Thursday, October 08, 2009

A cow, a chicken, and some grass

"I want to do a little test on you GB," says boyfriend T, while we were on holiday in Greece recently, and eating our evening meal in one of the local restaurants.

"Uh huh?" I ask, taking a sip of wine, "it's not going to hurt is it??"

"No," laughs boyfriend T, "it's quite painless! There's a cow, a chicken and some grass. You just have to tell me, if you were to partition them so that two of them are in one group and the other is on its own, what's your first instinct on how to do it?"

[If anyone wants to play, make your choice now before reading on!]

"Um, cow with chicken, and the grass on its own I guess," I reply, without giving it too much thought.

"WOW, so he's right!" exclaims boyfriend T in a very excitable voice, "I didn't believe it when I read it but he's right!"

"What on earth are you talking about," I ask him, feeling a bit like some laboratory rat who's just confirmed some elaborate behavioural science theory for their researcher, "and what's your answer anyway?"

"First tell me why you chose cow with chicken?"

"Well because they're both animals," I reply, now mildly curious at what's behind boyfriend T's reaction, "and grass is a plant. So what's your answer?"

"Well, cow with grass, so the chicken is the odd one out. The cow's got to go with the grass because cows eat grass."

"Sure, that's another way of looking at it I guess!" I reply, with a sceptical tone in my voice, "but there's no 'right' answer is there?"

"No, not really," admits boyfriend T.

"I read about this professor who claims that Western people and Asian people think about things differently," he continues, " and this is one of his examples. Westerners tend to think about the categorisation, whereas Asian people think about the relationships and the harmony. I was so sure that cow with grass is the 'right' answer that it was almost shocking for me to hear your answer!"

"Interesting!" I reply. "Let's try it on someone else, I know, let's ask our Greek waiter."

The next time our waiter comes to our table, we ask him the same question that boyfriend T asked me.

"OK," replies the waiter, "so I choose grass and chicken together."

We both burst out laughing.

"Why you laugh?" asks the waiter, feeling a little vulnerable.

"Only because we didn't expect that answer," I reply, "what made you choose that?"

"Well, cows eat grass," explains the waiter, "so if I put the cow with the grass, I won't have any grass. So I put the chicken with the grass instead :-)."

Later, when I get back to the hotel, I do a bit of research online to find out more. The guy that boyfriend T was talking about must be Richard Nesbitt who wrote The Geography of Thought.

The next week when I'm back at work in the bank, I ask one or two of my colleagues, to test out the theory a bit more. My Chinese colleague replies as expected, that cows have to go with grass, but then all my other colleagues hear the subsequent discussion and end up answering the same way!

Do any readers have any views on this?


Jake said...

Hi GB - I'm a 20 year old male from South Wales, and I've gotta be honest:

I was with BF T on this one, even before I read on.

I thought about chicken and cow, and that didn't make sense as they're not really related to each other (apart from both being farm animals?). Furthermore chicken and grass don't go together as chickens do not eat grass.

However, the most logical answer (for me) was cow and grass as 'cows eat grass'.


Jb x

Jake said...

I agree with the other Jake, I put cow and grass together, for the same reason (logic basically, not thinking about harmony) and I'm British - White. So the theory doesn't always fit the reality!

Urbicande said...

Same here, I put cow and grass together and I'm Swiss (also by logic). It's true that we have a strong historical bond with cows in this country ;)

John F said...

I tried this on three Chinese colleagues and three Westerners.

All three Chinese picked the cow-grass combination; all three Westerners picked the cow-chicken combination.


I do wonder, however, whether or not the fact that the cow comes first means that you would be less likely to exclude it and more likely to form a group with it and one other thing.

Richard said...

If the question was..which is the odd one out? then clearly grass would be the answer but the way this question was put..which two would you group together? then it has to be Cow and Grass. That's my logic anyway:-)

I'm English and white...

Anonymous said...


I'm Asian and my first instinct was to group the animals together and the grass on its own. I must be some kind of freak.

Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi, im an Asian. However i choose cow and chicken because they are both animals.

So i don't it works.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm distracted...

I read the question and my first thought was: threesome!

Anonymous said...

I'm an Asian..also went with cow and chicken.

I took a class on intercultural communication back in university and a similar thought experiment was posed to us. there were 6 objects and we were supposed to group them into three groups of 2 (forgot what the items were though). practically all the asians picked 'cow-grass' combinations, to the amazement of our western lecturer, so you might have to introduce more elements into your experiment to get more accurate results :)

Soul Seared Dreamer said...

I went with cow and chicken in the same grp. But then I'm Asian and Western.. so not sure where that answer fits in :)

psych said...

it sort of depends on the rationale behind the grouping. I separated the cow and grass specifically to stop the cow eating the grass. Thinking I had to save the grass.

South East Asian.

Hedgie said...

Hmmm - maybe both cultures are changing rapidly, which is why answers are mixed?

I'm British, and I immediately tried to solve the problem by thinking about how the three relate to each other - as in an ecosystem. Cows and chickens definitely don't relate on an eco level, therefore I chose cow and grass.

However, the fact that this was presented as a puzzle to solve may have led me to reject the obvious answer!

Hedgie said...

Back again - just followed your links. Without having read Nesbitt I tend to agree with one of the Amazon critics who said that his argument is too broad.

The strict Western insistence on categorization can probably be traced to Descartes, and although dominant has certainly been challenged within the culture from time to time since (by the Romantic poets, and Blake in particular, for instance - although Descartian modes of thought made it easy for the dominant culture to sideline and ignore these insights in a category called "poetry").

The Descartian world view has been incredibly powerful in driving Western development since the industrial revolution but started coming unstuck with Einstein's discoveries in physics - at a deeply subatomic level things are more relational than we have been conditioned to think (and actually, many people have compared quantum physics to Eastern philosophies).

And right now, with global warming, James Lovelock's hypothesis of a totally interrelated and holistic earth system called Gaia is becoming prominent in Western thought.

So, maybe Western thought is in a process of reforming itself?

Apologies for this screed!

Anonymous said...

I must be a fully-fledged Westerner, I chose cow and chicken! Where do I collect my badge?

pojaya said...

I was totally literal about it.

Put the chicken in a box, to separate it from the cow and grass.

Figured that it would be too hard to put a cow somewhere, and also difficult to do anything about the grass!

Anonymous said...

What does it say about me as an Asian and a person that the relationship between cow and grass never crossed my mind before it was mentioned?

Anonymous said...

I'm asian but i chose cow and chicken together.. does it mean i have a desire to be a westerner?

Anonymous said...

mmmh I immediately associated cow and grass for that same reason...

Associating cow and chicken made no sense whatsoever. Sure they both are animal but from different class so no way they could be immediately associated.
Your mind then goes on to the 3rd element: grass. Tilt, cows eat grass.
End of.

Am white btw...

Anonymous said...

I chose cow and grass immediately (at the same time, I was thinking, what will the chicken eat?)

I'm not Asian, but I've had a Chinese boyfriend for several years. Still, I don't can't think of any direct influences that would affect my answer to a question like this.

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