MIDWAY : Night riders

Figure the Buddha seeking salvation by scouring for the truth without, all the while tuning himself out of most-instructive vibes within. Just not him. Yet the precise characteristic of most of the hoi polloi, yours truly included.

I have been a keen follower of the pitched evolution v creationism debate in the Western academia over the years. At its heart, the argument boils down to the evolutionists rooting for progressive development of living beings after the Big Bang and, at the other extreme, the creationists, who just cannot bring themselves to accept that the wondrous complexities of the living world are the result of random events (read: evolution); they’d rather have an intelligent designer (God) put two and two together.

I attributed the lack of debate on this front closer home to fledgling academic institutions that neither have resources nor manpower to plumb the depths of these larger-than-life questions. I had overlooked a far simpler explanation.

The eureka moment came as I was going through Richard E Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought. Following years of meticulous cross-cultural studies, Nisbett concludes that differences in socio-cultural settings prime the mindsets of different people differently. For instance, East Asians are more primed to take contradictions in their stride as compared to the Americans. This is to be expected as Easterners take great pains to stick to the “Middle Approach”, in sharp contrast to the Westerners (or the descendents of ancient Greek civilisation) who have inordinate faith in pure (either/or) logic.

Asians, then, are less troubled by the great contradictions thrown up by the evolution v creationism controversy than the Americans or West Europeans who would like to see the debate settled one way or the other — not in a compromised middle.

For similar reasons, Hindus are at ease with their 330 million Gods while Christians have to make do with one. Why Easterners are almost gleeful at the prospect of their children learning about evolution, while more than half the American parents dread their kids’ first brush with the Darwinian doggerel.

No bigger folly then, than to assume you know when you don’t. No greater barrier to knowledge either.