November 01, 2004
What happens when you can't count past four?
'Some Americans I have spoken with (who were otherwise of quick and rational parts enough) could not, as we do, by any means count to 1,000; nor had any distinct idea of that number," wrote the English philosopher John Locke in 1690.
He was referring to the Tououpinambos, a tribe from the Brazilian jungle, whose language lacked names for numbers above five. Locke's point was that number names "conduce to well-reckoning" by enabling us to keep in mind distinct numbers, and can be helpful in learning to count and to calculate, but they are not necessary for the possession of numerical ideas.
Posted by Tom Troceen