This post will define cognition and culture and provide a mechanism for successful cognition across cultures. While it may appear to the reader that these goals are lofty and that any attempt to provide these definitions and mechanism may do nothing more than muddy water that is already murky, at best; I believe that these concepts are simple. The simplicity of this discussion, for me, is based on my opinions and observations of people in various business and educational settings and on my long career in system design/implementation. In order to accomplish the stated goals for this paper, I will pose a few questions and the answer those questions using narratives and various source material from noted experts in the sociocultural field.
The first question is, what is cognition? Well, according to dictionary.com and its Wordnet entry, cognition is “the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning.” According to the American Heritage entry on Dictionary.com, cognition is, “1. The mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. 2. That which comes to be known, as through perception, reasoning, or intuition; knowledge.” I could go on and on and collect more and more definitions, but these definitions will all simplify into one denominator. Cognition is what a person holds to be true or false and good and bad about his or her own life in relation to and with other people and/or things.
For example, if a little boy is born and then placed into an empty white room and then grows up in that white room, he will have few needs for his cognition. What he will hold true is that his stomach aches and then somehow that ache gets relieved. If he is physically kept alive, then all he holds to be true are the ways that he is kept alive. The only relationship he will have is that between him and his being kept alive. While this thought experiment sounds horrific and is extreme, it illustrates a point: cognition is “requirements-based” and relational. These two words reflect the need for the second stated goal for this post: a definition of culture.
If cognition is as defined above, then culture is the set of external systems that determine the individual’s cognitive requirements. Simply put, a person’s culture will determine both what an individual needs to hold as true and the way the individual gains that truth. In the instance of the isolated little boy, his culture is the system in which his physical needs are met and the way he expresses his physical needs. Now, if the little boy had a wider array of requirements, then the little boy would hold many more truths. Therefore, it becomes clear that cognition and culture are interdependent. Language becomes the link both for the individual to mediate his internal reality and for the culture to receive and transmit relational requirements. To me, that’s why the pen and paper are so important: They provide a means through which people can gain a sense of their own cognitive needs. Everyone’s intellectual and emotional needs are different. Through writing, people can share their needs and find comomality such that knowledge can be shared between people of different cultural backgrounds.