[FOM] Convincing math-blind people that math is different

Joseph Shipman JoeShipman at aol.com
Fri Dec 26 23:47:00 EST 2014

You are misreading me. I was careful to say that people who can speak English clearly and  who are capable of mental effort can be taught certain simple math concepts, without saying anything about the capabilities of people who were fluent in a language other than English that might not have the numerical concepts that English does.

I wouldn't say that someone who speaks only Pirah~a and comes from that culture is not intelligent. Instead, I would say that for them to learn English properly will require them to also learn some concepts they do not have in their own language, and may therefore be especially difficult for them. To the extent that they learn these concepts, learning English will have made them smarter, but that doesn't mean they were necessarily unintelligent before.

On the other hand, someone whose NATIVE language is English and who cannot understand that his language has a mechanism for producing arbitrarily high numbers IS what I would call unintelligent.

-- JS

Sent from my iPhone

> On Dec 25, 2014, at 10:14 PM, Franklin <franklin.vp at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Thu, Dec 25, 2014 at 11:24 AM, Joseph Shipman <JoeShipman at aol.com> wrote:
>> I think I reject the premise of your argument that a person can be both intelligent > and "math-blind".
>> In my experience, every adult who is intelligent enough to speak English clearly
>> and make *any* kind of mental effort is capable of understanding certain simple
>> ideas which can serve as a basis for genuinely mathematical insight.
> I only want to make the observation that to get the contradiction in a
> person being both intelligent and "math-blind" you are assuming
> "intelligent enough to speak English clearly". If we accept linguistic
> relativism the assumption of speaking English may be including that
> the English speaker does understand the math knowledge that the
> English language contains. For example, the words "one, two, three,
> ..." Maybe it should be considered the question: Is it possible to be
> math-blind while speaking a language that is not math-blind?
> The numerical examples you listed wouldn't be possible for a speaker
> of a language without words for (large) numerals, say Pirah~a
> language. Is it fair to assume an individual from the Pirah~a people
> cannot be intelligent?
> _____________________________
> Franklin Vera Pacheco
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