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Numbers and the Making of Us: Counting and…
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Numbers and the Making of Us: Counting and the Course of Human Cultures

by Caleb Everett

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674504437, Hardcover)

Carved into our past, woven into our present, numbers shape our perceptions of the world and of ourselves much more than we commonly think. Numbers and the Making of Us is a sweeping account of how numbers radically enhanced our species’ cognitive capabilities and sparked a revolution in human culture. Caleb Everett brings new insights in psychology, anthropology, primatology, linguistics, and other disciplines to bear in explaining the myriad human behaviors and modes of thought numbers have made possible, from enabling us to conceptualize time in new ways to facilitating the development of writing, agriculture, and other advances of civilization.

Number concepts are a human invention―a tool, much like the wheel, developed and refined over millennia. Numbers allow us to grasp quantities precisely, but they are not innate. Recent research confirms that most specific quantities are not perceived in the absence of a number system. In fact, without the use of numbers, we cannot precisely grasp quantities greater than three; our minds can only estimate beyond this surprisingly minuscule limit.

Everett examines the various types of numbers that have developed in different societies, showing how most number systems derived from anatomical factors such as the number of fingers on each hand. He details fascinating work with indigenous Amazonians who demonstrate that, unlike language, numbers are not a universal human endowment. Yet without numbers, the world as we know it would not exist.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:15:59 -0500)

Numbers and the Making of Us examines the origins and effects of numbers--words and other symbols for quantities. It focuses on the influence that numbers have had on human thought. As a result of this influence, the book claims, numbers transformed the human narrative. This transformation is supported by data from many disciplines: archaeology, linguistics, psychology, and primatology. The book surveys the types of number systems that have been innovated independently in languages around the world, most of which (like our own decimal system) owe themselves in one way or another to the shape of our hands. Furthermore, the book examines evidence from anumeric humans, such as those the author has conducted research with in Amazonia, as it advances the following claim: Numbers served as a pivotal cognitive invention, an underappreciated tool whose usage ultimately resulted in the societies most of us now live in. In short, the book suggests that verbal and written numbers served as a cognitive foundation of sorts, helping to establish the ground floor of all sorts of distinctly human behaviors. These include elaborate agriculture, writing, the telling of time, and many other aspects of the human experience that are all ultimately dependent on the simple invention of numbers.--… (more)

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