Friday, August 20, 2004

Counting without words

Researchers studying the Piraha tribe in Brazil claim to have found that the group, which have no words for numbers beyond one, two and many, were unable to accurately match patterns that involved 8-10 items. OK, I'll buy that. Matching 10 count patterns isn't perfectly trivial, and having the mental tools to group objects could help a lot. But the next part:

Dr Gordon added that not only could they not count, they also could not draw.

"Producing simple straight lines was accomplished only with great effort and concentration, accompanied by heavy sighs and groans."

This one starts the old mental alarm bells ringing. Drawing skill doesn't have a lot to do with counting. My guess: they weren't comfortable with the tools they were asked to use, or they thought he wanted a precision in drawing that they thought excessive (I gripe when asked to draw perfectly straight lines without a ruler too), or they were having a little joke at Dr. Gordon's expense.

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