Battlepanda: The importance of software


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The importance of software

How much of the basic numeric ability we take for granted like counting is hardwired? A new study of an Amazonian language with no word for numbers above three suggest "not a heck of a lot".
Language moulds our thoughts so much that we cannot conceptualise ideas for which we do not have words, according to an American researcher.

Dr Peter Gordon of Columbia University, New York, studied an Amazonian tribe whose language has no word for numbers beyond two. His research on the Piraha, a tribe of hunter-gatherers, sheds light on mathematical thought.

Dr Gordon's work, reported in the journal Science, shows that the ability of tribal adults to conceptualise numbers is no better than that of infants or even some animals.

The tribe has words for "one" and "two" - and "one" can also mean "roughly one" - but anything more than that is not quantified but merely lumped together as "many". The research suggests that without words for specific numbers, numeration cannot develop.
Basically, having the right name to describe things is essential to conceptualizing them properly. This makes me think of all the words in Chinese without counterparts in English and vice versa. Can speaking a different language make people think differently too? Or is the Piraha language unusally poor in concepts and vocabulary?