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A Geography of Time

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Robert Levine – A Geography of Time

The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently

(…) As Miles Davis said, “Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” How we construct and use our time, in the end, defines the texture and quality of our existence. To seize control over the structure of one’s time is my own definition of what it means, as it is said in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to avoid “devoting thyself to the useless doings of this life.” And that, more than anything, is what I have taken away from my studies of the time senses of other cultures. Borrowing again from Russell Banks’s image of Hawthorne’s Wakefield: I had moved out of my house and this is what appeared when I looked back to “see what’s true there.” Simply that. (…)

In each country, we went into one or more of the major cities in order to measure three indicators of the tempo of life.

(…)

First, we measured the average walking speed of randomly selected pedestrians over a distance of 60 feet.

(…)

The second experiment focused on an example of speed in the workplace: the time it took postal clerks to fulfill a standard request for stamps. In each city, we presented clerks with a note in the local language requesting a common stamp—the now standard 32-center in the United States, for example. They were also handed paper money—the equivalent of a $5 bill. We measured the elapsed time between the passing of the note and the completion of the request.

Third, as an estimate of a city’s interest in clock time, we observed the accuracy of 15 randomly selected bank clocks in main downtown areas in each city. Times on the 15 clocks were compared to those reported by the phone company.

The three scores for each country were then statistically combined into an overall pace-of-life score.

(…)

Geography of Time Fast Countries

Geography of Time Slow Countries

(…)

We can speculate about the direction of causality between the tempo of life and economic conditions. Most likely, the arrow points both ways. Places with active economies put greater value on time, and places that value time will be more likely to have active economies. Economic variables and the tempo tend to be mutually reinforcing; they come in a package.

(…)

It is one of the great ironies of modern times that, with all of our time-saving creations, people have less time to themselves than ever before. Life in the Middle Ages is usually portrayed as bleak and dreary, but one commodity people had more of than their successors was leisure time. Until the Industrial Revolution, in fact, most evidence suggests that people showed little inclination to work. In Europe through the Middle Ages, the average number of holidays per year was around 115 days. It is interesting to note that still today, poorer countries take more holidays, on the average,than richer ones.

(…)

Our results confirmed the hypothesis: greater individualism was highly related to faster tempos.

(…)

How we define and measure our time does, in fact, border on the religious. And people do not change religions lightly.

(…)

Since our own study found a very strong relationship between economic vitality and the pace of life, we hypothesized that this should also lead to a positive relationship between the pace of life and happiness. And this is exactly what we found: in all of our pace-of-life experiments, people in faster places were more likely to be satisfied with their lives.

(…)

It is in the middle ground between too much and too little pressure that people enter the experience, described in an earlier chapter, called “flow.” When Csikszentmihalyi kept tabs on people by having them wear beepers, asking them at frequent intervals what they were engaged in and how good they felt, the most positive reports came when people were in moderately challenging activities that engaged their skills. People doing too many things at once tended to be overstressed. But those who were doing nothing at all experienced little sense of flow and little pleasure. Many contemporary psychologists believe the flow experience is an important key to a happy and satisfying life. Studies have shown that flow experiences are not only exhilarating but empowering: they raise self-esteem, competence, and one’s overall sense of well-being.

My own studies, we have seen, point to the mixed consequences of a rapid pace of life. People in faster environments are more prone to potentially deleterious stress, as evidenced by higher rates of coronary heart disease; but they are also more likely to achieve a comfortable standard of living and, at least in part because of this, are more satisfied with their lives as a whole.

Download the full pdf here. (C) 1997 Robert Levine All rights reserved.

(received 12.07.2013 at http://www.cycle-planet.com/paleo/AGeographyofTime.pdf)

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See also Arrow, Circle, Spiral and Cylinder – Different Conceptions of Time and History and Map of Happiness.

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Arrow, Circle, Spiral and Cylinder – Different Conceptions of Time and History

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The Arrow

Jürgen Kuhlmann wrote an interesting article about the different concepts of history from a theologist`s point of view (Kreis oder Pfeil, 1982). He noticed, that Christianity (Western thinking) mainly focuses on linear conceptions of time (and history), while Eastern philosophy mainly focuses on concentric structures.

Jürgen Kuhlmann: born 1936 in Swinemünde, 1962 Priest in Rome, 1965 Promotion to Dr. theol. At the University Gregoriana in Rome, 1965-1972 Kaplan in Naila and Nürnberg, 1972 Marriage, 1973 Laisierung. http://www.stereo-denken.de/pfeil-kr.htm

Prof. Dr. Dr. Norbert Lohfink is a specialist for the exegesis of the Old Testament. He explained the development of a linear construction of history in the „Priestly Source“. Around 600-500 BC the Jews were enslaved by the Babylonian empire and lived under hard circumstances in the „Babylonian Exile“. The consignees of their scriptures should see, that the loss of their motherland would only be a temporary state. In this dynamic, the world seems to be stable (if no human misbehaviour would interfere). (Orientierung 1977,147 f).

In “Messianism in linear and cyclical contexts” Jan A.B. Jongeneel writes: Although scholars write about messianic figures and movements in cyclical contexts, they cannot ignore the matter of fact that not one of the holy books of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or Shinto, but the Bible has given birth to the concept of the Messiah. Since that time the Messiah is really at home in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as linear belief-systems. However, it is questionable whether each of these three monotheistic religions can be labeled as a “messianic religion.” All these three religions are indeed “prophetic,” but merely the Jesus movement, known as Christianity, seems to be “messianic.” Neither Moses as the founder of the Jewish religion nor Muhammad as the founder of Islam is proclaimed as the Messiah. But Christians continuously proclaim Jesus of Nazareth, ardent adherent and renovator of the linear view of time and history in the Hebrew Bible, as the Messiah of Israel and the gentile nations. As such Jesus has axial significance in world history. Asian and African Christians take the lead in the dialogue with the adherents of the cyclical view of time and history. They try to harmonize, speaking about the spiral as a bridge of the cycle and the line. M.M. Thomas does not want to value the cyclical view of time and history negatively. He merely wants to add a dimension which is lacking wherever the cycle prevails: “The Christian understanding of historical and cosmic process need not deny the reality of the cycles of nature and life. But it stands or falls with the doctrine of the ultimate divine purpose of that process”. That doctrine culminates in proclaiming the return of Jesus as the Messiah at the end of the times. (Read his article online here or get the pdf here.)

Annotation of the editor: at the same time the idea of the “Natural Philosophy” spread in Greece, which fits perfectly to the model of the arrow: an individual shoots throughout the time like an arrow. The implementation of the circular model  is the eternal life after death, like the arrival in the Promised Land.

This picture hangs in my home since I can think. It is called “Der breite und der schmale Weg – The Broad And The Narrow Way”. It is a good example for the linear conception of time in Christian cultures. You get this funny picture in 500kb at Luzius Schneider . Also hard copies are available there.

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Bible, Jesaja 43

http://www.bibleserver.com/index.php

16 This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 18Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

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The Circle

Laotzi lived at the same time as the Jews suffered from the Babylonian Exile about 500 years ago. That time China was suffering from never-ending civil wars and a decay of culture. As the leading intellectual of his time, he surely was aware of the great past of his country and searched for the reasons for this cultural decay.  According to the changes in nature following different rhythms (moon, seasons, day and night, …) he developed the Dao (Tao) aka The Way, meaning to follow the natural order of nature. This natural order also includes a magic order of numbers. Like day and night, the seasons or the Chinese dynasties, all is due to a permanent change: up & down, raise & fall. Laotzi described those rhythms as circles in the Taoteking (tao te king),which is probably the main Asian contribution to human culture.

The Buddhist Samsara, the Wheel of Life is a model of human life. The devil holds this wheel, biting into the outer ring, representing the direct influence of the evil on daily life. The inner axle is formed by three animals, representing the deep human inner drives.

Taoism and Buddhism both have in common a circular perception of life. Both form the circular model of Chinese / Asian thinking.

See a nice Samsara here (http://brian.hoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu/REL255/03.Jainism.Mahavira.html – broken link)

Taoteking
Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.

[dt. v. Richard Wilhelm ,Jena 1921, Nr. 29 and edited by Dan Baruth)

http://www.iging.com/laotse/LaotseE.htm

For applications of circular vs. linear thinking please click here.

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The Spiral

Swiss journalist Lily Abegg, developed the model of the spiral. She writes according to the limited English skills of the editor: World history is similar to a unique, irreversible process, in which all cultures and individuals swings in a spiral. (…) Eastasians only see the concentric structures and do not see, that the spiral opens. We (i.e. Western people) mostly focus on distances and steps, skipping the concentric structures until the perspective looks linear.

(Ostasien denkt anders (Zürich 1949), 403 f)

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The Cylinder

In “Social Change and Modernity” Hans Haferkamp and Neil J. Smelser noted: The original Judaeo-Christian eschatology still conceives history within the bounds of a model based on the action period. By virtue of its covenant with a mighty God and the intervention of his Son, a people remembers and experiences its history as the path toward a salvation that, to begin with, was understood in quite earthly terms. This ultimately magical pattern of interpretation was not so much based on the separation of different temporal levels as on the topological difference between the chosen people and the heathens. It was not until after it became obvious that the return of the Redeemer could not be expected within a single lifetime that—under the influence of classical philosophy—the time horizon and the topological difference between life on earth and the hereafter, between God and the world, between the immortal soul and mortal flesh, and between the terrestrial and heavenly realms were expanded and thus diverted attention away from the division between the chosen people and the heathens. There was an added topological difference between the individual and the world historical levels of explanation. The individual was able to make progress along the path to salvation; the world, via the sequence of the three realms (paradise, life after the fall, and salvation), carried out God’s promise of deliverance. Another development of momentous significance was the new form taken on by the process model for change in the secular sphere. The cyclical view of the rise and fall of empires was supplemented by the perspective of the unilinear and irreversible development of the world and progress toward salvation.

Moreover, for history to be seen as the history of salvation, it was also necessary for humankind to be active in its approach and to strive for salvation. Redemption and the reconciliation of earthly life with the hereafter were not solely the work of God but involved humanity as well. This eschatological dualism introduced a comprehensive, positive moment of tension into historical change. No longer was change merely short-term unrest without underlying hope. It now had as its goal and ultimate end the perfection and redemption of the world. The beginning and end of history were in turn determined by the timelessness of paradise, past and future. Naturally, the eschatological process at first remained completely within the bounds of action-theoretical notions: the world has been created by a personal God who issued commandments, and if humanity followed these it would ensure its own progress to salvation. (Get the whole article as pdf here or read it online at The Center For Sociological Research And Development Studies Of China)

Quran: Al-Fatiha

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful (1)

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, (2) The Beneficent, the Merciful. (3) Owner of the Day of Judgment, (4) Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help. (5) Show us the straight path, (6) The path of those whom Thou hast favoured. Not (the path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray. (7)

Quran Explorer

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Additional Material

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Mental Representations of Time in Chinese Language (Mandarin)

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Examples of spatiotemporal metaphors in Mandarin

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The immediate and chronic influence of spatio-temporal metaphors on the mental representations of time in English, Mandarin, and Mandarin-English speakers by Vicky Tzuyin Lai (Neurobiology of Language Department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands) and Lera Boroditsky (Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, US) – Front. Psychol., 09 April 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00142

Read the full .pdf online here or here.

(retrieved 31.10.2013 at www.frontiersin.org/Journal/DownloadFile.ashx?pdf=1&FileId=11690&articleId=28033&Version=1&ContentTypeId=21&FileName=fpsyg-04-00142.pdf)

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J. Gabriell and T. Hedden “How culture influences Brain”

Asians and Westeners had to answer questions about absolute quantities (is, is not, how many?) or relative qualities (bigger than, higher than, more red than,…)

It became obvious, that Western people have to spend more energy to render relative judgments (bigger than, lower than, …) than Asians. Vice versa it showed, that Asians needed more energy rendering absolute judgments (is or is not).


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J. Gabriell and T. Hedden from Mc Govern Institute in TechTalk by MIT (Mass. Institute for Technology), volume 52, No. 14 (30.01.2008)

Download the full pdf here, the article is on page 4 below.

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Michael Heeney: Spiral Staircases and Cylindrical Pools: The Implosion of “Circular” and “Linear” Gestalts

In modern German psychology, there is a concept called the gestalt which is useful for this discussion. In it, human beings are viewed as open systems in active interaction with their environment. People naturally organize their perceptions according to certain patterns, which have similar structural properties that influence concepts across the spectrum of human thought. It is essential to use this term when discussing “circular” and “linear” structures of thought, since these seemingly simple terms will come to represent their own individual gestalts, encapsulating multiple binary concepts subsumed and ordered under their respective structuring principles. The author Virginia Woolf provides an ideal springboard to expound upon this, since her novels attempt to encapsulate a fusion of the two structures into a singular, universal gestalt, or structuring principle. In many of her novels, particularly Orlando for the sake of this discussion, the goal of this is a synthesis between two different kinds of minds, the rational masculine and the subjective feminine, to produce the harmonized androgynous. This process is created through the synthesis of two different conceptions of time, the linear historical and circular subjective. Finally, the entire new gestalt is illustrated by how the dialectic of circles and lines combine to synthesize a cylinder, a spatial idea which symbolizes how the new androgynous mind articulates itself through time which respectively, as Kant has said, is merely the form of inner sense. (…)

It appears that in this case, the duality between male and female does have biological origins, but those of cognition, not those of gender. (…)

© by Serendip 1994­ 2010 ­ Last Modified: Monday, 25­Apr­2005 11:31:11 EDT

Read the full essay online at http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/evolit/s05/web3/mheeney.html or download as pdf here.

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Time as the Action Period

(…) An analysis of this kind starts out from an interpretational pattern that makes no distinction between processes of social action, on the one hand, and processes of social order and social change, on the other hand. There is no recognizable social order standing out above processes of interaction within the framework of this interpretational pattern. The perception of change and temporal alteration is limited to the time-period one has lived through and remembered, to the durée of social action.[7] Hence the “narrative” logic by which action is recounted both frames and structures the logic underlying the passage of time.[8] The “stories” recalled are kept in motion by interaction among a number of actors, and the stories’ beginnings and ends are determined by how the theme of interaction is dealt with.[9]

Both the change experienced in the world during the course of action and the change experienced in the subjects themselves that they remember as they consider own personal experience of getting old are of course limited as long as there is no social structure differentiating among time periods. Aging processes take place synchronously and therefore hardly give cause for the social differentiation of periods of time or of temporal levels. Beyond the period of action and the lifetime as directly experienced the world is experienced as something timeless and ultimately chaotic.

Primitive classifications, which by definition are not systematized by any superordinate principle, clearly show the unordered complexity of the world. They barely offer a topological “toehold” for identifying time that reaches beyond one’s own lifetime or beyond the actions of the present (Lévi-Strauss 1962). The only way in which primitive classification allows a number of lifetimes to be linked together is via the kinship link of conception and birth; this pushes the temporal horizon back into the past and creates an awareness of continuity and change independent of the experience of the present. Evidently, the extension of such a genealogical model of time marks out a line of development running from the action-period notion of time to the socially differentiated notion of time.

(…)

Apart from the extension of historical space in Voltaire’s philosophy of history, the natural sciences’ concept of time in the eighteenth century also broke through the barriers of the hierarchical model of temporal levels. The concept of an objective measurable passage of time determined and moved by the laws of nature gradually asserted itself as a point of reference. Against it, historical time appears limited, imprecise, and inconstant. The temporality of the world, on the one hand, and that of the passage of history and experience, on the other hand, are hence ever more sharply delineated by different process models. “Objective” time moves according to the eternal laws of nature, whereas historical time is kept in motion by the progress of the human race (Elias 1984).

(…)

An analogous paradigmatic switch occurred in biology when the Linnean classification of natural processes was succeeded by the Darwinian theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species by natural selection, which was to prove extraordinarily momentous for the theory of society that followed, brings out, in its very name, the temporalization of order. A number of observers have noted that Darwinian theory itself took as its model certain economic theories of the day. (…)

The Temporalization of Social Order : Some Theoretical Remarks on the Change in ‘Change’ by Bernhard Giesen; Publ. 1992 in: Social change and modernity / ed. by Hans Haferkamp … Berkeley : Univ. of California Press, 1992, pp. 294-319

Read the except online here or download .pdf here.

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See also A Geography of Time

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(reviewed 12.07.2013)

Written by NoToes

15/01/2010 at 20:18

Posted in All Articles, Buddhism, China, Christianity, Collectivism and Individualism, Islam, Religion & Philosophy, Time in Different Cultures

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Applications of Circular and Linear Thinking

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Working Culture

(…) For the Chinese, quite a lot of concepts have a circular nature. One clear example is time: the same things happen again and again. History is circular and not lineal like in the West. The best example is the history of China which can be summarized as the continuous succession of the following four stages: “arrival of a new dynasty”, “dynasty at its height”, “decline of the dynasty”, “China in chaos” and start back again. Note that this circular pattern cannot be easily applied to the history of western civilizations.

Another clear example is human relations understood as a continuous exchange of favors or services among people. In China, the idea of doing something for somebody else in exchange of nothing is less common than in the West. The reason is that the favor is circular and it has to come back to the person who did it. For example, at work in China, if a colleague or business partner helps you in something, he understands that he is developing an important link with you and that he will have the right to ask for a favor back in the future. The favor has to come back to him because it is circular. (…)

Pedro on Globthink 14.01.2010: http://globthink.com/2009/06/10/chinese-working-culture/ (sorry, broken link.).

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Religion

After hours of fruitless discussions if there is a God in Buddhism, I found a nice approach of an Anglican priest towards Eastern religions. Bishop Spong reflects the so called “theistic” definition of God in the Mosaic religions (Jewish, Christian and Muslim).

(…) Western religion has regularly and consistently defined God in theistic terms. That is, God is perceived as an external being, supernatural in power, who periodically invades the world in miraculous ways to establish the divine will or to answer our prayers. Eastern religion in general, but Buddhism in particular, does not define God in theistic terms. That has caused some westerners to refer to Buddhism as an “atheist” religion. Well, it is, but only in the sense that “atheist” means “not theist.” It does not mean that there is no sense of God in Buddhism. Language is our problem. The theistic definition of God is so total in the western world that the word “atheism” has come to mean that there is no God. Theism is a human definition of God and, as such, is destined to die like all human definitions do in time. Theism is not God. (…)

Bishop Spong Q&A 28.01.2010  http://www.johnshelbyspong.com

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For more info about different conceptions of time please click here.

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Hofstede`s Cultural Dimensions – Comparing by Cultural Parameters

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Gerard (Geert) Hendrik Hofstede (born 3.10.1928) defined a model of 6 cultural dimensions/indices to compare different cultures

Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. (…)

Individualism (IDV) on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. (…)

Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. (…)

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. (…)

Later added: Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation.(…) and the Indulgence or Restraint Index (IRI).

 USA vs. China by Cultural Dimensions (click on the pic to compare other countries)

Hofstede USA vs China

(received 27.03.2013 at http://geert-hofstede.com/china.html)

See his website at: http://www.geert-hofstede.com or check the website of The Hofstede Centre at http://geerthofstede.eu/

For a short & handy ppt click here.

Download an introduction to Hofstede`s theories as pdf here.

For practical applications of Hofstede`s model see this page.

For Hofstede`s theories and their application on genetics click here.

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Hofstede’s Country Classification 25 Years later

Abstract: Nearly 3 decades have been passed since Hofstede (1980) collected the data used to classify countries by their underlying work-related structures. The present study, in which recent data from 9 countries and 4 continents was collected, is a re-examination of his country classifications. The results suggest that many shifts have occurred since Hofstede’s study in 1980. These shifts are related to some of the major environmental changes that have occurred.

(…)

Discussion: Overall, the findings of the present study suggests that there have been significant shifts in value classifications in some countries since Hofstede conducted his original study. Many of the countries examined in the present study showed a shift in ranking when compared with Hofstede’s original data. This finding underscores the fact that, although a nation’s work-related values are deep-seated preferences for certain end states. they are subject to change over the years as external environmental changes shape a society. Managers and scientists should use caution before attempting to use work-related values to understand human behaviour in organisations. At the least, managers should make an effort to determine the values currently prevailing and not rely on classifications or labels placed on cultures by researchers.

D. R. Fernandez, D.S. Carlson, L.P. Stepina, J.D. Nicholson at The Journal of Social Psychology, 1997, 43-54

Download the full article as pdf here.

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Geert Hofstede interview January 2013 (introducing the IRI – Indulgence or Restraint Index)

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IRI

(Retrieved at 06.06.2011 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBv1wLuY3Ko)

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About the practical application of Hofstede’s theories read this post: https://laofutze.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/applications-of-hofstedes-theories/

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(revised 16.07.2013)

Written by NoToes

09/01/2010 at 12:21

Posted in All Articles, China, Collectivism and Individualism, Communication, Communication in Different Cultures, Comparing Cultures, Cultural Dimensions, Emotions in Different Cultures, Hofstede, Intercultural Economy, Intercultural Management, Surveys, Time in Different Cultures, Tools / Software, Uncertainty Avoidance

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African and Western Conceptions of Time and History

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Bert Hamminga – The Western versus the African Time Concept – referring to John S. Mbiti (African Religions and Philosophy, London: Heinemann 1969)

The difference between the Western mechanical and African emotional time consciousness is a highly instructive one: it explains a lot of intercultural differences and problems of intercultural contact in any kind of business. Of course, also Westerners experience emotional time. Important events in your life, say a new job in another town, a marriage, a baby “mark” your past in that some things will later be experienced as before or after this or that important event. The typical holiday experience is that after a few days you feel you left home ages ago, while upon return it feels you just left. In waiting for something time “goes slowly”, in hurrying for something time “goes fast”. The difference between Western and African time consciousness is that a Westerner asks: “when did your grandfather die”. The answer is “15 years ago”. The African asks “When was 15 years ago”. And the answer is “When your grandfather died”. What is the difference? That is far less obvious than it seems at first sight.

Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) writes her young Kikuju cook: “His memory for recipes was awesome. He could not read en did not know English, so cookbooks had no value to him, but he piled up everything ever taught to him, with the help of his own system that I never got hold on, in his unattractive head. He named the diverse dishes after some event on the day he had learned to make them, so he spoke of the sauce of the ‘lightning that struck in the tree’, and the sauce of ‘the grey horse that died'”.

The African interpretation of time starts thus: events occur in some order: there is “before” and there is “after”. In African languages, there is a number of tenses that indicate roughly “how much” before, and how much after. There usually is a tense for “at that time”, for “after that”, for “a considerable time after that”, and “a very long time after”. That does not sound strange to a Westerner. He also has such rough ideas on events. But the Westerner’s clock and calendar gives him the option of filing the event as having occurred at a certain numerical date-time. The Westerner deems that more “precise”. He wants to have trains running on schedule and fly to the moon. Africans have different aims in life. They want to “live” their own way. Traditionally, Africans have no concept of historical progress: in every life of every person the same happens. There is no thrive to change things. They have another idea of preciseness: emotional preciseness. The past is a chain of events. It has its places that are marked in memory, just as when you travel far through an unknown area. You will remember the river crossed, the mountain pass climbed. In time, you remember your eldest brother getting his first child, your great grandfather dying, your harvest spoiled by torrential rains, a war. Those are the tops of the “hours” in the memory of the African. Between them are the minor events as “minutes”. Westerners would say these hours do not have equal length. Africans are not interested at all in such considerations. By talking and passing over history orally to one another, they cut themselves a wooden past that feels like a comfortable  place well connected to the present. A history to rest upon comfortably. Not so Westerners, who run puffing after the time they created to be their master! The kind of conversational context in which you create and pass over to younger generations the history in a time framework in which history itself is the “clock”, is dubbed “Zamani” (an abstraction of a Kiswahili concept) by Mbiti.

About “cardinal” and “ordinal”: if you count things you use cardinal numbers (like money, tanks and Western time). You use ordinal numbers if you merely want to indicate where (between which other things) units have their place in a succession (like the ranking in a competition  and African time). Thus, cardinal numbers you can meaningfully add and substract, ordinal numbers no not carry such meaning (rank number 2 and 3 in a competition are not “together 5”).

Mbiti tells: Waiting for the start of a play by the Ebonies in Jinja, I met a Ugandan sister who just returned from her first visit to London. I asked her: one Ugandan week, how many London weeks would it be. She immediately understood my question, did not think long and said: six. This would have tremendous consequences: it means that in one week’s hard work, a Ugandan suffers six times as much as a Londoner. If he is free for one week, he enjoys six times as much than a Londoner. If the number six would be a reasonable estimate, which I would be inclined to think, it would be very irrational for a Ugandan to work as hard as a Londoner, especially when you add that the Londoner feels sure about the future enjoyment of his working results and to the Ugandan the future is very unsure and hypothetical.

http://www.mindphiles.com/floor/teaching/timeafr/timeafri.htm

Or get the whole article here (click on the text).

You may also check about Asian conceptions of time in a previous article here (click on the text)

How Language Influences our Thinking

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The Effect of Language upon Thinking

(…) Much of what has been written on this subject by professional linguists focuses rather narrowly on the question of whether the grammar of a language will influence the thinking of its speakers, without any attention being given to how vocabulary might influence thought. But obviously language is more than grammar, and so conclusions about language in general cannot be drawn from studies which deal only with questions of grammar. (…)

wilhalm von humboldt Wilhelm von Humboldt (* 22. Juni 1767 in Potsdam; † 8. April 1835 in Tegel)

(…) Man lives with objects [around him] mainly, or rather — as feeling and action depend on the ideas which he entertains about the objects — exclusively in the way in which language presents them to him. The very activity by which he spins language out from within himself eventually gets himself entwined in it, and every language draws a circle around the nation to which it belongs, and which one can only leave to the extent that at the same time one enters the circle of another. (…) Humboldt’s German is difficult to translate. By “lives” here he means “experiences life” and by “objects” he means items of objective reality or noumena in the Kantian sense. The sentence in the original German reads as follows: Der Mensch lebt mit den Gegenständen hauptsächlich, ja, da Empfinden und Handlen in ihm von seinen Vorstellungen abhängen, sogar ausschließlich so, wie die Sprache sie ihm zuführt. Durch denselben Akt, vermöge dessen er die Sprache aus sich herausspinnt, spinnt er sich in dieselbe ein, und jede zieht um das Volk, welchem sie angehört, einen Kreis, aus dem es nur insofern hinauszugehen möglich ist, als man zugleich in den Kreis einer andren hinübertritt. (…)

Wilhelm Von Humboldt, Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluß auf die geistige Entwicklung des Menschengeschlechts. Berlin: Druckerei der Könglichen Akademie, 1836. An English translation of the work is On Language: The Diversity of Human Language and its Influence on the Mental Development of Mankind, translated by Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), recently reprinted as On Language: On the Diversity of Human Language Construction and its Influence on the Mental Development of the Human Species (1999).

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mill John Stuart Mill (* 20. Mai 1806 in Pentonville; † 8. Mai 1873 in Avignon)

(…) Names [i.e. nouns] are impressions of sense, and as such take the strongest hold on the mind, and of all other impressions can be most easily recalled and retained in view. They therefore serve to give a point of attachment to all the more volatile objects of thought and feeling. Impressions, that when past might be dissipated for ever, are, by their connexion with language, always within reach. Thoughts, of themselves, are perpetually slipping out of the field of immediate mental vision; but the name abides with us, and the utterance of it restores them in a moment. Words are the custodiers of every product of mind less impressive than themselves. All extensions of human knowledge, all new generalizations, are fixed and spread, even unintentionally, by the use of words. (…)

John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, 2 vols. (London: John W. Parker, 1843). For the discussion of language see especially Book 4, chapters 3-6. For quotations and page numbers I have used the one-volume edition published in 1858 by Harper & Brothers, New York.

The Effect of Language upon Thinking by Michael Marlowe; April 2004, Revised July 2011

Read the full article online here or download full .pdf here.

(retrieved 03.11.2013 at http://www.bible-researcher.com/linguistics.html)

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Mental Representations of Time in Chinese (Mandarin)

(..) People’s ideas of time differ across languages in other ways. For example, English speakers tend to talk about time using horizontal spatial metaphors (e.g., “The best is ahead of us,” “The worst is behind us”), whereas Mandarin speakers have a vertical metaphor for time (e.g., the next month is the “down month” and the last month is the “up month”). Mandarin speakers talk about time vertically more often than English speakers do, so do Mandarin speakers think about time vertically more often than English speakers do? Imagine this simple experiment. I stand next to you, point to a spot in space directly in front of you, and tell you, “This spot, here, is today. Where would you put yesterday? And where would you put tomorrow?” When English speakers are asked to do this, they nearly always point horizontally. But Mandarin speakers often point vertically, about seven or eight times more often than do English speakers.

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Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? It turns out that it does. In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny.” To describe a “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said “beautiful,” “elegant,” “fragile,” “peaceful,” “pretty,” and “slender,” and the Spanish speakers said “big,” “dangerous,” “long,” “strong,” “sturdy,” and “towering.” This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures). And we can also show that it is aspects of language per se that shape how people think: teaching English speakers new grammatical gender systems influences mental representations of objects in the same way it does with German and Spanish speakers. Apparently even small flukes of grammar, like the seemingly arbitrary assignment of gender to a noun, can have an effect on people’s ideas of concrete objects in the world. (..)

Does Language Shape Thought?: Mandarin and English Speakers’ Conceptions of Time by Lera Boroditsky, Stanford University. download full .pdf online here or here.

(retrieved 31.10.2013 at http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~lera/papers/mandarin.pdf)

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Examples of spatiotemporal metaphors in Mandarin

The immediate and chronic influence of spatio-temporal metaphors on the mental representations of time in English, Mandarin, and Mandarin-English speakers by Vicky Tzuyin Lai (Neurobiology of Language Department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands) and Lera Boroditsky (Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, US) – Front. Psychol., 09 April 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00142

Read the full .pdf online here or here.

(retrieved 31.10.2013 at www.frontiersin.org/Journal/DownloadFile.ashx?pdf=1&FileId=11690&articleId=28033&Version=1&ContentTypeId=21&FileName=fpsyg-04-00142.pdf)

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Lera “Groucho” Boroditzki is an assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University, who looks at how the languages we speak shapes the way we think. Her best known discovery is about the “Grammatical Gender”.

lera boroditsky

Read an introduction to Lera and her work at the Edge or visit her website at the Stanford University.

Here is an interesting video of a speech she did: Lera Boroditsky – Beyond the Physics: How Languages Help us Construe & Construct

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(reviewed 06.07.2016)