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Monday, May 8, 2017

Life without Numbers

Bases Loaded!    (Public Domain)
Not every culture teaches its children such ditties as “one, two, buckle your shoe.”  In fact, some human societies have existed without numbers (or perhaps shoes) for thousands of years.

Caleb Everett, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Miami, explains that cultures without numbers rely instead upon terms such as “a few” or “some.”  They struggle to “precisely differentiate and recall quantities as low as four.”

Anumeric people have nevertheless adapated quite well to their natural surroundings.  They display especially keen ecological understanding, and are not “ruled by minutes and seconds.”

Everett claims that numerical concepts have not come easily to humans.  It takes a great deal of early-childhood training for most kids to grasp the difference between consecutive whole numbers such as three and four.

So how is it that counting evolved?  It was literally handed down to us, in that ancient number systems were digitally based.  Fingers likely served as the original inspiration for base-5, base-10 and base-20.   


Copyright May 8, 2017 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


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