Jul
15
2008

Some mathematics I can get behind

Some fingers: Some fingers down, more fingers up.
Some fingers: Some fingers down, more fingers up.Courtesy anna_t
Researchers from MIT have found that a tribe in remote northwestern Brazil has no words for specific numbers.

The language of the tribe, of which there are only about 300 members, seems to be unique in that it has no numbers. Counting was thought to have been innate in human cognition. Apparently that isn’t totally the case. Specific numbers weren’t useful to this culture, so they never developed them in their language.

Instead of specific numbers, the group, called the Piraha, has a couple of relative terms, translating to something like “some” and “more.” Piraha math classes, I assume, would be awesome.

Some + some = more (obviously)

Nothing + some = some (duh)

Nothing + more = some (interesting!)

More – some = some (probably)

Some – more = your mind blown (Whoa!)

Something very anthropologically and linguistically crazy is going on here. Something about how even though we think our thoughts shape language, language actually ends up shaping our thoughts. So if you come from a culture whose language has no concept of specific numbers, how does that shape your perception of the world?

Oh, if only I had been a better student.

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Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Amazing.

posted on Tue, 08/05/2008 - 12:34pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Hey, John. Here's a study that says you don't need numbers to count. Mayhap these Amazonians are on to something?

posted on Thu, 08/21/2008 - 8:55pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Works for me. When, like me, you're mathematical energies are focused mainly on getting more pieces of cake than the next person, numbers really only get in the way.

posted on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 8:51am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Humans may ot need to count, but apparently elephants do.

posted on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 4:12pm

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