A historian's world is full of theories, as various authorities try to find the ultimate explanations for how the world functions. (Of course, if any of these theories could be proven as fact, we'd all be out of jobs -- problems solved.) The most we can do is listen to different explanations and try to find some that seem at least plausible.
One of my own favorites came out of the Annales school of French historians in the 1950s (and yes, I know how that dates me!). According to Fernand Braudel, who attempted to write the entire history of the Mediterranean, it might be possible to discover the cause of differing world views by examining the grains people consume. The theory goes something like this:
RICE is a labor-intensive crop. The work of seeding and transplanting the tiny rice plants requires almost as many people out in the bogs on their hands and knees as the number of people the crop will feed. It's also year-round work, not something seasonal. Only the very rich can afford to eat without constant labor. As a result, the society fed by rice will have a very small upper class supported by masses of day laborers. Individuals lack importance in such a society, and there is little time for innovation, or movement, or specialization. Such societies prevailed in the oriental world.
CORN (or more properly MAIZE) requires very little labor. You scrape up a little mound of dirt, poke a hole in the center, drop in several kernels of corn, cover them up, and go away. Six months later you come back and pick the ears of corn, dry some for the next crop, and consume the rest. Since people are not busy with agriculture, they have time for other activities -- hunting, artwork, tribal councils, exploration, and elaborate religious ceremonies to give thanks to the spirit world that seems to furnish food with little human intervention. Early native cultures in the Americas provide examples.
WHEAT (and similar grains) combines some of the qualities of the other two crops. Like rice, a grain crop requires very heavy labor twice a year -- first for plowing, preparing the soil, and planting, and second for harvesting and replowing the fields. But like corn, those two periods of hard work are separated by fairly long periods during which people can follow their own interests or turn their efforts toward other projects.
Two factors make wheat unique. Plowing the land that grows good wheat is heavy work. First, it required the domestication of animals to assist with the work. And then it required co-operative efforts. In most of Europe, it used to take a team of eight oxen just to pull the plow. And since no family could afford to keep more than one ox of their own, they had to get together with their neighbors to share the plow, the oxen, and the fields. In the very long term, according to Braudel, that spirit of cooperation for mutual benefit made the other advances of the western, or European, world possible.
Does any of this matter today, in our world of supermarkets and multi-grain cereals? Perhaps not, but I was vividly reminded of Braudel the first time I learned that the main grain crop in pre-Civil War South Carolina was rice. Is it any wonder that the worldviews of the rice-growing South clashed with the wheat-based North?