I think step to the left, you think step to the east

December 14, 2009

Even the way people remember dance moves depends on the culture they come from, according to a report in the December 14th issue of Current Biology. Whereas a German or other Westerner might think in terms of "step to the right, step to the left," a nomadic hunter-gatherer from Namibia might think something more like "step to the east, step to the west."

Those differences aren't just a matter of language; rather, they reflect differences in the way our minds encode and remember spatial relationships.

"The human mind varies more across cultures than we generally assume," said Daniel Haun of the Max Planck Research Group for Comparative Cognitive Anthropology. "Even everyday tasks that we would never think of doing any other way, like remembering body movements, are done differently in other places."

Researchers knew that cultures differ in the way that they represent the locations of objects in space. But, Haun and Christian Rapold explain, knowing where our own hands and feet are has a strongly "egocentric" organization in the brain. Therefore, you might expect all people to remember body movements in essentially the same manner.

Not so, the new study shows. The researchers conducted experiments in which they asked groups of German children and Hai||om (sometimes referred to as Haikom) children from Namibia to learn a dance. The dance instructor (experimenter) stood by their side and demonstrated a simple move, shaking clasped hands from side to side in a right-left-right-right sequence. He then asked them to turn around to face the opposite direction and "dance again."

German children who successfully learned the dance almost always moved their hands to their right-left-right-right regardless of which direction they were facing. In contrast, the Hai||om children switched the direction of their movements, from right-left-right-right to left-right-left-left, depending on which way they were facing at the time.

The new findings highlight the extraordinary diversity and flexibility of the human mind, the researchers say.

"It's becoming more and more clear that we cannot simply extrapolate from investigations within our own population to others," Haun said. "To understand the human mind, we need to widen our perspective and assume diversity rather than universality of cognition until proven otherwise."

Source: Cell Press (news : web)

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4 comments

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RayCherry
5 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2009
This in not a revelation for liguists, nor for ontologists or those working in the field of computerised translation.

Concepts. When we learn how to express them without language, to catalogue the knowledge beyond literature, perhaps we will resolve the differences that currently cause so much confusion ... and learn much more from each other.

The sooner we moved from literarily and culrurally bound ontologies, to wordless conceptionaries the better. Google based on concepts defined by illustration (visual and auditory) that convey the shared basic knowledge of humanity, (and perhaps beyond into the non-human animal knowledge too).

Ref: Conceptionary
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2009
Google based on concepts defined by illustration (visual and auditory) that convey the shared basic knowledge of humanity,
But we know that gestures, movements are very culture dependent. E.g. showing the palm of your hand to someone has opposite meanings in different cultures.
RayCherry
not rated yet Dec 17, 2009
In a "Conceptionary" the individual concepts are linked together to define other concepts, thus permitting one concept to be shared and differentiated by the concepts it is linked to. So, your open hand at the end of an extended arm can be associated with different settings to signify "hi!", "ciau", "stop" or "here, please" (for examples) dependent on the situation which is shown in short animations or videos.

The important thing is that written language is not used as metadata for such a system. Instead, symbolic representations are associated with concepts they represent. The associations/links should also carry no metadata about the concepts or links themselves, other than a ranking of the association, (strong to weak).

I tried to float this idea on Wikipedia some years ago, but their 'admins' decided that it was a project proposal and not a definition. Pity. I'm sure that Google and other multilingual, multicultural, multidisciplinary projects are getting closer to this structure
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Dec 17, 2009
Maybe I don't understand yet.
How will you represent e.g. the concept "question" and link it to the concepts "answer: no" and "answer: yes", where the action "nodding one's head" in some cultures means "yes" and in other cultures means "no"?

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