Cognitive Anthropology, Ethnoscience and Set and Setting

Read the following articles with these questions in mind.

  • Is “thinking like a native” an achievable goal? Would this way of seeing a culture truly create more accurate ethnographic descriptions?
  • Would the “psychic unity of mankind” be correctly hypothesized if cognitive anthropology refuses the belief of a unitary theory of culture?

Peyote: The Importance of Cultural Set and Setting for a Powerful Plant Hallucinogen

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  • Brionna Mendoza  On April 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I would say that “thinking like a native” is nearly unattainable, except by a person with modern anthropological training. Its very, very difficult to see outside of your individual “set-and-setting”, which, as argued in Hartogsohn’s article, are intimately tied to collective set-and-setting which is comprised of cultural and societal context. We are raised within this set-and-setting, so it is fairly impossible to try to immerse yourself into another cultural context without your own attitudes interfering. Perhaps if an anthropologist lived with a native community for a period of time, she or he could attain a more ethnographically accurate sense of life for them. I picture said anthropologist being in a sort of limbo state between cultural understands, like of the use of peyote. Though an understanding of its native use would be attainable, it would still be mixed in with his or her’s own culture’s understanding.

    As for the “psychic unity of mankind” hypothesis, it does not hold up without unitary theory. This is especially evident in Hartogsohn’s article, as he discusses the difference in usage of LSD between the 1950s and 1960s. In just a short ten-year span, the mental attitude surrounding the use of the drug changed among certain sectors of society. This would not have happened if the psychic unity were true, since it argues that all humans are essentially the same, regardless of culture.

  • Catelynn Danell  On April 12, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    I don’t think that thinking like a native would really be an achievable goal unless one was immersed in that culture for a period of time. Setting is important to understand what it is like for a particular group if they were living with them, but at the same time the person is still influenced by their past. Their biases, no matter how hard they try to look at it from a cultural relativist’s perspective, still makes them who they are culturally. They cannot change their cultural past, they can learn things about other cultures, but they cannot be a “native” to the culture they are studying. I think that trying to think like a native might help to give a more accurate description but it is ultimately still imbedded with analysis from the observer. The observer may lie out facts of the situation but they cannot see it completely the way that the native sees it.

    If cognitive anthropology said that there was not a unitary theory of culture I think that the psychic unity of mankind would loose its’ credibility. The psychic unity of mankind believes that we are all of the same kind. That would mean that we all share a similar way of thinking; similar needs, wants, etc. If culture was not formed to meet similar ends in different cultures then we must not be the same cognitively.

  • Grumpy Giraffe  On April 13, 2015 at 10:50 am

    I think that thinking like a native is generally not attainable and also hard to measure. I think even if you are immersed in the culture for s long time, unless it is from a very young age, it is hard to have a native perspective. I think it is also difficult to measure this because there is no way to know if someone is truly thinking like a native.
    I agree that the unitary theory is necessary to hold up the psychic unity of mankind hypothesis. In order for it to be true we must all be similar in needs, wants, and mind and striving to achieve the same goals socially even in different cultures. Without this we must not have psychic unity of mankind.

  • Lennin  On April 13, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Is “thinking like a native” an achievable goal? Would this way of seeing a culture truly create more accurate ethnographic descriptions?
    Would the “psychic unity of mankind” be correctly hypothesized if cognitive anthropology refuses the belief of a unitary theory of culture?

    I don’t think it is possible to think like a native, but I feel understanding the culture and truly seeing the world through their eyes is possible. Even if an ethnographer spent several year in an area, the were socialized into thinking a certain way, they also might have patters of thinking that don’t mix with the culture being studied. What the year of studying might give, is a new cultural lens to see the world, but the ethnographer has primary scope, onto which they will always fall back on. We as the ethnographer must also avoiding thinking completely like the group studies. The separation from the culture and the ethnographer, is what creates very descriptive/accurate observations. If the observer starts to think like the people being studied, then the ethnographer can’t be objection in their observations. Bit confused on the second part of the question?

  • Dkcruz22  On April 13, 2015 at 11:17 am

    When you say thinking like a native do you mean your origin. The background you come from or the place you are trying to interact with. Because in both ways you can be a native of America and also be a native to a different country depending on your culture and heritage. However, I do think that it is hard to act native because society is always changing. What’s in one day isn’t the next and the ever changing societies change the definition of native

  • Ian Whiting  On April 14, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Whether or not one can truly “think like a native” depends on how you view the relationship between cultural upbringing and thought processes. I happen to think that while anthropologists can empathize with the cultural values and ideologies of a specific group, it is near impossible to truly think like a member of said group unless you are raised in it. Being cognizant of the differences in yourself and the “other” culture you study intrinsically changes how you view each other, as in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Scientific objectivity is an impossibility, even if attempts are made to make the research unbiased.

    The “psychic unity of mankind” as posited by early cognitive anthropologists is in some ways dependent upon a unitary theory culture as an outgrowth of common psychological processes. However, I would argue that the first theory can exist independently of the second if other factors are also at work. With different environments and histories, similar psychological processes could produce seemingly different cultures. This explains why radically different world views may exist between cultures, yet all serve similar functions.

  • Monica Kiser  On April 15, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    I do not believe “thinking like a native” is an achievable goal. The reason this is not possible is because our culture teaches us how to behave in a certain type of environment. The only way to think like a native is to be a native. You need to be part of a culture for many years in order to truly understand the many different components to culture. The best way to get an accurate ethnographic description of a culture would be to have a native anthropologist do the description. However, this too could have issues because of the emic perspective. Even though biologically we are all similar and have needs that have to be met, we all think differently. Our culture has taught us how to adapt to our surroundings and fit in to our societies.

  • Sunny  On April 17, 2015 at 11:09 am

    My assumption is that you could not “think like a native” because the lack of anthropological training or having being raised as a native. Because to be actual native and learn native ways and having said that just because you could possibly think like native does not make a native

  • Sunny  On April 17, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Adding to my last comment
    The psychic unity of mind is baseless without the unitary theory because it is the foundation. However it may be possible for the theory’s to work independent to each other (first one) (second one needs assistance) because individuals can have different thinking about the same issue. For that I believe the psychic unity of mind is dependent on the unitary theory though the theory 1st part maybe able to work on its own.

  • Jasdeep  On April 27, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    I feel in order to conduct legitimate data from an unbiased perspective, you have to eliminate the ethnocentric ways of thinking. In order to do this, I feel it is important that one looks at another’s culture not only from an outsider perspective (etic) but an insiders as well (emic). To think like a native may be difficult or unachievable for many people. One’s own experiences and interactions with the world has shaped the way they view life. To un blur those lines can be difficult, because one may not be able to detach their own sense of symbolism with the world. Thinking like a native has to be one of those most effective techniques in understanding another’s culture. Not only learning about HOW and WHAT they do, but also understanding WHY. Having one universal way of thinking is absolutely impossible. We have all experienced and interacted with the world in very different ways. Those experiences mold us, therefore thinking like a native can be far from achievable (unless your an anthropological skills are up to par :D).

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