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Thinking and the Sense of Life

A Comparative Study of Young People in Germany and Japan- Educational Consequences

Gerhard Schaefer and Ryoei Yoshioka

Do cognitive/metacognitive abilities favour recognition of sense in life or not? Based on a sample of more than one thousand secondary schools students in Japan and Germany, the correlation between intelligence and perception of sense in life has been empirically examined. The study draws the conclusion that there is no clear correlation between cognition and sense. Finding sense in life seems to be independent from the level of thinking and to be independent as well from particular areas of commitment (e.g. science, technology, art and religion). The main factor discovered so far is a cultural/national one: The majority of Japanese students approve of the idea of sense in life whereas the majority of German students do not. The book discusses the different historical background of the two peer groups as a possible explanation and draws conclusions with respect to education.
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1. Preface

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This book reports and reflects about a research project carried out in the years 2009–2011 on 15/16 year old students in Germany and Japan – two industrialized countries of the modern world. In these parts of the world the general question about the “sense of life” (or meaning/purpose of life) as compared with the sense of technology, of economical welfare, of money seems to become more and more significant from year to year.

In these countries which are on a high level of cognition in education, science and economy, and which have a long and deep philosophical background in history, questions about how much thinking, cognition, even “meta-cognition” play a role in finding sense in life is becoming a matter of high priority, especially among the young generation, and it is a good example of “cultural co-evolution” to see how Japan and Germany interact in the field of educational research, each country becoming aware of itself by looking, reciprocally, into the mirror of the other.

The question which role thinking plays in the search for sense in life should have been answered already by C.v.Linné (1735) who named the human species “homo sapiens”. In fact, most people translate the Latin “sapiens” with “thinking”, “clever”, or “wise”. However − if this translation is correct, then all humans should be able, at least willing to find their sense in life by striving after the ideal of thinking. (Linné’s systematics tries to give any species a scientific name that...

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