What is it about?

A review of G Geoffrey B. Saxe, Cultural Development of Mathematical Ideas. Saxe offers a comprehensive treatment of social and linguistic change in the number systems used for economic exchange in the Oksapmin community of Papua New Guinea. By taking the cognition-is-social approach, Saxe positions himself within emerging perspectives that view cognition as enacted, situated, and extended. The approach is somewhat risky in that sociality surely does not exhaust cognition. Brains, bodies, and materiality also contribute to cognition—causally at least, and possibly constitutively as well (as argued by Clark & Chalmers; Renfrew & Malafouris). This omission necessarily excludes the material dimension of numeracy.

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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: Book review: Cultural Development of Mathematical Ideas, written by Geoffrey B. Saxe, Journal of Cognition and Culture, July 2014, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15685373-12342128.
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