Monday, August 23, 2004

Scientists have discovered a new tribe (The Piraha) in the Brazilian jungle that doesn't use numbers. They don't have any counting or number system. Think about that for just a's incredible. No time, no calendar, no counting, no money, no age...nothing. I can't even imagine what that would be like. They are the only numberless group (so far) known to researchers. They also have no written language, no distinct words for colours and no oral history. They do not have a creation myth and they never sleep for longer than two hours at a time. Some scientists have been quoted as saying the tribe might as well be a group of aliens. I think that's pretty darn interesting. From a neuroscience and philosophical perspective it gets even more interesting. Apparently they are unable to learn how to count or to understand the concept of numbers, no matter how long they try to learn. It is as though they have passed a critical period for learning numbers. Of course, many people have argued in the past that language shapes the brain and that what language you learn will affect your view of the world. In recent years that theory has lost favour and scientists argue that all human brains are primed to learn a language but that which language is learned is irrelevant. Now, this new tribe is shaking up that theory. If the language you learn has no numbers then apparently your brain loses it's ability to comprehend numbers and this loss appears to be permanent. The ramifications of this for education and child development are pretty impressive. It also might explain why I am so bad at math...maybe I am 1/16 Piraha.

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