What is it about?

We respond to Caleb Everett’s (2013) critique of our 2012 Current Anthropology article “Numerosity, Abstraction, and the Emergence of Symbolic Thinking.” We refute Everett’s criticisms, including his claim that we overemphasized paleoanthropological evidence in our argument, noting that recent experimental research in numerical cognition comprised 60% of our references. We also identify two key misunderstandings by Everett, first, the idea that numerosity is not uniform in extant Homo sapiens (we believe that experimental findings, including those of Everett himself, demonstrate that quantity perception is cross-culturally uniform) and second, the idea that language necessarily shapes human numerosity (in fact, the two are largely independent cognitive processes, and the evidence shows that numerosity, as a perceptual primitive, precedes language, not the other way around as argued by Everett). We note our focus on the fundamental question of how discrete quantities emerge out of the undifferentiated ‘many’, given numerosity, and reiterate our 2012 suggestion that the answer lies in the interaction of quantity appreciation with material scaffolds.

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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: On the Nature of Numerosity and the Role of Language in Developing Number Concepts, Current Anthropology, February 2013, University of Chicago Press, DOI: 10.1086/668833.
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