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Brains Hard-Wired for Math

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the easy-as-1-2-3 dept.

Math 246

mcgrew writes "New Scientist is reporting that "non-human primates really can understand the meaning of numerals." The small study of two rhesus monkeys reveals that cells in their brains respond selectively to specific number values — regardless of whether the amount is represented by dots on a screen or an Arabic numeral. For example, a given brain cell in the monkey will respond to the number three, but not the number one. The results suggest that individual cells in human brains might also have a fine-tuned preference for specific numerical values." The report itself is online at PLoS Biology, Semantic Associations between Signs and Numerical Categories in the Prefrontal Cortex."

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First post (5, Funny)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193179)

My brain has a fine-tuned preference for the number 'one'.

Re:First post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193255)

I prefer Seven.

I don't need to probe a monkey to explain why.

Re:First post (1, Insightful)

gblfxt (931709) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193311)

i think probing monkeys is what maths all about, seems to be populur among the human populos

Ethics (2, Funny)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193329)

Readers be at ease. No cute furry animals were used in the research: They shaved the monkeys and dressed them up to look like [inser favourite politician] first.

Re:Ethics (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194289)

They shaved the monkeys and dressed them up to look like [inser favourite politician] first.
I would prefer them dressed up as my least favourite politician.

Re:Ethics (1)

Andrzej Sawicki (921100) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194401)

Shouldn't this be considered (additional) cruel and unusual punishment? Insensitive clods.

Re:First post (1, Insightful)

Soporific (595477) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193567)

What a marvelous first post referencing a first post while being understated. :)

~S

Re:First post (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194219)

The Frist is strong in this one.

binary (1)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193193)

For example, a given brain cell in the monkey will respond to the number three


So I guess we're not wired binary?

Idiot, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193231)

The decimal number (base 10) three is 0b11http://www.madonna.com/

Re:binary (4, Funny)

ExploHD (888637) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193241)

Well, there are 11 kinds of people, those who understand binary, and those who don't.

Re:binary (5, Funny)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193257)

And those who can't count.

Re:binary (1, Insightful)

ExploHD (888637) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193283)

and here I thought I was clever when I knew that 0 was represented by 0, 1 was represented by 1, and 2 was represented by two digits...

Re:binary (0)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193461)

Sorry dude, your logic does not compute. There are only 10 types of people... those that understand binary and those that don't.
http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts/frustrations/5aa9/ [thinkgeek.com]

01 = Those that don't understand binary
10 = Those that do understand binary

Above values could be really be assigned to either 01 or 10, though.

Ideally, I'd say the truest way to do this (because I know I'll get called on it) would be:
00 = Those that don't understand binary
01 = Those that do understand binary

Because 0 generally refers to a false condition (in the second example)... when dealing in non-zero value assignments as in the first example, it's more or less an arbitrary programatical decision.

But I've got to say, I enjoy the t-shirt the way it is (and I happen to own it).

There are many ways to count (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193557)

I thought I was clever when I knew that 0 was represented by 0, 1 was represented by 1, and 2 was represented by two digits...
Well when it comes to digits, most people can very well tell the difference between 0, 1 and 2. By the time you get to 3, a large percentage begin to whince in pain.

Re:binary (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193693)

Thats Base 1. :)

111 = 3
1111111111 = 10
etc...

Re:binary (5, Informative)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193971)

No such thing as 'base 1.'

You're thinking of Peano arithmetic. (Defined by nought, 0, and the successor function, S, and a few other axioms. You define 1 as "0S" and 2 as "0SS", etc.)

Re:binary (2, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194001)

And where does FOSS fit in? Is that infinity?

Re:binary (1)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194583)

It's 17, you insensitive clod!

Re:binary (5, Funny)

mike260 (224212) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193545)

There actually are 11 kinds of people - one kind doesn't get the joke, one kind does, and the other nine are sick to death of hearing it trotted out at every bloody opportunity.

Re:binary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193785)

If I had mod points I would have modded you Insightful. The joke's been all over the internet since its inception.

Re:binary (1)

hansraj (458504) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194429)

But do the other nine kind get the joke or not?

Re:binary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194555)

No no no - there are two kinds of people in the world - those that need closure.

Re:binary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193825)

Oops, it should be 10, that is, 2.

Re:binary (5, Insightful)

JustOK (667959) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193975)

Its true that there are two types of people:
1) those that can infer and extrapolate from incomplete data

Re:binary (1)

Taint Bearer (957479) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194561)

Shouldn't that be: 1) those that cannot infer and extrapolate from incomplete data?

Re:binary (5, Funny)

marcansoft (727665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193547)

Well, there are 11 kinds of people, those who understand unary, and those who don't.

There, fixed that for you.

Re:binary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194313)

Honestly dude, how did you get here!?

Re:binary (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193247)

For example, a given brain cell in the monkey will respond to the number three
So I guess we're not wired binary?
3 is just our interpretation of the result. As far as we know they could be interpreting the values in unary (the earliest human system) or worse, octal. Stupid monkeys. Don't they know that hexadecimal would make their lives much easier?

and there you see! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193197)

42 really is the answer!

Re:and there you see! (1)

gblfxt (931709) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193261)

42 may be a bit complex for your simian brain, stick with 3 and under and you will fly well!

Re:and there you see! (2, Funny)

aliquis (678370) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193297)

We already knew that, however we need to take their brains out to see if we can find parts of the question in there.

Numbers or numerals? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193203)

Isn't it more likely that the brain responds to numbers, and is also able to learn an association between numerals and numbers?

To say that nonhuman primates respond to numerals makes it sound like they evolved to benefit from written language, which would be kinda weird, ya know.

Re:Numbers or numerals? (1)

Wordsmith (183749) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193429)

That they can associated numerals with numbers IS to say that they find numerals meaningful. It's to say that they're capable of that level of abstraction, when it comes to numerical values.

Re:Numbers or numerals? (2, Insightful)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194293)

That they can associated numerals with numbers IS to say that they find numerals meaningful. It's to say that they're capable of that level of abstraction, when it comes to numerical values.

Oh, come on.

Unless they're proposing that Arab numerals are directly, non-symbolically related to the numerical concepts they represent, the only thing they've proved is that yay, primates are capable of learning some symbols.

If the same neurons react to quantity(3) and to symbol(3) with no previous training, then this discovery will revolutionize our schooling systems, not to mention cognitive science, semiotics and linguistics.
If, on the other hand, this included some training beforehand, then I fail to see what's the big deal.

Re:Numbers or numerals? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194581)

Well the arab numerals for 3 involve 3 symbols anyway.. III. The big deal is that some animals are smarter than some people would expect. Even a human wouldn't be able to recognise a symbol without training, duh.. they're just saying that monkeys can learn numbers the same as us, which is semi interesting.

I = E, information = energy (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193981)

"Isn't it more likely that the brain responds to numbers, and is also able to learn an association between numerals and numbers?"

Actually the brain is geared to understand visual (and other) frequencies and "numbers" are nothing more then deduced descriptions of our visual geometric world. Math was built into the universe, and our systems of math are nothing more really then mutations of basic math embedded in nature. In fact we might say mathematics is lower down on the chain then visual geometry. Since symbolic math is a description OF visual geometry (or simply patterns of data).

Re:Numbers or numerals? (4, Interesting)

jandersen (462034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194307)

It isn't surprising that monkeys can understand an abstraction like 'numbers' - a brain is a neural network, and neural nets are 'abstraction engines' by definition. Consider the nature of abstractions: an abstract concept is one that describes a set of properties that are common to a class of objects. A number, for example, is the property that is common to all sets that are isomorphic in the category of sets (to spell it out: what is common to 'five apples', 'five oranges', 'five cows', ...? The number 5, of course). And what is it a neural net does? It learns to recognise patterns that are shared by all the 'objects' it 'sees' (if you will excuse the metaphor) - in other words, it creates an abstraction.

The numbers 1 and 0, although fundamental to our numerical notation, are not really 'interesting' in nature - 0 is simply 'nothing' and 1 is 'anything', they sort of fade into the background. Being able to recognise other, small numbers can be useful, however. Two fruits is one for me and one for you; if you have four children, but can only see three, then you should go looking for the last one, etc etc.

This is the way evolution works - nothing evolves with any purpose; things evolve because there are new traits that turn out to be beneficial in the given environment. And then, down the line, it sometimes also turns out that a trait that evolved at some point in the past allows the organism to do something entirely new in a new environment. So the monkeys didn't evolve to benefit from written language, it turned out that this is one of the things their brains can learn. The real question here is: Why did brains evolve - and that all starts with biofilms ;-)

Not just math (3, Interesting)

biocute (936687) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193207)

Bottom of the friendly article: The results are not the first to suggest there may be specific brain cells tied to individual concepts. In 2005 researchers discovered that individual neurons become activated by images of specific celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry.

So I guess it is up to individuals to decide how best to utilize limited brain cells. I'm pretty sure that those monkeys can tied a couple of their brain cells to other concepts given enough training.

Re:Not just math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194221)

Wasn't it found long ago that the counting system of some primitives consisted of 'one', 'two', three', and beyond that, 'many'? I guess the question is, was this a fault of their culture or their learning abilities? I'd assume their brains could recognize patterns and so they should have been able to tell 3 from 4 from 5... But how could a culture persist without evolving beyond counting only to three?

Trolls count differently (1)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194335)

It's one... two... many... lots.

Re:Trolls count differently (1)

orangesquid (79734) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194421)

No, trolls count: 1, 0, -1, whoneedskarmaanyway!

I'm not surprised. Gathering food is a useful thing to evolve, knowing how much food to gather also is, and being able to count different types of food (and not just bananas, for example) also is.

Whoever tagged this article 'sixtynine', this wasn't Bonobos, this was Rhesus monkeys ;)

Also, nice meta-first-post.

Base? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193209)

I wonder if the brains are wired for specific bases, like base 10.

Re:Base? (5, Funny)

mdemonic (988470) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193273)

# I wonder if the brains are wired for specific bases, like base 10.

We like it because we have ten fingers. Other civilizations have had other number systems though. The Mayans used base 20, since they had 20 fingers

Re:Base? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193459)

I was wondering about a male-only numbering system, base 21.

Has any civilization used this before?

Re:Base? (4, Funny)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193711)

There was one which used that system but it died out after the first generation. ;)

Re:Base? (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194275)

There was one which used that system but it died out after the first generation. ;)
Yes, and they used to be called the Hooba'hooba people [wikipedia.org] ...

Re:Base? (4, Funny)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193847)

Nah the Mayan probably wore open toed sandals ;).

Re:Base? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194193)

Toes? Duh? Mayans going away from base 20 might have something to do with the adoption of shoes or some other clothing that covers or obstructs visibility of the feet. I would also guess that base 10 would logically have something to do with the convienience of available digits to count on. That idea also makes for interesting hypothesizing what base a space alien would normally count with.

As for primates being able to count in general... I think there would be some advantage to knowing how many are in a social group. If you don't realize members are disappearing one by one in quick sucession, your ability to survive might not be so good. Also if you were a monkey that couldn't count to some extent, how would you know if your secret food stash was any good? Things like that would make sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Re:Base? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194509)

We aren't wired for specific bases, as history shows. The mayans had their base-20 (duodecimal?) system, egyptians used hectadecimal (base 60). The actual decimal system is a fairly recent occurrence, and probably has very little to do with numbers of fingers (coincidental match).

With computing becoming more prevalent, there are groups of people that can count in binary and hexadecimal bases almost as easily as decimal :) There can also be a good case made for binary being just as natural for counting as decimal, as a finger can be either up or down, allowing each finger to represent a binary digit and increasing the counting capacity of both hands from a measly ten to a more useful 1023.

Re:Base? (5, Interesting)

xPsi (851544) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193401)

I wonder if the brains are wired for specific bases, like base 10.
It is possible, but I'm guessing this is mostly a matter of familiarity and convention. For example, Baylonians used a sexagesimal [wikipedia.org] (base 60 -- a.k.a. "thanks for frickin' 360 degrees guys"...) system. As many programmers know (do I even need to say it on ./?), base 2, 8, and 16 can become second nature pretty quickly with some practice and application.

Re:Base? (5, Funny)

Yoozer (1055188) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193787)

Most geeks will however have trouble with base 3.

Re:Base? (1)

lucas teh geek (714343) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194463)

Not me, I love a good 212 (base 3) :P

Re:Base? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194529)

Not me, I love a good 212 (base 3) :P

You like a fat horse cock up your anus? What the fuck?

Re:Base? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194565)

a good 23?(base 10)

surely you prefer a good 2120? (base 3) :)

Re:Base? (1)

Torodung (31985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194591)

That is the best Discordian post I've ever seen.

((23))

Don't be unfair to Babylonians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193951)

It was a pretty good decision given the state of knowledge at the time. Base 365.25 would _not_ have been a good idea.

From the point of view of most of the 20th century, doing things by tens and hundreds looked more rational. In fact the SI system derives its unit of length from the concept of dividing the circle into 400 parts, each 100000 metres long at an average Earth Great Circle. (The Germans still use grads.)Why 100000? Because the metre still needed to come out somewhere near the familiar yard or ell.


However, preindustrial people would prefer 360 because it allows for more "natural" divisions of the circle (into quarters, fifths,sixths,eighths, tenths, twelths) than 400, which really only allows divisions into powers of 2 and 5. And postcomputer people don't care because the computer can manage all the complexity of units with ease.

Re:Base? (2, Funny)

Briareos (21163) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194419)

I wonder if the brains are wired for specific bases, like base 10.
Well, if we're all wired to the same bases that would mean "all your base are belong to us" is indeed true... *shudders*

np: Bonobo & Amon Tobin - I'll Have the Waldorf Salad (Verbal Remixes & Collaborations)

Hmmm. (1)

Eun-HjZjiNeD (1001079) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193219)

I wonder if this means 'geeks' are tuned for 1337....

Obvious (4, Interesting)

Stoutlimb (143245) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193249)

In other news, reality is hardwired for math.

Seriously, why wouldn't a brain, which exists to process data in one form or another, respond to math positively at some level? Geometry is math, and that is hardwired in our brains to a high level. Any brain that has to process spacial information in any way must be predisposed to math.

Re:Obvious (1)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193415)

Spatial reasoning is separate from mathematical/logical reasoning. Plus maths is not required for practical geometry or navigation.

Re:Obvious (1)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193783)

In other news, reality is hardwired for math.

1.618? [wikipedia.org]

Re:Obvious (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193839)

Sure, but:
1) Why one brain cell per number?
2) What's the max number before the primate stops allocating a brain cell to numbers? Does that vary a lot on a per individual basis? Does that vary significantly on a per species basis? Is there a correlation with the perceived intelligence of the individual?

Re:Obvious (4, Interesting)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193923)

I agree...

I can't stand the over-use of the expression "hard-wired" when the data only indicates something that is universal. It implies that the structures responsible would develop in that function no matter what, without the experience in the world of, for example, things in sets-of-three, etc.

The data really supports dynamical systems models of cognitive development [indiana.edu] more than pure innatist ones. Just look at what the brain of someone blind from birth develops into, absent visual input.

I highly recommend the books of Andy Clark, particularly his "Being There," as an introduction that starts to explain just how flawed the seemingly harmless phrase "hard-wired" is.

Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193263)

Clearly, slashdot editors are not hardwired for seeing duplicate postings

title wrong (5, Funny)

weak* (1137369) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193289)

I've co-taught an undergraduate mathematics course. Based on this experience and many others, I assure you the human mind is not hard-wired for math.

Re:title wrong (4, Insightful)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193353)

Good point. While brains may be wired for numbers, I highly doubt that any brain is hardwired for differential equations.

Re:title wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194357)

You just don't realize what hardwired means. Being able to take a few steps to catch a ball means your brain is hardwired for pretty heavy math. Being hardwired also means you cannot use it for other purposes.

Re:title wrong (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193377)

What about fuzzy math ?

I really like seven... (4, Funny)

feepness (543479) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193337)

For some reason I get aroused when I hear the number seven. Especially when it's followed by "of nine".

Re:I really like seven... (1)

moriya (195881) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193457)

Why not sixty-nine?

Re:I really like seven... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193649)

Woosh!

Re:I really like seven... (1)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194353)

Sixty-nine with Seven of Nine?

Well, something about me is hard-wired for that, but I don't think neurons are the obvious answer...

music and singing (3, Interesting)

xPsi (851544) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193357)

A colleague of mine once pointed out that the ability of most humans to sing (speak for yourself!), play music, and even distinguish different tunes implies an intrinsic hard-wired affinity for numbers since music depends on very specific ratios of frequencies to be gauged and produced accurately real time. You are in effect doing a Fourier transform of the music, finding the strongest peaks, and reproducing them and/or scaling them by fairly exact amounts (in spite of a broad spectrum of other frequencies present creating timbre). On top of that, one is usually doing this accurately in the context of much, much lower frequencies (i.e. rhythms/tempos on the scale of Hertz rather than "tones" on the scale of 100s of Hertz) as well. Of course, not all music is western, 12 tone, tuned the same, etc., etc. etc. But I think there may still be a (fairly well understood??) psycho-acoustic music-math connection in there.

Re:music and singing (2, Insightful)

wirelessbuzzers (552513) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193889)

A colleague of mine once pointed out that the ability of most humans to sing (speak for yourself!), play music, and even distinguish different tunes implies an intrinsic hard-wired affinity for numbers since music depends on very specific ratios of frequencies to be gauged and produced accurately real time. You are in effect doing a Fourier transform of the music, finding the strongest peaks, and reproducing them and/or scaling them by fairly exact amounts (in spite of a broad spectrum of other frequencies present creating timbre).
The Fourier transform is done in hardware. That's just how hearing works. Specific intervals are pleasing largely because of the way their overtones line up; that's why pretty much every music system has a third, a fifth and an octave. I'd bet that producing music is done based on memory and calibration, the same way many other actions are done; no math involved.

On top of that, one is usually doing this accurately in the context of much, much lower frequencies (i.e. rhythms/tempos on the scale of Hertz rather than "tones" on the scale of 100s of Hertz) as well.
People are good at things involving periodic events on the order of a second. Not sure that math enters into it. I'd guess that the math/music connection is more about the abstract structure of music than the physical structure.

Evidence in humans? (1)

Spykk (823586) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193405)

I wonder if this has something to do with the stigma certain numbers like seven and thirteen have?

Re:Evidence in humans? (1)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194369)

I wonder if this has something to do with the stigma certain numbers like seven and thirteen have?

In a word: No.

That's purely cultural.

Though I do wonder why so many OC people are obsessed with threes.

In a word: No.

That's purely cultural.

Though I do wonder why so many OC people are obsessed with threes.

In a word: No.

That's purely cultural.

Though I do wonder why so many OC people are obsessed with threes.

Re:Evidence in humans? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194571)

I think the article is wrong: we're not hardwired for numbers ... we're hardwired for numerology.

This just in! (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193443)

Perceptrons hardwired for mathematics!

In a far reaching experiment, a generic group of second year CS students trained a neural network classifier on pairs of images consisting of a number of dots, and a corresponding arabic symbol. The students trained their perceptron [wikipedia.org] on four pairs of images representing the numbers 1 through 4. The successfully trained AI was then shown pairs of dots and numerals and identified incorrect pairings. An interesting feature of the experiment is that some of the neural network's weights appear to trigger on specific patterns. According to the students, this means that the AI is now able to count to infinity (in principle), and may well win next year's Loebner prize [wikipedia.org] .

Re:This just in! (1)

codecracker007 (789100) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193999)

A bit off topic, for the sake of clarification, it's not Arabic numerals, its Hindu-arabic [wikipedia.org] or Indo-Arabic numerals.

Personal Experience (2, Insightful)

Bemopolis (698691) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193449)

Based on my experiences teaching science classes, not ALL brains are hard-wired for math.

math dogs (1)

nerdyalien (1182659) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193477)

When I was a kid, I went to this circus where a dog could do simple nemerical calculations, which leads to answer of a single digit number (i.e. 1-10). Small plates with printed number (1-10) are displayed in a circle, once the dogs are commanded to pick a number, dog does it. When a calculation is given, dog will go around few times then pick the number, which is the answer. I am not sure how they trained those dogs. But I observed, that sometimes, dogs tend to pick the wrong number.

Re:math dogs (1)

Spasemunki (63473) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193689)

I am not sure how they trained those dogs. But I observed, that sometimes, dogs tend to pick the wrong number.

At this point in the story, you anecdote became Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy.

Re:math dogs (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194123)

When I was a kid, I went to this circus where a dog could do simple nemerical calculations, which leads to answer of a single digit number (i.e. 1-10). Small plates with printed number (1-10) are displayed in a circle, once the dogs are commanded to pick a number, dog does it. When a calculation is given, dog will go around few times then pick the number, which is the answer. I am not sure how they trained those dogs. But I observed, that sometimes, dogs tend to pick the wrong number.
well your brain mustn't be hardwired for math if you think 10 is a single digit number...

What about the Pirahã? (5, Interesting)

settrans (902777) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193537)

The notion that primates are genetically predisposed to have mathematical ability is tenuous. Why should we believe there is some neural circuitry designed explicitly for math? First of all, all studies teaching non-human primates to count involve extensive training of the primates; it doesn't just "click" for them. This would suggest that it is a struggle for them to learn the concept of counting and mathematics. (Of course it doesn't help that TFA is extremely light on the gory details of the methodology and results of the study.)

Secondly, the Pirahã people [wikipedia.org] of Amazonia do not have numbers or counting. Professor Everett, despite months of instruction, was unable to make any progress in teaching them how to count. The Pirahã themselves were highly motivated learners, as they didn't want to be ripped off in trade by visiting merchants, but nevertheless, they had no success in learning the most basic concepts of math. Indeed the Pirahã language has no numerals, and is claimed to have no quantifiers, either.

Relevant readings:
Everett, D.L. (2005). Cultural constraints on grammar and cognition in Pirahã. Current Anthropology, 46, 621-646.
Hauser, M.D., Chomsky, N. and Fitch, W.T. (2002) The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science, 298, 1569-1579.
Pinker, S. & Jackendoff, R. (in press). The components of language: What's specific to language, and What's specific to humans? In M.H. Christiansen, C. Collins & S. Edelman (Eds.), Language universals. New York: Oxford University Press.

Re:What about the Pirahã? (1)

E++99 (880734) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193609)

Secondly, the Pirahã people [wikipedia.org] of Amazonia do not have numbers or counting. Professor Everett, despite months of instruction, was unable to make any progress in teaching them how to count. The Pirahã themselves were highly motivated learners, as they didn't want to be ripped off in trade by visiting merchants, but nevertheless, they had no success in learning the most basic concepts of math. Indeed the Pirahã language has no numerals, and is claimed to have no quantifiers, either.

Clearly, those folks need to hire themselves some chimps as accountants.

Re:What about the Pirahã? (5, Funny)

svunt (916464) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193635)

Did you just add footnotes to actually back up your claim on a slashdot discussion? *rubs eyes* You're going to destroy this site's reputation.

Re:What about the Pirahã? (5, Funny)

Frozen Void (831218) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194021)

these were non-numbered footnotes so they don't count.

Re:What about the Pirahã? (1)

MLease (652529) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194447)

*Phew*! That was a close one!

-Mike

Obviously (1)

mike260 (224212) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193559)

Well of course the PRNGs in their little monkey brains are seeded differently. Otherwise, an infinite number of them sat at typewriters would all type exactly the same gibberish, and we wouldn't have any Shakespeare.

Close Enough for Hand Grenades (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193583)

They're not wired for exact sums, they're wired for approximation. Once you can convince people of their ignorance of math they'll fly off into all kinds of logically-predicted directions of randomness. BINGO! People do not understand math! Simple.

Refer to previous article (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193613)

"non-human primates really can understand the meaning of numerals."

Good! Let's fire Diebold and hire them to count the ballots instead.

monkey professor (3, Funny)

dancingmad (128588) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193679)

I wish they'd teach me math then; considering my college math grades, I'm worse off than these monkeys.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21193809)

Let get this over with... 69 there its done.

Well there are (1)

mattr (78516) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193867)

There already are cells for numbers, namely the follicles in the ear that are used to detect pitch IIRC each cell picks up a specific frequency.

Keep counting (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21193871)

I suspect that the more species they experiment with, the more they're going to find with some concept of numbers. What could be more important to survival than choosing the most abundant food source when other factors are equal? I seem to recall that some parrots actually count, but I can't recall where I got that information.

read Hawkins (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194175)

these people should read Hawkins' book "On Intelligence". It will help them understand how the brain actually might work. Concluding something is "hardwired" for numbers is almost laughable.

Women and Math (-1, Offtopic)

cybergen007 (1062390) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194223)

Women beleive that men only think of one thing. It's true. I constantly think about Math. I think about dividing the legs, subtracting the dress and then mutliplying.

It's really not all that complicated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21194375)

Numbers are just patterns. a numeral is a pattern that represents a pattern.
most animals that can deduct from their surroundings and make logical choices can probably distinguish numbers.
except, with us, we actually know what 1,000 is and means, or 1,000,000,000 is, and what it represents. where most animals can probably deduce that 4 rhythmic patterns is 4, and 10 rhythmic patterns is 10, or two sets of 5 rhythmic patterns.

I may not be a scientist or a researcher, but pattern recognition is how one figures out a problem or how their surrounding environment is acting around them.

now I'd like to see this tested on a species that cant deduce patterns in its environment. then we'll see something interesting.

Infinity (3, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#21194499)

So, don't think of infinity. Your skull will explode...
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