Is our ability to count and estimate quantity an innate skill, or is it learned? To answer this question The Economist looks briefly at the history of counting; people who speak languages that have words only for ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘few’ and ‘many’; and dyscalculiaâ€”a condition similar to dyslexia where sufferers lack basic ‘number sense’ or haveÂ difficulty in learningÂ certain maths skills.
That humans (and perhaps other animals) come ready-supplied with numbers contradicts two popular rival theories: the Platonic and the constructivist. Plato thought numbers (and geometric objects such as circles) existed in some abstract, eternal and perfect realm, of which mortals were granted only an occasional glimpse. Constructivists follow Jean Piaget, a Swiss child psychologist, in thinking that by moving things in the real world around and observing the results people “construct” an understanding of number in the first few years of their lives. The distinction, though abstract, has practical relevance too. Could “maths-phobes” be born, rather than made? Can they be cured? And could mathematics be taught better to all?
via Mind Hacks