Open Thread, 2/22/2016

41vSXAdXiWL._AC_UL320_SR224,320_A debate broke out in the comments as to the natures of Western and Chinese culture over the long run. There is a problem in any of these discussions because very few people are conversant in both sides of the coin, so to speak. When it comes to cross-cultural comparisons outside of a very narrow set of people mostly you deal in the true but superficial or trivial. E.g., China has had less of a focus on a synthesis between confessional religious cults that encompassed all of society from the top to the bottom than the West and Islam (and Indian culture depending on how you define what became Hinduism). But the deeper question is what does this really mean and what are the implications? To work that out requires more than what you might learn on Wikipedia. One might say, for example, that the Chinese are less religious than Westerners. This is a assertion about deep and consequential aspects of culture. But it can be easily problematized. In particular, what does “religious” mean? Certainly institutional and monopolistic organized religion is less salient a characteristic of the Chinese, and East Asian landscape more generally. But it is often stated that in contrast that the Chinese are quite “superstitious.” If you define religious as indicative of a bundle of deep intuitions about the universe the Chinese may be just as religious as Westerners.

Ultimately there’s really no way around getting at these issues but muddling through the scholarship and expanding one’s own personal experiences. Obviously most of us have only a minimal ability to digest monographs steeped in assumptions about familiarity with primary sources, but works such as Harold Tanner’s China: A History from the Neolithic through the Great Qing Empire are essential to bridge the gap between academicians and those who dabble on Wikipedia. Another way to fill the gap is theory. For example, on a priori grounds I’m skeptical of those who make broad and grand assertions about cultural differences now because cognitive science tends to tell us that such differences are often subtle, and, highly situational.

I’ll be posting on 1000 Genomes data more soon time permitting.

Dienekes’ post, Are living Africans nested within Eurasian genetic variation (?) is worth a read. Probably my main question is how to account for the fact that most of non-African ancestry does seem to date to an expansion 60,000 years ago. The idea that pre-Out of Africa modern humans left little genetic impact is not totally implausible. But I’m not sure it is probable.

Been rather busy last week or so, so that’s it for now.

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