Evidences that the human brain has quantifying properties -i.e., ability to discriminate between sets of different sizes- as a result of evolution, but that numerical cognition is a result of culture

Rafael E. Núñez, Is There Really an Evolved Capacity for Number?, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 21, Issue 6, June 2017, Pages 409-424, ISSN 1364-6613, DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2017.03.005.

Humans and other species have biologically endowed abilities for discriminating quantities. A widely accepted view sees such abilities as an evolved capacity specific for number and arithmetic. This view, however, is based on an implicit teleological rationale, builds on inaccurate conceptions of biological evolution, downplays human data from non-industrialized cultures, overinterprets results from trained animals, and is enabled by loose terminology that facilitates teleological argumentation. A distinction between quantical (e.g., quantity discrimination) and numerical (exact, symbolic) cognition is needed: quantical cognition provides biologically evolved preconditions for numerical cognition but it does not scale up to number and arithmetic, which require cultural mediation. The argument has implications for debates about the origins of other special capacities – geometry, music, art, and language.

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