Most people tilt one way or the other philosophically. I certainly have many more Buddhist, Taoist, and Hindu/Vedanta books in my library than titles with a Western bent.
However, I did write a book about a Greek philosopher, Plotinus. He didn't believe in a personal God, though, viewing reality in a rather "Eastern" fashion, yet generally expressing himself in an analytical "Western" manner.
In an introductory chapter I talked about what I saw as the difference between a Western and an Eastern mind.
Eight years ago I got some grief from a few people who were reviewing the manuscript prior to publication. They thought it was culturally incorrect (in the sense of politically incorrect) to posit such differences.
Well, now there's increasing evidence showing that culture affects the brain, just as the brain affects culture. Sharon Begley discusses this in a Newsweek article, "West Brain, East Brain."
Still, scientists have been surprised at how deeply culture—the language we speak, the values we absorb—shapes the brain, and are rethinking findings derived from studies of Westerners. To take one recent example, a region behind the forehead called the medial prefrontal cortex supposedly represents the self: it is active when we ("we" being the Americans in the study) think of our own identity and traits. But with Chinese volunteers, the results were strikingly different.
The "me" circuit hummed not only when they thought whether a particular adjective described themselves, but also when they considered whether it described their mother. The Westerners showed no such overlap between self and mom. Depending whether one lives in a culture that views the self as autonomous and unique or as connected to and part of a larger whole, this neural circuit takes on quite different functions.
Cultural neuroscience is the field that studies how cultural values, practices, and beliefs shape, and are shaped by, the mind, brain, and genes. Religions obviously are no exception.
Begley says that Asian-Americans and non-Asian-Americans activated different brain regions when shown complex, busy scenes: "The Asians showed more activity in areas that process figure-ground relations—holistic context—while the Americans showed more activity in regions that recognize objects."
So is reality One or Many?
This is a central philosophical debate between the monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) and Eastern faiths. Maybe it all comes down to cultural differences, how the brains of people in different parts of the world process perceptions, not to any objective characteristic of the cosmos.
I've become a big fan of Taoism, which to me has a pleasingly harmonious way of looking at polarities of every sort: East/West, male/female, Liberal/Conservative, good/bad, positive/negative, and such.
Namely, you can't have one without the other. Is the Eastern view of reality correct? Yes. Is the Western view of reality correct? Yes.
Thinking about the Earth, it'd be ridiculous to claim that only East or West was a valid direction. Standing anywhere, if you face one way that's called "East." Turn 180 degrees, and that's "West."
Similarly, there's always both objects and a background. How could you perceive something if it was indistinguishable from everything else? Where could things exist if there wasn't time and space (the space-time continuum)?
Our brains and minds are shaped by our experiences, which mainly occur in the context of the culture in which we develop and live. Although psychologists have provided abundant evidence for diversity of human cognition and behaviour across cultures, the question of whether the neural correlates of human cognition are also culture-dependent is often not considered by neuroscientists.
However, recent transcultural neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that one’s cultural background can influence the neural activity that underlies both high- and low-level cognitive functions. The findings provide a novel approach by which to distinguish culture-sensitive from culture-invariant neural mechanisms of human cognition.
I take this to mean that to some extent culture determines how we experience reality -- including what people call spiritual, religious, or mystical experiences. Other aspects of human cognition aren't dependent on culture. They are common to all.
Science aims to understand reality from a culture-invariant perspective. There no longer is a Western science and an Eastern science. There is only science.
The fact that people are still arguing over whether Western philosophy/religiosity or Eastern philosophy/religiosity is more valid shows that culture plays a dominant role in this debate, not objective reality.
He points out how absurd it would be if science had the same geographic divisions as religions do -- if Saudi Arabia, India, and the United States had different dominant scientific theories, just as they have different dominant religions.
Lesson: objective truth as we humans know it isn't Eastern or Western. It just is what it is.