June 12, 2017 at 11:30am

Book cover image for Numbers and the making of us : counting and the course of human culturesNumbers and the making of us : counting and the course of human cultures

by Caleb Everett

Published: Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2017

Call number: QA141 .E94 2017

Summary: Numbers and the Making of Us examines the origins and effects of numbers--words and other symbols for quantities. It focuses on the influence that numbers have had on human thought. As a result of this influence, the book claims, numbers transformed the human narrative. This transformation is supported by data from many disciplines: archaeology, linguistics, psychology, and primatology. The book surveys the types of number systems that have been innovated independently in languages around the world, most of which (like our own decimal system) owe themselves in one way or another to the shape of our hands. Furthermore, the book examines evidence from anumeric humans, such as those the author has conducted research with in Amazonia, as it advances the following claim: Numbers served as a pivotal cognitive invention, an underappreciated tool whose usage ultimately resulted in the societies most of us now live in. In short, the book suggests that verbal and written numbers served as a cognitive foundation of sorts, helping to establish the ground floor of all sorts of distinctly human behaviors. These include elaborate agriculture, writing, the telling of time, and many other aspects of the human experience that are all ultimately dependent on the simple invention of numbers.