What is it about?

In this paper we tentatively propose that one of the feral cognitive bases for modern symbolic thinking may be numerosity, that is, the ability to appreciate and understand numbers. We proffer that numerosity appears to be an inherently abstractive process, which is supported by numerous human infant and monkey studies. We also review studies that demonstrate that the neurological substrate for numerosity is primarily the intraparietal sulcus of the parietal lobes, the angular and supramarginal gyri in the inferior parietal lobes, and areas of the prefrontal cortex. We also speculate that the lower level of abstraction involved in numerosity may serve as a basis for higher-level symbolic thinking, such as number and letter symbolism and sequencing. We further speculate that these two levels of abstraction may give rise to highly sophisticated characteristics of modern human language, such as analogizing and metaphorizing.

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I am interested in how societies become numerate by using and recruiting material forms into the cognitive system for numbers over generations of collaborative effort. The manuovisually engaged domain of material forms is a primary mechanism for realizing and elaborating numerical concepts. I also look at the effect this elaborational mechanism has on conceptual content, and what this might augur about the future of human cognition.

Dr. Karenleigh A. Overmann
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

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This page is a summary of: Numerosity, Abstraction, and the Emergence of Symbolic Thinking, Current Anthropology, April 2012, University of Chicago Press, DOI: 10.1086/664818.
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