Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Instinctual math

Natalie Angier does an interesting article on our instinctual intuitive math versus our more analytical learned number crunching, and the relationship between them. Apparently our evolutionarily endowed sense of approximation is related to how good we are at formal math. The article contains a neat interactive demonstration of our non verbal intuitive math abilities.
Brain imaging studies have traced the approximate number sense to a specific neural structure called the intraparietal sulcus, which also helps assess features like an object’s magnitude and distance. Symbolic math, by contrast, operates along a more widely distributed circuitry, activating many of the prefrontal regions of the brain that we associate with being human. Somewhere, local and global must be hooked up to a party line.

...open questions include how malleable our inborn number sense may be, whether it can be improved with training, and whether those improvements would pay off in a greater appetite and aptitude for math. If children start training with the flashing dot game at age 4, will they be supernumerate by middle school?

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