to understand how the two cultural hemispheres traditionally regarded their relationship with what truly matters to all of us: nature.
Given that the analytically-based, deductive West has the advantage of “processing information in a linear manner, that is from top to bottom, it collects a myriad of pieces, lines them up, and arranges them in a logical order before drawing the conclusions,” it is clearly the dominant hemisphere when it comes to articulate, explain, and write down human history (brain.web, 2007).
The integration-based, inductive East, on the other hand, “processes from bottom to top, holistically. It starts with the answer. It sees the big picture first, the great harmony, not the details” (brain.web, 2007).
As a consequence, the deductive Western hemisphere is “not only thinking in a linear manner, processes in sequences, but is also a list maker, enjoys making master plans, and learns in sequences” (brain.web, 2007). Western culture is “a good speller who makes rules to follow, works in the linear and sequential processing of math and scientific methods” (brain.web, 2007).
By contrast, the inductive Eastern hemisphere processes information randomly. “It flips from one tack to another, it will get just as much done, but perhaps without having addressed priorities. It pays attention to coherence, greater meanings, illustrations and feelings” (brain.web, 2007). Its memory is connected to “emotions and feelings, not dealing with things the way they are with reality but with ideal concepts” (brain.web, 2007).
The inductive East, which naturally has got a glimpse of the ‘whole picture,’ is well aware of the job the deductive Western hemisphere is doing in Asia by deconstructing and manipulating the world and all things:
- The West is linear, sequential, concrete, logical, verbal, and reality-based
However, the deductive West, which experiences the world as being made up of a myriad of little details, is not aware of the Eastern hemisphere’s goal of striving for a coherent ‘wholeness’ and ‘interconnectedeness’:
- The East is holistic, random, symbolic, intuitive, non-verbal, and fantasy-oriented
A similar East-West comparison has been made by Li Dazhao [李大钊] (1888-1927), philosopher and co-founder of the Communist Party of China:
Eastern civilization is static, while Western civilization takes initiative;
One is active, while the other is passive, so much for that.
The East harmonizes with nature; the West conquers it;
The East is tranquil; the West is aggressive;
The East is introverted; the West is extroverted;
The East is dependent; the West is independent;
The East is reserved; the West is advancing;
The East is submissive; the West is creative;
The East is conservative; the West is progressive;
The East is intuition; the West is reason;
The East is spiritual; the West is empirical;
The East is humanistic; the West is scientific;
The East is mind; the West is matter;
The East is spirit; the West is substance;
The East is inductive; the West is deductive;
The East takes man and nature as inseparable parts;
the West takes man as the conqueror of nature.
(Li Dazhao, 2006)
Li Dazhao’s observations are in line with how Western scientists generally perceive themselves and their abusive relationship with nature:
Only let mankind regain their rights over nature, assigned to them by the gift of God, and obtain that power, whose exercise will be governed by right reason and true religion. (Francis Bacon, 1620)
The separation of knowledge from ethics, or let us say ‘value-free knowledge,’ is what most obviously distinguished the Greek/Hellenistic/European civilization from all the others. For the deductive West, everything in the universe can be considered a potentially useful object that must be studied and manipulated so as to serve ‘man and his cause.’ This ‘man and his cause,’ in the good old days of the British Empire, meant, of course, the ‘British aristocracy and its cause.’ But during the European Renaissance, this had quickly turned into ‘Western man and his Western cause.’
‘Western man and his Western cause’ – this was about as far as it could be stretched. Enough human beings and territory were left out so that the scientific, deduction-based West could fulfil its mission, namely, to force the entire material world and everything non-Western to submit.
The Western ‘scientific way’ implies that there must be a non-scientific way, or just a ‘non-scientific other’ – nature and the ‘other people’ who value unity with nature. Nature and the traditional-minded people who side with nature are thus, by definition, at the wrong side of the ‘man-conquers-nature’ equation and must therefore be totally subjugated, deconstructed, divided, and manipulated by their scientific conqueror.
The playing out of opposing ideas and attitudes in world history thus strikingly resembles the battle between the differences of the right and left hemisphere of the human brain, whose power relationship is never quite symmetrical and indeed, between the ages, may swing like a pendulum. As Iain McGilchrist argued in his book The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2011), both cerebral hemispheres entertain “whole, self-consistent versions of the world.” The left hemisphere, the rigid, analytical, deductive one (technically slightly inferior because of its lack of any inclusive, holistic view, thus rightly called the “Emissary”) suppressed the right hemisphere – its true “Master” – and “carried us further into the territory of the left hemisphere’s world.” That is how, according to the neurosciences, the manipulative Western hemisphere came to dominate world history.
In sum, to any non-Western observer, the West and its deeply rigid, intolerant ‘scientific way’ appears to be inherently violent (Nandy, 1989).
Asia, and by that I mean virtually all societies from the Russians over the Indians to the Muslims, Chinese, and Japanese, by definition had all been on the receiving end of ‘world history.’ They could help row, but not steer that boat. In an allegorical, Faustian sense, the political philosophers and scientists Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), and Adam Smith (1723-1790) were among those great Western Enlightenment philosophers trading the Western conscience for the power it meant over those who still had to make a compromise with their conscience.
Until the final Faustian ‘reckoning,’ the Western powers, through all those centuries, could almost frivolously humiliate every other society on Earth until all ethical grounds were lost. Meanwhile, the very Eastern humanitarian notions of ‘wholeness,’ ‘harmoniousness,’ and ‘oneness’ became meaningless and undesirable to the average Western mind. What is most disturbing, however, is this: Even the slightest sign of ‘wholeness,’ ‘harmoniousness,’ and ‘oneness’ is now reminding the West of its past ‘failures’ and ‘shame,’ and thus, in the eyes of any analytical-deductive Westerner, must be avoided at all costs.
The final reckoning was considered imminent. In Mahatma Gandhi’s words, it was only a matter of time until that ‘other,’ be it nature or man, subtly strikes back at the tormentor and destroys the illusion that only Western sciences are valid: “This [Western] civilization is such that one only has to be patient, and it will be self-destroyed” (Gandhi, 1938).
Gandhi was exaggerating; he did not believe that the West would simply destroy itself, or be destroyed by others, or that sciences would become invalid. But he believed in Eastern concepts of positive ‘value-creation’ and ‘non-violence’ that – in the long run – like all Eastern concepts of ‘tolerance,’ ‘wholeness,’ or ‘oneness’ – would appeal to the Western imperialists’ sense of shame. And so they did:
A person cannot do without shame. If you are ashamed of your shamelessness, you will not need to be ashamed. (Mencius, 7A.6)
It is the old pattern again: If the West searches for the power over nature (matter), it is the East that searches for the power over man (mind), and it is the healthy equilibrium that would benefit both of them and thus all of us.
Sadly, the analytical West is still patronizing ‘its’ spiritual East. The facts have changed. Global power has shifted, but the Western feelings of total superiority still linger. That is why the otherwise easily predictable rise and dominance of integration-based Asia in the twenty-first century still appear unlikely to most Europeans, even today.
The Problem with Nature
Pattberg, Thorsten (2013), The East-West Dichotomy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing