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Eastern, Western Alphabets Reveal Basic Differences

The fascinating excerpt "The ABCs of Abstract Science" from Robert K. Logan's book The Alphabet Effect (The Scientist, January 12, 1987, p. 15) must make readers wonder why China and Japan did not long ago give up their ideographs in favor of a phonetic alphabet or syllabary. The alpha-bet appears to be directly linked to deductive logic, abstract theoretical science and an atomistic conception of the material world. However, this last point, as Joseph Needham keeps on emphasizing, is not enough

Theodor Benfey
The fascinating excerpt "The ABCs of Abstract Science" from Robert K. Logan's book The Alphabet Effect (The Scientist, January 12, 1987, p. 15) must make readers wonder why China and Japan did not long ago give up their ideographs in favor of a phonetic alphabet or syllabary. The alpha-bet appears to be directly linked to deductive logic, abstract theoretical science and an atomistic conception of the material world. However, this last point, as Joseph Needham keeps on emphasizing, is not enough to understand nature. Modern physics now requires both wave and particle concepts, both continuity and discontinuity.

Needham traces the entry of continuity/wave concepts into Western science back to Leibniz and, through him, to the Chinese conception of nature. The Chinese saw the world as a continuum characterized by constant change as symbolized by the waxing and waning of yin and yang. Chinese ideographs, instead of being atomic components...

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