What is it about?

The mapping of numbers onto space is fundamental to measurement and to mathematics. Is this mapping a cultural invention, or a universal intuition shared by all humans regardless of culture and education? We probed number-space mappings in the Mundurucu, an Amazonian indigene group with a reduced numerical lexicon and little or no formal education. At all ages the Mundurucu mapped symbolic and non-symbolic numbers onto a logarithmic scale, while Western adults used a linear mapping with small or symbolic numbers, and a logarithmic mapping when numbers were presented nonsymbolically under conditions that discouraged counting. Thus, the mapping of numbers onto space is a universal intuition, and this initial intuition of number is logarithmic.

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Why is it important?

The concept of a linear number line appears to be a cultural invention that fails to develop in the absence of formal education.

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This page is a summary of: Log or Linear? Distinct Intuitions of the Number Scale in Western and Amazonian Indigene Cultures, Science, May 2008, American Association for the Advancement of Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1156540.
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