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Numbers in Minds: From (Non)Human Universality to Cultural Specificity
CHUM 336
Fall 2008
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: PSYC 336

In contemporary cognitive science, there is heated debate over the proper way to draw distinctions between human and nonhuman thought (the identification of phylogenetic continuities and discontinuities) and over the meaningful distinctions to be drawn between different kinds of human thought (the identification of cultural universals and specificities). Current thinking in the field spans the range from strongly universalist opinions, such as those arguing for massive modularity of evolutionarily ancient cognitive systems, to views such as those becoming more prevalent with the rise of dynamic systems approaches, which reject the assumptions underlying much of current cognitive psychology and espouse "treating the larger animal-environment system (not just the brain) as the arena in which cognition emerges," Spivey & Dale, 2006). In this course, we will explore these debates using the domain of numerical and mathematical thinking and reasoning as a case study. Some philosophers and psychologists argue that even relatively basic forms of quantitative thought are available to human minds alone. Others credit many nonhuman species with sophisticated numerical and mathematical capabilities, bestowed by evolution. Still others believe that while the foundations of human numerical thinking may be evolutionarily ancient (and common to all humans and many nonhuman animals), most of what we commonly think of as "math" and "number" is a product not only of human minds, but of specific human cultures, languages, and educational practices. We will begin with an introduction to the conceptual foundations of these debates and will then focus on their specific instantiation in the area of numerical and mathematical thought.

Essential Capabilities: Interpretation, Writing
Interpretation: Students will be presented with a number of case studies in cognitive science in which the same sets of data have been interpreted in radically different manners; class discussion will focus on the evaluation of these competing interpretations.
Writing: Students will complete weekly essays in response to assigned readings, in addition to completing a research paper requiring multiple drafts with multiple stages of feedback.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS PSYC
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: None
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on MAR-31-2023
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