Health & Medicine

Are we pre-wired for Mathematics?

I had gone for on an internship during my Masters program at IRMA to a small village in Rajasthan. The NGO there was into adult education. When asked as to what do they teach? They said language and Math. These people were farmers. They would grow food and then sell it off for a price, buy their household stuff and come home.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I did not know 3 from 2, selling my stuff and then buying stuff would be impossible for me. So, pray, what were these farmers being taught? When someone says they are teaching Maths, you know how the drill goes.. right? Numbers and then addition and subtraction, etc. But if you got 2 notes and did not know how to count, would you be able to sell or buy anything?? I doubt.

Back to the question – did these “illiterate” know Maths? Or did they have to be taught. Quite obviously they weren’t solving complex linear equations in their minds, but were doing enough to get by! How do you teach a skill that probably comes naturally to us?

And natural come it does. Stanislas Dehaene, a young neuroscientist based in Paris now asserts that basic and foundational Mathematics skills come natural (and are inborn) in humans.. and more readily used than any other literary skill.

Dehaene had been invited to see him because his impairments included severe acalculia, a general term for any one of several deficits in number processing. When asked to add 2 and 2, he answered “three.” He could still count and recite a sequence like 2, 4, 6, 8, but he was incapable of counting downward from 9, differentiating odd and even numbers, or recognizing the numeral 5 when it was flashed in front of him.

To Dehaene, these impairments were less interesting than the fragmentary capabilities Mr. N had managed to retain. When he was shown the numeral 5 for a few seconds, he knew it was a numeral rather than a letter and, by counting up from 1 until he got to the right integer, he eventually identified it as a 5. He did the same thing when asked the age of his seven-year-old daughter. In the 1997 book “The Number Sense,” Dehaene wrote, “He appears to know right from the start what quantities he wishes to express, but reciting the number series seems to be his only means of retrieving the corresponding word.”

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Desh Kapoor

The panache of a writer is proven by the creative pen he uses to transform the most mundane topic into a thrilling story. Desh – the author, critic and analyst uses the power of his pen to create thought-provoking pieces from ordinary topics of discussion. He writes on myriad interesting themes. Read the articles to know more about his views and “drishtikone”.

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