Experimental Philosophy of mathematical intuition

So this is straight psychological research, not done by 'experimental philosophers,' but it does seem highly relevant to any philosophers who appeal to the notion of mathematical intuition:

Log or Linear? Distinct Intuitions of the Number Scale in Western and Amazonian Indigene Cultures, Stanislas Dehaene et al. in Science May 30 2008.
We probed number-space mappings in the Mundurucu, an Amazonian indigene group with a reduced numerical lexicon and little or no formal education. At all ages, the Mundurucu mapped symbolic and nonsymbolic numbers onto a logarithmic scale, whereas Western adults used linear mapping with small or symbolic numbers and logarithmic mapping when numbers were presented nonsymbolically under conditions that discouraged counting. This indicates that the mapping of numbers onto space is a universal intuition and that this initial intuition of number is logarithmic. The concept of a linear number line appears to be a cultural invention that fails to develop in the absence of formal education.


At 8/6/08, Blogger Shawn said...

That finding does seem pretty neat. Out of curiosity, were there any particular instances of an appeal to mathematical intuition by a philosopher that you think is undermined by this result? It doesn't seem to broach any particularly foundational issue, which is where I expect most appeals to intuition get made. Although, interestingly, this would've been incredibly useful to know about in the intro philosophy of science class I TA'd for last semester. (This is a huge digression.) In it we read Hempel's nice intro to philosophy of science book. There is a section on simplicity which uses different graph scales to illustrate the points, in particular logarithmic and standard linear scales. Some students wanted to claim that the linear scale is the default, so simpler. This refutes that claim pretty readily, although I'm doubtful there are any professional philosophers that made a claim along those lines. Surely there aren't...


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