Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagRafael Núñez

Two stingrays are swimming on the blue sea near the underwater rocks and white sand.

Did Researchers Teach Fish To “Do Math”?

Some test fish learned how to how to get food pellets but the difficulty, as so often, lies with interpretation

University of Bonn researchers think that they may have taught fish to count. They tested the fact that many life forms can note the difference in small quantities between “one more” and “one less,” at least up to five items. Not much work had been done on fish in this area so they decided to test eight freshwater stingrays and eight cichlids: All of the fish were taught to recognize blue as corresponding to “more” and yellow to “less.” The fish or stingrays entered an experimental arena where they saw a test stimulus: a card showing a set of geometric shapes (square, circle, triangle) in either yellow or blue. In a separate compartment of the tank, the fish were then…

Close up of math formulas on a blackboard

Is Our “Number Sense” Biology, Culture — or Something Else?

It’s a surprisingly controversial question with a — perhaps unsettling — answer

British science writer Philip Ball, author of How to Grow a Human, offers an even-handed account of a controversy on the origin of our ability to understand numbers (numeracy). Numeracy is the beginning of mathematics, the most abstract of all human pursuits. It isn’t possible to get very far in mathematics without some ability to abstract. Ball cites as an example the difference between 152 and 153. Many life forms, competing for a pile of food items, can distinguish between 2 and 3. But distinguishing between 152 and 153 clearly requires abstraction. It’s the same principle as the chiliagon, a geometric figure like a triangle except that it has 1000 sides. A triangle can be envisioned concretely. A chiliagon can…