Friday, August 27, 2010

Caveman Math

In my last post about our viewing of Walking With Cavemen I forgot to mention something about it that had me thinking.

In, I think, the third episode the narrator pointed to some holes in the ground and commented that how our ancestor viewed those holes marked a huge departure from how every other animal on earth viewed those holes. See, those holes were tracks, prints in the dry soil left by some animal. No other animals sees them as such but we humans sure do. And, he went on, we (then and now) know which clouds for tell rain and understand the turn of the seasons. And why do we?

Before I answer that I'd like to add that to date, most of what I've seen in books in regards to the beginning of math seems to involve a picture of an ancient African stick marked with notches for counting or a story about a shepherd needing to count his goats. The impression being that math began with counting.

But look at these prints in the snow:

Why are those not just holes in the snow?

Maybe it's partly because they're a regular pattern. Maybe we can track the seasons because we understand the pattern.

And if we're talking patterns, aren't we talking math?

Now I'm not saying Homo erectus was capable of multiplication, just that mathematical thinking, if you can divorce math from counting, may have been around longer than Homo sapien and that mathematical thinking may be one of the fundamental things that first defined humans. As much as taming fire. As much as imagination.

Now I realize even as I type this that it's probably FAR from an original thought. It's just one of those personal epiphany things. I also realize Mr. Human Ancestor may have been relying on correlation with the tracks, seeing cat walk and seeing the prints left behind and putting two and two together...But then we're back to mathematical reasoning, aren't we? :D

Anyhow, probably the cough syrup talking but I thought I'd post it anyway.


Anonymous said...

Well what I want to know is why do we make statements such as humans are the only animals to be able to differentiate tracks from holes? How do we know they don't? That's like when "they" say animals don't know they will someday die? How do "they" know? That is awfully presumptuous. We're all made from the same stuff, they see death much more than we do. You can't tell me an elephant doesn't know what death is and that it too will someday die. I don't buy it! (And I'm not even sucking back cough syrup at the moment.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, that's me up there BTW. (Who else huh?)


Dawn said...

Okay, I'll call you and raise you one.

Why should we assume they would see tracks as tracks? What need would a wolf with a vastly superior sense of smell have for that? When we're scrambling to find a trace of a rabbit track as it traveled over rock he's merrily following a screamingly obvious scent trail. Seems to me that recognizing a track is an adaptation for a predator whose sense of smell is far behind that of other predators.

Saying we perceive something differently then other animals isn't saying we are inherently better. Just different.

I assume there have likely been experiments to show that we're likely the only animals that would recognize the tracks as such.

Anonymous said...

I personally would assume that if they are seeing the track while the scent is still present on/in the track, and it most probably would be, that they'd rather quickly associate the scent and track as belonging to the same beast. Have that happen enough and you'll learn to recognize the track without scent present.

Just surmising.

The things that make me go hmmmmmm.