August 7, 2007

Nerds and Object-Orientation

To me, one of the hallmarks of nerdishness is a cognitive tendency toward being "object-oriented," as opposed to seeing things in context. I consider object-orientation a masculine mental trait, in some ways the opposite of women's intuition, where a woman processes a variety of clues to come to a holistic insight, typically about social relationships.

I've also argued that East Asians tend to be more masculine-minded than white Americans on average, as shown by having higher SAT Math relative to SAT Verbal scores and being good engineers, and the like.

On the other hand, Robert Nisbett, who has researched East Asian thinking patterns, says they are less object-oriented than white Americans (with East Asian-Americans falling in between) and more context-oriented. Razib reported on GNXP in 2003:


I just read Richard Nisbett's The Geography of Thought. You can read a summary of the book here as a press release from the University of Michigan. The critiques that some of the readers over at Amazon make about the book are spot-on, Nisbett has a collection of studies that he bandies about, which reinforces stereotypes and preconceptions about "Asian thinking" vs. "Western thinking."


·The West is reductionist, the East is holistic

·The East is accepts contradiction, the West must be consistent

·The West focuses on the object, the East observers the context


...and so forth. This is a recapitulation of tried & true generalizations. But I think Nisbett does us a service by showing that psychological tests have indicated quite clearly that these trends are true.


In 1991's Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia also argued that object-orientation is a Western tendency, comparing the European knight in shining armor to the Japanese samurai's much more organic-looking armor.


Perhaps these different mental orientations explain why, say, American engineers are better at inventing big breakthroughs, while Japanese engineers are better at integrating all the pieces into smoothly working systems? At least, that's what the Japanese seem to believe...


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've also argued that East Asians tend to be more masculine-minded than white Americans on average, as shown by having higher SAT Math relative to SAT Verbal scores and being good engineers, and the like.

La Griffe du Lion has written several essays arguing that "Verbal IQ" may be even more important than "Math IQ" when seeking to construct [or advance] a civil society; see for instance:

SMART FRACTION THEORY II:
WHY ASIANS LAG

In market economies, per capita GDP is directly proportional to the population fraction with verbal IQ equal to or greater than 106.
http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/sft2.htm

Anonymous said...

That's interesting. Being a software programmer, I can see where the functionality of programming languages has been geared towards reducivism and focused on objects. The big trends in programming over the last couple of decades have been towards object-orientation and building applications out of largely independent services, i.e. "plugins". The latter approach is often taken to absurd extremes, with every minor task encapsulated within its own module.

I wonder East Asian software development is geared in a different way? Probably not, since I'm guessing they mostly use western created developer tools.

Jeff Burton said...

This post tripped me up because "object-orientation" has very specific computer science definition, which does not map perfectly to the psychological categories you are describing. Despite being a nerd, I am able to appreciate the irony.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 8/07/2007 2:57 PM

The data supporting a lower East Asian verbal IQ is pretty weak, if not nonexistent. If you look at SAT verbal scores by ethnic group, the Asian average is not much below the non-hispanic white average, even though a sizeable number of Asian test-takers don't come from English speaking homes (many are even recent immigrants). If you correct for that environmental handicap, the verbal average may well be higher for Asians. (It's also true that the Asian category that ETS uses includes some south-east asian groups like Hmong or Filipino that drag down the NE Asian averages -- it's been remarked before that the variance of the collective "Asian" group is extremely large.)

Anonymous said...

The data supporting a lower East Asian verbal IQ is pretty weak, if not nonexistent.

La Griffe du Lion also makes the point [in fact, it's almost his fundamental thesis] that variance is far more important than mean when trying to analyze these things.

Low variance means a very sharp gaussian [closer to what the physicists call a "delta function"], clustered narrowly around the mean, whereas high variance means a very broad gaussian [with lots of outliers].

For some reason [and if anyone could determine the reason, it would be a whale of an insight], whites, and especially, white men, always seem to have very broad, flat bell curves, with lots of outliers at the very far extremes.

So, for instance, in terms of IQ, this means that white men are disproportionately likely to be severely retarded, but also disproportionately likely to be supreme geniuses.

And La Griffe du Lion has shown that this is true even of an underlying criminality index - at the one extreme, white men are disproportionately likely to be choir boys, but at the other extreme, they're also disproportionately likely to be mass-murderers.

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

In 1991's Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia also argued...

Steve, do you have all of the arguments from that book listed in your head? Or did that lone factoid just happen to jump to the front of your melon?

Either way, disturbing.

I hope this blog's recent "computer trouble" and "camping trip" weren't actually cover for some sort of Orwellian government thought crime deprogramming experiment performed on the real Steve Sailer.

Or maybe you have always been a Starbucks-sipping, Saab-driving, sandal-wearing, leftwing yuppie doing deep deep cover work for George Soros or, I dunno, maybe Marty Peretz.

I'm beginning to think you'd rather watch High Noon instead of Patton.

Anonymous said...

Re: IQ variance, while there is evidence that (and supporting evolutionary arguments for why) men have higher variance than women, there is no evidence that IQ variance in white men is larger than for Asian men. (At least, not in the data as far as I can tell, although I never seem to meet really, really dumb Asians.)

The Asian *category* (as defined by ETS), which includes S, SE and NE Asians all together, has an anomalously *high* variance but should really be disentangled into more than one distribution.

agnostic said...

Whatever the mean and variance of verbal IQ among East Asians, it remains that their visuospatial IQ is far far greater. If you excelled in one area, but were only a bit above-avg in another, which career path would you choose? Now, aggregate these individual choices.

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to think you'd rather watch High Noon instead of Patton.

I saw a bit of High Noon on the AMC channel late one night recently, for the first time since I learned what it was supposed to have been an allegory for.

BLECCH - the thing is so nauseating now, it's unwatchable.

Bill said...

One could spend a lifetime studying the differences between Eastern and Western philosophy in search of an answer to this question. you are getting into metaphysics here, and it is near impossible to give any definite answers on the subject.

However, I can offer a few observations:

The Asian concept of truth and reality is fundamentally different, but no less real or true (if that makes any sense).

Objective reality is far more limited to the Western mind. On the other hand, objective possibility is more limited to the Eastern mind.

To an Asian, if something was not observed or is not known the truth is ambiguous. For example, the idea Westerners have that "God sees all" is alien to Chinese. This attitude penetrates all facets of life. If a married woman has an opportunity to advance her family's material well-being by sleeping with a superior, there is no moral quandary if the matter is only between her and the boss. She will feel no guilt about it, because if only they know it really only happened in an alternate universe from their point of view. This is very relevant to the Chinese idea of "face".

This may seem ludicrous to Westerners, but the Western idea that we can do or be whatever we want in this life is equally absurd to Chinese. No Chinese would ever tell their child that they should only "dare to dream" and one day their dream may be fulfilled. To the Chinese, the world of dreams and the real world are quite distinct. Watch their movies: One common theme is the impassable gulf between the ideal and the real world, which both exist, but only in parallel. Trying to cross the line always ends in tragedy.

So what does this have to do with civilizational trajectory? Well, if you're a young philosophy student feel free to write a doctoral dissertation about it and let me know what you come up with. Don't be surprised if you end up raving mad 50 years later in the bowels of a university library mumbling about the Duke of Zhou (yes, I have met a couple of these).

Harlequin said...

Whie I do thinkthat there are differences in East Asian and Western thinking styles, I don't think it is as clearcut as the formulation given earlier:


"Asian thinking" vs. "Western thinking."

·The West is reductionist, the East is holistic
·The East is accepts contradiction, the West must be consistent
·The West focuses on the object, the East observers the context


A counter-example to the above would be how Westerners think about race: All races are equal in ability and disposition (but blacks and Hispanics are underperforming and violence-prone). This contradiction seems permanently implanted in the Western mind, impervious to rational critique. People will espouse the most egalitarian and dogmatic discourse---and convince themselves of it---then act in their own self-interest, living as far away as possible from blacks and Hispanics.

In my experience, East Asians have none of these quandries regarding race. I suppose in this case, they can be accused of being "reductionist" while Westerners take the "holistic" approach. They have no compunctions focusing on the object (violence and under-performance of certain groups), while Westerners must always consider the context.

The two types of thinking alluded to earlier are applicable to both East and West, depending on circumstances. Those circumstances are usually based on fear reactions. Having to endure centuries of living under despots, East Asians develop mental blocks and acceptance of contradiction in cultural and social matters in the same manner that Westerners sustain opposing views in regard to race. East Asians fear tyranny and the power of the state, while Westerners fear being called racists.

The real difference between East and West, then, revolve around how Westerners are able to create societies that tame the power of the state, only to be paralyzed by criticisms of how they have historically mistreated others. East Asians, on the other hand, have always been held captive by the power of the state, and are not about to waste any time and energy dreading about past misdeeds.

Anonymous said...


Re: IQ variance, while there is evidence that (and supporting evolutionary arguments for why) men have higher variance than women, there is no evidence that IQ variance in white men is larger than for Asian men. (At least, not in the data as far as I can tell, although I never seem to meet really, really dumb Asians.)


I think you ignore the reality of Chinese civilization for the last several thousand years and the rewards to those who passed the civil service exams, and the enormous downward mobility in Chinese society during that time.

The left hand tail has definitely been purged.

Muswell Hillbilly said...

Bill,

That's fascinating.

What I wonder is, how does the Arab/Muslim notion of shame and face track with this Asian facet of observation determining truth? Presumably they are at least in line with the Western mold in the sense that Allah is supposed to see all, no?

Anonymous said...

Nisbett says East Asians are holistic and Westerners reductionist, but for other cultures (eg. continental Europeans, Middle Easterners, Jews, Indians, Africans etc...) what about them? Nisbett just skims on them very briefly...
And why would there be a polarized East Asian on one side and Westerners on the other side... would other cultures be in between?

Anonymous said...

This calls to mind the Myers Briggs distinction between N (theorist; 25% of the population) and S (experiential; 75% of the population) personality types. As an extreme N type, I've found the N/S distinction to be absolutely crucial to understanding people. The simple fact is that most people don't walk around forming theories and trying to reduce the world to some overarching, abstract principles. Instead, they walk around thinking about what to do, observing what is happening, etc. The news media, which provide a steady stream of what's happening with little meaningful context, primarily serve the majority S type.

Karen said...

Camille Paglia is such an embarassment. "Western" style armor orginated in Persia. Persia is the East to our West.