Thursday, November 26, 2009

thinking from scratch

So, I woke up one morning thinking - or rather wondering - what kinds of scripts African cultures that had no readily identifiable writing systems when they encountered colonial traders would have had. Of course things like Egyptian hieroglyphics and Ashanti Adinkra symbols suggest that the systems would have been pictoral as opposed to abstract. Doing a bit of fine googling I came upon an article by Ding Xinghua [ ] that also leans towards that view based on the living habits of indigenous Africans, the deference for nature, the need-based analysis of things etc. (the article is about Chinese thought and science, but I felt it applied). Here is an extract:

Language can be regarded as the extension of thought. Man accepts, understands his surroundings or the world in terms of the mother tongue he was born with. The writing form of this tongue subliminally influences his mind. A nation's cultural psyche and thinking pattern can be found deeply rooted in the configuration of its writing system.

A number of scholars, like Logan (1986; 1995), Innis (1951) and McLuhan (1964), have studied the impact of writing on thinking patterns, and agreed that each writing system is a great force in shaping the thought of its users.

The Chinese writing system has proved one of the most valuable assets in all of our cultures, yet we are blind to its effects and take its existence for granted. Science and technology in ancient China are literally the outgrowth of its culture which boasts of a history of thousands of years. A careful examination of the origin and structure of the Chinese writing system and its impact on Chinese thinking patterns reveals much in regard to China's systematic and theoretic science and technology.

I. Features of the Chinese Writing System

If we went back in time, we would find that Chinese written language, which originated in the drawing of objects, ideas, and images, was increasingly pictographic, ideographic and concrete, though its present-day counterpart is highly symbolic and abstract. The manner in which Chinese characters were created has been summarized in the popular book, Liushu, or Six Types of Writing.

The pictographic and ideographic nature of Chinese characters conduces to thinking in images, which, in turn, renders Chinese thinking, among other things,

1. analogical
2. nonlinear
3. concrete
4. holistic
5. intuitive
6. in harmony with nature.

A large part of the inventory of Chinese characters was created by analogy to physical or mental existence. In recognizing the characters, their users visualize the meaning without resorting to the process (intermediate phonological decoding) used in recognizing alphabetical writing. This visualizing has become so ingrained that it serves as an environment that allows the users of Chinese writing scripts unusual directness of thinking patterns. It is the most noticeable feature of Chinese culture for the Chinese people to think analogically, that is, to make advantage of correspondence or partial similarity between what is intended and what is conveniently available.

Western linear thinking, partly derived from alphabetic stress on sequence in their writing scripts, helped their users to develop the science of deductive logic, a most significant part of the foundation of modern science. In addition, the alphabetic sequence, in which meaningless individual letters are put together linearly to create meaningful semantic units, had provided the paradigm for the development of analysis by those cultures that used the writing scripts.

The scientific method succeeds by breaking down a system into its basic components and then narrowing the focus to one of those components so that a critical mass of research can produce a breakthrough or new paradigm.
Science analyzes systems into their basic components and deals with them one at a time in a linear fashion." (Logan, 1986:131)

But the Chinese writing script lacks this analytical nature. As a consequence, Chinese thinking patterns tend to be nonlinear and holistic, the opposite of those resulting from alphabetic writing. A holistic approach to nature is one of the most obvious characteristics of ancient China's scientific system.

When writing was invented, man "applied [his] mind to symbols rather than things and went beyond the world of concrete experience into the world of conceptual relations created within an enlarged time and space universe" (Logan, 1986: 46-47).

In the same vein, the phonetic alphabet allows its users to go far beyond the observable or concrete world than does the Chinese writing system, since alphabetic writing is utterly abstract, whereas the Chinese one is highly imitative of the concrete world, expressing things in terms of images. The directness, or the lack of abstraction, in Chinese character-formation shaped the Chinese thinking pattern in such a way that concreteness is the significant feature not only of Chinese civilization but also of Chinese scientific thought.

This feature also brought about the famous Chinese pragmatism with regard to science and its application. Logan reports a similar disregard for abstraction in cultures that had not yet adopted letters: "Abstract scientists will go out of their way to perform experiments to test the universality of their organizational structures, whereas preliterate cultures are content to describe nature as they encounter it. They also limit their studies of nature to that which is immediately practical to them." (Logan, 1986: 122)

To write and think with characters that preserve a very close analogy with what is in the physical world is to suggest continually that the user and nature inhabit the same close system; by contrast, alphabetic systems continually emphasize isolation of knower and known. As a consequence, emphasis on oneness of man and nature, or man's harmony with the nature, is a very important consideration in the Chinese approach to nature.

In sum, the impact of the Chinese graphic form on thinking patterns resulted in a comparatively more advanced development of the right hemisphere of its user's brain. By contrast, the Western thinking pattern, shaped by their phonetic-alphabetic literacy, is characteristically left-brain oriented. Such polarly different graphic forms and their subsequent impact on the mind are worth investigating.

You can read the full article here:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

reading from my novel 'Tail of the Blue Bird' at Borders

I'll be blogging later. It's been too long, but for now a little video. Thanks for watching!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

what June promises

It's turning out to be one of those periods when I don't have much time for thought - and since this blog is called 'the thought movement' (homage to 'the love movement' by A Tribe called Quest) it's no surprise I haven't been blogging much. And, I have to admit, European summers always mess with my body clock - in Ghana, the sun goes doan at 6pm plus or minus a few minutes, and rises at 6.30am plus or minus... you know what I mean, your body can respond to light without getting schizophrenic. The thing is, I have been TRYING to write, but that's not moving very swiftly after a pretty good start - and that might be because I'm working on a couple of things at the same time and the deadline is on the one I'm not in the mood for, but hey... Anyway, in between, I'm reading some great poetry from Brazil and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'Chronicle of a Death Foretold', which was recommended to me by my friend Pablo. With all this going on, it's sort of easy to forget that I have a novel due for release in seven days - one week - quarter of a month(ish), MAN! I am working on arranging a big launch party in July, but - for now - here are a few dates that are lined up for the book in June:

June 1 - Radio interview (details TBC)
June 2 - 12.45 PM - BBC World News interview (TV)
June 3 - 12.30 PM -
BBC World Service Africa interview (Radio)
June 4 - Official Release date for Tail of the Blue Bird (available NOW from sellers)
June 9 - 11.30 AM - BBC World Service - The Strand reading/interview (pre-recorded - broadcast date TBC)
June 17 -
8.00 PM -reading at Borders Newbury with flipped eye publishing authors
June 25 - 6.00 PM - reading at Borders Leeds with flipped eye publishing authors

I hope you've all got the book, but I know its full price is a bit high for a paperback so REMEMBER you can ask your library to get it. Now reviews as yet, except one from Geek Pie: but we're expecting some in the Observer and a couple of other journals.

Cool stuff that's happened? I've been put on a list of GREAT past students of my secondary/high school - that's way better than any accolade I'll ever ever get - even if I get the Nobel. I mean it. Achimota School was simply one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On Twitter

There is a lot to say, but little time to speak/write. For the time being, follow my novel's progress on Twitter:

Friday, March 13, 2009

African Writers' Evening video

Hisham Matar and I speaking about why we use English as our primary writing language:

Sunday, March 01, 2009

a long silence

Gosh, it's been a long long time since I blogged! That's not a blog, it's a fact. Well, I have been writing, but new challenges (I've just become a father) and new distractions (I've started work on another novel) have really kept me away from the whole social thing. Also, my new novel comes out on June 4 so I've been trying to coordinate things for that. Regardless, I hope you'll stick with me during this long silence because when I come back - unlike Dr Dre - I'll keep your fire alarms ringing :)

Good stuff this week?
  1. Been listening to Duke Ellington's Black - Brown and Beige, The Roots' - Things Fall Apart, Robert Cray's - shame + a sin, and Vanessa Carlton's - Be Not Nobody
  2. Finished edits on a collection of poetry by Roger Robinson
  3. Found out I will have work in the special 25th anniversary edition of Wasafiri magazine
  4. Did the laundry :)
  5. Cleared out a whole box of paperwork so the missus can walk around the house easier!
Bad stuff?
  1. Taxes - I think I'm being overcharged, can't afford to pay any more than I already have, but I can't reach the tax payment office; their phones are constantly busy
  2. Broke is on the horizon and I just spotted it - that means I have to do more teach-work and less write-work.... arrrgh!
  3. Had to be separated from my daughter for a couple of days
  4. I ran out of palm oil :)
  5. Hey, life isn't that bad so the list has to be shorter than the good stuff list, right?

So, make sure you preorder my book - all the links below - and I'll blog again very soon...

Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Amazon: | Waterstones: | WHSmith: | Random House: