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Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet


OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Taken from the first line of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Ballad of the East and West’

An fMRI study on visuo-spatial tasks involving human subjects, published in this January’s issue of ‘Psychological Sciences’ from a group based at MIT, Stanford and SUNY Stony Brook further confirmed this adage of the differences between Easterners and Westerners. The paper was entitled ‘Cultural Influences on Neural Substrates of Attentional Control’. See the news report from MIT’s news office, and a copy of the research paper (if you have personal or institutional subscription to Blackwell Synergy)

In geekspeak:

ABSTRACT—Behavioral research has shown that people from Western cultural contexts perform better on tasks emphasizing independent (absolute) dimensions than on tasks emphasizing interdependent (relative) dimensions, whereas the reverse is true for people from East Asian contexts. We assessed functional magnetic resonance imaging responses during performance of simple visuospatial tasks in which participants made absolute judgments (ignoring visual context) or relative judgments (taking visual context into account). In each group, activation in frontal and parietal brain regions known to be associated with attentional control was greater during culturally nonpreferred judgments than during culturally preferred judgments. Also, within each group, activation differences in these regions correlated strongly with scores on questionnaires measuring individual differences in culture-typical identity. Thus, the cultural background of an individual and the degree to which the individual endorses cultural values moderate activation in brain networks engaged during even simple visual and attentional tasks.

(from the abstract of Hedden et al. 2008)

Or in lay-person talk:

Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects.

(from the MIT news office)

So, yes, our brains are wired differently, according to the prevailing culture in the environment we grew up in during the developmental plasticity phase of our brains.


THES World University Rankings 2007


Yes, the list is out again this year.


Boy oh boy.. notable changes in the rankings:

  • UCL has the largest improvement, breaking into the top ten, rising from #25 in 2006 to #9
  • MIT, Stanford and UC Berkeley charted the lowest rankings in years, ranked at #10, 16 and 22 respectively. If the rankings are to be taken seriously, does this mean UCL is better than MIT, Stanford and UC Berkeley? I leave that to the wisdom of the readers.
  • LSE fared the worst of the ‘elite’ universities, ranked at #59

When I heard about MIT’s position in the rankings, I almost choked and spluttered my drink. One of Imperial College’s goal is to emulate MIT and be the MIT of the UK. With its current position at #5, does this mean that it has now fared better than its role model?

MIT, my favourite unversity (though not my alma mater) used to be #3 (2004), 2 (2005) and 4 (2006). I find it hard to stomach the fact that it’s ranked #10 this year, lower than *gasp* Imperial and UCL! This is blasphemy!

Things that didn’t change from last year: Harvard is still #1 (*yawn*), followed by Cambridge, Oxford and Yale, all three tied at #2. Looks like Cambridge’s got to pull its socks up if it wants to remain second fiddle to Harvard as the world’s best university, simply because other universities are catching up!

And oh, on the local front, unfortunately, none of the Malaysian universities made it to the Top 200 list.  



Well, according to the esteemed and veritable ‘Wikipedia’ (sic):

Galen (Greek: Γαληνός, Galēnos; Latin: Claudius Galenus; AD 129–ca. 200 or 216) of Pergamum was a prominent ancient Greek physician, whose now discredited theories dominated Western medical science for over a millennium. The forename “Claudius”, absent in Greek texts, was first documented in texts from the Renaissance.

Here’re some fine examples of Galen’s famous now-discredited theories:

“The heart has two chambers with numerous connections” (Galen must’ve dissected a cadaver with a serious case of congenital septal defects, and thought that it was normal)

“The brain is a large clot of phlegm, from which the psychic ‘pneuma’ is formed by a rhythmical pump” (whatever the second part of the statement meant….. but brain as a large clot of phlegm? Oh please, the brain deserves more credit than to be equated with phlegm!)

“The small intestine is long because it saves having to eat all the time” (Nice try, Galen… nice try.)

As ludicrous as these statements may sound, it is worrying that these ideas were thought of as correct for nearly a millenium. One might be tempted to wonder how our ‘medical knowledge’ of today will be viewed by our future generations in a thousand years from now…..

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