23 Jul 2008

Amazon Tribe Does Not Use Numbers

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Telegraph:

The idea that people have an innate mathematical ability has been questioned by a study of an Amazonian tribe that has no sense of number.

The ability of tribal adults of the Pirahã to conceptualise numbers is no better than that of infants or even some animals and their language, with only 300 speakers, has no word even to express the concept of “one” or any other specific number.

Prof Gibson found that there were no words for ‘one’ or ‘two’ for members of the Pirahã tribe
The team, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of brain and cognitive sciences Edward Gibson, found that members of the Pirahã tribe in remote northwestern Brazil use language to express relative quantities such as “some” and “more,” but not precise numbers.

It is often assumed that counting is an innate part of human cognition, said Prof Gibson, “but here is a group that does not count. They could learn, but it’s not useful in their culture, so they’ve never picked it up.

Hat tip to MeaninglessHotAir.

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Dominique R. Poirier

Is it why, as individuals, they remained parts of small and primitive tribes and never evolved toward a civilization of their own representing their ethnicity and culture?

Regardless how striking is this discovery, I cannot but assume it, as counting is an intellectual ability or performance that satisfies the expression of a drive originating in the “reptilian brain” – the first and most primitive and most elementary of our three brains to be found in the skull of all human beings, according to Paul McLean. A drive we use to call the “need to survive,” as individual and as species.

Primitive African tribesmen count and exchange camels (they acquire in order to eat them or drink their milk in order to survive as individuals) against women (in order to copulate and reproduce, and thus survive as a species) or else according to a precisely defined scale of values universally admitted within their cultural sphere, for wants of a similarly universally accepted currency. They still exist in greater numbers than Amazonians, in most instances; and tend to spread their culture beyond the borders of their respective territories; or even happen to foster some foreign ones, in some instances – each time it suits the need to survive.



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