How Different Cultures Shape the Brain - Sharon Begley - Newsweek.com: "Especially when it shows how fundamental cultural differences are—so fundamental, perhaps, that 'universal' notions such as human rights, democracy, and the like may be no such thing."
I have not seen this notion debated actually but it is important and raises important questions. Especially in the current school curriculum debate in Sweden. Sharon Begley discusses some differences in brain function between Asians and Westerners. It seems like we are born with a certain so called "hard wiring" of the brain that is malleable by culture to a certain extent. A phenomenon called neuronal plasticity.
The crucial question is if this cultural change of brain function and thus of personality represents a new type of racism? Because at the same time you conclude that there is a difference, it does not matter that it is not genetic, the problem of which culture, if any, is most superior arises. It is fairly clear that Christianity in Europe led to the development of modern science which represents a world record for achievement at the time.
However, is the management of these assets better performed by the Asians with their collective-tuned personalities? It is a little like the difference by liberals and conservatives in the West. It is perhaps a little easier to make new discoveries that break with past rituals than if you are hard-wired to the collective. At least this represents evolutionary thinking on the problem. Faster progress is possible.
The above discussion is of course not simplified with the current research on the human genome from different areas of the world. James 'DNA double helix' Watson ran into a heavy turbulence over some statements in this general direction the other year. The topic is so sensitive that it basically cannot be discussed in the open. However, it is fair to assume that small, and perhaps significant, differences exist in the neural hard-wiring of different races. Especially now when functional, culture induced, differences apparently are possible to discuss in the fine salons of the world.
So are human rights universal? Most people in the West seems to think so. They seem to work better in Japan than in China which would then perhaps be ascribed to a cultural effect. One additional problem might be that even if one culture is superior at a given time, it might not be all the time. Then there is the question if there is equal suffering in China and the West, a characteristic that is actually measurable?