The debate over maths in the Amazon: still counting points

Another paper, in Cognition, about the mathematical abilities of Amazonians. This time, the Gibson/Everett view scored one point. They claim that language for numbers is not what allows us to use concepts of exact quantities for big sets. It merely helps us to keep them in mind.

[from the abstract] number words do not change our underlying representations of number but instead are a cognitive technology for keeping track of the cardinality of large sets across time, space, and changes in modality.

The opposite side is nonplussed about the study. Stanislas Deahaene shared his disbelief with The Telegraph.
Elizabeth Spelke talks of possible experimental biases in New Scientist. You can read the paper here (no screen).





  • comment-avatar
    Helen De Cruz 25 September 2008 (13:10)

    I downloaded the article not so long ago, and I think it is very interesting. The whorfian hypothesis (which claims that linguistic structure as such influences cognition) is still hotly debated in the area of numerical cognition. Together with Pierre Pica (from CNRS) I have co-edited a special issue which is completely devoted to this topic, and which will appear in Philosophical Psychology, still this year if everything goes well. The special issue contains contributions from amongst others Brian Butterworth, Pierre Pica, Veronique Izard, Ann Dowker and Tom Verguts. If you are interested, I can give you the precise reference once the papers have appeared.

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    Charles Stafford 25 September 2008 (16:25)

    Olivier refers to ’the Gibson/Everett view’. However, Everett has strongly distanced himself from Gibson in an article entitled ”Cultural constraints on language and cognition in Piraha” (Current anthropology 46:621-46), in which he makes much stronger claims about the uniqueness of Piraha life and thought than those made by Gibson. I’ve discussed the differences in the Gibson/Everett approaches in a 2008 article entitled ”Linguistic and cultural variables in the psychology of numeracy” (Journal of the royal anthropological institute (NS), S128-S141).

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    Olivier Morin 25 September 2008 (16:29)

    I was writing about a 2008 paper that Everett and Gibson signed together. The view expressed in the paper can therefore be referred to as the view of Everett and Gibson. The article you cite, in which, according to you, Everett distances himself from Gibson, was published in 2005. They seem to have reconciled since then.