The Daily Insight – 2-13-09 – The Yin Yang Sign And Swans

 What a person sees usually depends on what they have been trained to see. When a human being grows up in a particular culture, that culture will train them that certain things have certain meanings. The following picture of two swans facing each other will be used to demonstrate that concept.

A Westerner who was asked what they see when looking at the picture of both swans would most likely respond they see the shape created by outlining the head and neck of both swans.

 The reason a Westerner would focus on the outline of the head and neck of both swans is because the shape enclosed by the outline looks like the shape Westerners commonly use to represent the heart as shown next.

If a person from an Asian country was asked what they see in the picture of the two swans facing each other, they might say the see the shape outlined in the next picture.


Why would a person from an Asian country see that particular shape? Because Asian culture is strongly influenced by something called Yin Yang Theory, and Yin Yang Theory is pictorially represented by the Yin Yang symbol shown in the following picture.

At first glance it may seem as if there is no connection between the Yin Yang Symbol and the shape it was claimed an Asian person might see in the picture of the two swans facing each other.


The connection between the shape on the swan and the Yin Yang Symbol can be found by first splitting the Yin Yang Symbol into it’s two halves,

and then mirroring the black half of the Yin Yang Symbol as shown in this image.


The shape that was drawn on the swan looks like the black half of the Yin Yang Symbol.


 That resemblance demonstrates why when an Asian person looked at the original picture of the two swans,

 they might respond that they see the following shape,


 instead of the heart shape that a Westerner might see.


The phenomenon demonstrated in this blog entry, namely, that what a person sees in the picture of the two swans could depend on the culture they were brought up in, does not just apply to the picture of the two swans. It can apply to any picture or any concept presented to a human being.

The reason knowledge of this phenomenon can be important, is that when one is talking to people from other cultures it is common to disregard or ignore something “strange” the person from the other culture says, “because of translation difficulties” or “because of their unfamiliarity with the language”.

Instead of disregarding or ignoring whatever it was the person from the other culture said that “sounded strange”, insight into the culture or upbringing of the other person might be attained by treating what the other person said as being perfectly reasonable or logical, and trying to figure out what beliefs would have led the person from the other culture to say what they did.

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