The logic of numbers, predisposed empiricism and the unreasonable accuracy of predictive modeling.

By Oskar (Osark, Sarko).
With a title like that, I don’t think I really need an article. I’ve got one nonetheless.
Before I get into the rather wordy topic I’m writing on, I’ll give a bit of info on myself to give you an idea of where I’m coming from and what to expect of me.
I was brought up without any religious instruction, both my parents and grandparents holding little stake in ‘muttering to the sky for help’. I like to think I have a slightly more complicated reason for my lack of faith. At the age of 10 I sat a test that put me in the 96th percentile for ‘non verbal reasoning’, but scored zero in ‘creative writing’ because I couldn’t think of anything to write. In high school I started a philosophy club which both Nat and Reuben were members of at one point or another. I am about to embark on a Bachelor of Science majoring in physics at The University of Melbourne. I am fairly calm unless arguing with Reuben, who I became friends with after a campaign of disagreeing with everything he said on his blog. I can’t spell the way normal people can.

So, the logic of numbers. Why is one one? How did we arrive at the values we have? Are they innate or do we learn them?
Well, tests on developing children reveal that there is a minimum age at which brain activity varies when shown different numbers of the same object. This makes me think that we arrive at the concept of numbers after we are born. It is possible that if the need to process and conceive numbers was not present in our developing environment then we wouldn’t be able learn them later in life.
This is certainly the case with language; it has been so far impossible to teach a child who had no linguistic stimulation before the age of twelve any more than the level of word-object association that can be taught to dogs, chimps and birds.
Perhaps it is not possible to not encounter numbers in the world in which we live, while it is certainly possible not to encounter language.
I would suggest that we encounter the world and tailor our logical systems (such as our numbers and our manipulation of them) to fit our needs in the reality we experience. This said, I certainly think we are predisposed to many of our mental and behavioral processes. Take the example of the hour for instance (numeracy). Chimps have been shown to be quite proficient at counting things rapidly and those that have been trained can do so much faster and more effectively than the average human. They are also able to add numbers quite well, but when faced with any other mathematical manipulative function (subtraction, multiplication…) they are unable to comprehend. This is probably due to their inability to hold abstract concepts, something that seems inherent in humans. In this way, I think we are applying our inherent tendencies, our built in ‘toolbox’ so to speak, to our environmental stimulus and so arriving at our thought and behavioral processes.

It has been said that mathematics shows an ‘unreasonable’ accuracy when describing the world. I believe this further supports my case for learned numbers, as a number logic based around what we observe would be expected to be closer to the observed world.

Not as controversial as some of the other articles, but please, discuss.

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6 Responses to The logic of numbers, predisposed empiricism and the unreasonable accuracy of predictive modeling.

  1. Reuben says:

    I think you might be onto something there, Skaro. I can mentally conceive the idea of a misspelling of the English language – but I can’t mentally imagine that 1 + 1 = 5. Does that indicate, perhaps, that numbers are innate and not learned? You admitted that language is not necessarily logical – yet we know mathematics and numeracy is.

    I digress; that was too anecdotal.

    When you speak of ‘tailoring’ our logical systems to suit the world as we experience it, you’re implying that the logical systems are not part of the experience. I think we observe ‘logic’ in the same way we ‘observe’ a car crash…it just takes greater effort.

  2. Brian says:

    “I can’t spell the way normal people can.”

    Having dealt with a great many normal people in the past, I can state that this is probably a good thing.

    “Chimps have been shown to be quite proficient at counting things rapidly.”

    With the exception, of course, of David Beckham.

  3. Reuben says:

    Apparently, normality is overrated.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “I can mentally conceive the idea of a misspelling of the English language – but I can’t mentally imagine that 1 + 1 = 5.”
    They’re different situations. A better comparison it that you couldn’t understand a sentence in English if you changed the gramatical structure. Saying that you could imagine spelling a word differently is more likle saying that you could imagine calling the number one something else, its nature doesnt change, just its lable.

  5. Brian says:

    “…you could imagine calling the number one something else, its nature doesnt change, just its lable.”

    A rose by any other name would still smell like a number two if it had been cultivated in too much horse manure.

  6. Reuben says:

    Anonymous, you’re making sense. Brian – true to form – isn’t. 😉

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