27 October 2017, Joint session DiP Colloquium & Cognition@ILLC, Prof. Richard Menary
In 2015 I argued that full mathematical cognition was the result of a process of enculturation. Given that symbolic mathematics is a very recent acquisition—mathematical symbol systems are only thousands of years old and some mathematical practices are only hundreds of years old—it could not be the result of a genetically inherited and specialised module. How then do we acquire the capacity for symbolic mathematics in ontogeny? I return to the argument I presented there, that we should pay close attention to the social and cultural pressures that gave rise to the need for arithmetic and mathematics and to the cultural practices that were developed for thinking abstractly about quantity. Mathematical practices recruit a number of existing capacities including the capacity for numerosity (which appears to be an ancient endowment), the capacity for sensorimotor manipulation of tools and the ability to perform sequences of operations according to norms (or rules).