The Math Instinct, by Keith Devlin

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Also known as “NPR’s ‘Math Guy'”, Keith Devlin runs the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford, as well as the new MediaX group. This is an interesting book about how math is natural and innate — in humans and animals (the full title of the book is The Math Instinct: Why you’re a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats and Dogs)).

Goes through a lot of examples of what he calls “natural math” — the ability for dogs to figure out the fastest path to a stick thrown in the ocean, for example, or lobsters’ ability to navigate by seeing the earth’s magnetic field.

What I found most interesting, though, are 2 observations about natural math in humans:

1) Our ability to do symbolic math is very highly correlated to our language ability (different native languages are easier to do math in, for example).

2) Math that’s connected to meaning is always easier for people to get approximately correct than “school math” — math we do in the supermarket, for example, is almost always approximate, and in general we’re correct more of the time compared to when we do math on paper. Because in the first case it means something to us, while in the 2nd it’s an abstraction.

Pretty easy read; some interesting insights here.

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