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Numerosity, Abstraction, and the Emergence of Symbolic Thinking

Frederick L. Coolidge and Karenleigh A. Overmann
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. 2 (April 2012), pp. 204-225
DOI: 10.1086/664818
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/664818
Page Count: 22
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Numerosity, Abstraction, and the Emergence of Symbolic Thinking
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Abstract

In this paper we tentatively propose that one of the feral cognitive bases for modern symbolic thinking may be numerosity, that is, the ability to appreciate and understand numbers. We proffer that numerosity appears to be an inherently abstractive process, which is supported by numerous human infant and monkey studies. We also review studies that demonstrate that the neurological substrate for numerosity is primarily the intraparietal sulcus of the parietal lobes, the angular and supramarginal gyri in the inferior parietal lobes, and areas of the prefrontal cortex. We also speculate that the lower level of abstraction involved in numerosity may serve as a basis for higher-level symbolic thinking, such as number and letter symbolism and sequencing. We further speculate that these two levels of abstraction may give rise to highly sophisticated characteristics of modern human language, such as analogizing and metaphorizing.

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