Amidst the many brain events evoked by a visual stimulus, which are specifically associated with conscious perception, and which merely reflect non-conscious processing? Several recent neuroimaging studies have contrasted conscious and non-conscious visual processing, but their results appear inconsistent. Some support a correlation of conscious perception with early occipital events, others with late parieto-frontal activity. Here we attempt to make sense of those dissenting results. On the basis of a minimal neuro-computational model, the global neuronal workspace hypothesis, we propose a (...) taxonomy which distinguishes between vigilance and access to conscious report, as well as between subliminal, preconscious and conscious processing. We suggest that these distinctions map onto different neural mechanisms, and that conscious perception is systematically associated with a sudden surge of parieto-frontal activity causing top-down amplification. (shrink)
Is calculation possible without language? Or is the human ability for arithmetic dependent on the language faculty? To clarify the relation between language and arithmetic, we studied numerical cognition in speakers of Mundurukú, an Amazonian language with a very small lexicon of number words. Although the Mundurukú lack words for numbers beyond 5, they are able to compare and add large approximate numbers that are far beyond their naming range. However, they fail in exact arithmetic with numbers larger than 4 (...) or 5. Our results imply a distinction between a nonverbal system of number approximation and a language-based counting system for exact number and arithmetic. (shrink)
The mapping of numbers onto space is fundamental to measurement and to mathematics. Is this mapping a cultural invention or a universal intuition shared by all humans regardless of culture and education? We probed number-space mappings in the Mundurucu, an Amazonian indigene group with a reduced numerical lexicon and little or no formal education. At all ages, the Mundurucu mapped symbolic and nonsymbolic numbers onto a logarithmic scale, whereas Western adults used linear mapping with small or symbolic numbers and logarithmic (...) mapping when numbers were presented nonsymbolically under conditions that discouraged counting. This indicates that the mapping of numbers onto space is a universal intuition and that this initial intuition of number is logarithmic. The concept of a linear number line appears to be a cultural invention that fails to develop in the absence of formal education. (shrink)
Does geometry constitues a core set of intuitions present in all humans, regarless of their language or schooling ? We used two non verbal tests to probe the conceptual primitives of geometry in the Munduruku, an isolated Amazonian indigene group. Our results provide evidence for geometrical intuitions in the absence of schooling, experience with graphic symbols or maps, or a rich language of geometrical terms.
Human adults are thought to possess two dissociable systems to represent numbers: an approximate quantity system akin to a mental number line, and a verbal system capable of representing numbers exactly. Here, we study the interface between these two systems using an estimation task. Observers were asked to estimate the approximate numerosity of dot arrays. We show that, in the absence of calibration, estimates are largely inaccurate: responses increase monotonically with numerosity, but underestimate the actual numerosity. However, insertion of a (...) few inducer trials, in which participants are explicitly (and sometimes misleadingly) told that a given display contains 30 dots, is sufficient to calibrate their estimates on the whole range of stimuli. Based on these empirical results, we develop a model of the mapping between the numerical symbols and the representations of numerosity on the number line. (shrink)
All humans share a universal, evolutionarily ancient approximate number system (ANS) that estimates and combines the numbers of objects in sets with ratio-limited precision. Interindividual variability in the acuity of the ANS correlates with mathematical achievement, but the causes of this correlation have never been established. We acquired psychophysical measures of ANS acuity in child and adult members of an indigene group in the Amazon, the Mundurucú, who have a very restricted numerical lexicon and highly variable access to mathematics education. (...) By comparing Mundurucú subjects with and without access to schooling, we found that education significantly enhances the acuity with which sets of concrete objects are estimated. These results indicate that culture and education have an important effect on basic number perception. We hypothesize that symbolic and nonsymbolic numerical thinking mutually enhance one another over the course of mathematics instruction. (shrink)
‘Number sense’ is a short‐hand for our ability to quickly understand, approximate, and manipulate numerical quantities. My hypothesis is that number sense rests on cerebral circuits that have evolved specifically for the purpose of representing basic arithmetic knowledge. Four lines of evidence suggesting that number sense constitutes a domain‐specific, biologically‐determined ability are reviewed: the presence of evolutionary precursors of arithmetic in animals; the early emergence of arithmetic competence in infants independently of other abilities, including language; the existence of a homology (...) between the animal, infant, and human adult abilities for number processing; and the existence of a dedicated cerebral substrate. In adults of all cultures, lesions to the inferior parietal region can specifically impair number sense while leaving the knowledge of other cognitive domains intact. Furthermore, this region is demonstrably activated during number processing. I postulate that higher–level cultural devel‐opments in arithmetic emerge through the establishment of linkages between this core analogical representation and other verbal and visual representations of number notations. The neural and cognitive organization of those representations can explain why some mathematical concepts are intuitive, while others are so difficult to grasp. Thus, the ultimate foundations of mathematics rests on core representations that have been internalized in our brains through evolution. (shrink)
Humans possess two nonverbal systems capable of representing numbers, both limited in their representational power: the first one represents numbers in an approximate fashion, and the second one conveys information about small numbers only. Conception of exact large numbers has therefore been thought to arise from the manipulation of exact numerical symbols. Here, we focus on two fundamental properties of the exact numbers as prerequisites to the concept of EXACT NUMBERS : the fact that all numbers can be generated by (...) a successor function and the fact that equality between numbers can be defined in an exact fashion. We discuss some recent findings assessing how speakers of Munduruc (an Amazonian language), and young Western children (3-4 years old) understand these fundamental properties of numbers. (shrink)
Whether unconscious stimuli can modulate the preparation of a cognitive task is still controversial. Using a backward masking paradigm, we investigated whether the modulation could be observed even if the prime was made unconscious in 100% of the trials. In two behavioral experiments, subjects were instructed to initiate a phonological or semantic task on an upcoming word, following an explicit instruction and an unconscious prime. When the SOA between prime and instruction was sufficiently long , primes congruent with the task (...) set instruction led to speedier responses than incongruent primes. In the other condition , no task set priming was observed. Repetition priming had the opposite tendency, suggesting the observed task set facilitation cannot be ascribed solely to perceptual repetition priming. Our results therefore confirm that unconscious information can modulate cognitive control for currently active task sets, providing sufficient time is available before the conscious decision. (shrink)
A uniquely integrative work, this volume provides a much needed compilation of primary source material to researchers from basic neuroscience, psychology, developmental science, neuroimaging, neuropsychology and theoretical biology. * The ...
Can we ever experimentally disentangle phenomenal consciousness from the cognitive accessibility inherent to conscious reports? In this commentary, we suggest that (1) Block's notion of phenomenal consciousness remains intractably entangled with the need to obtain subjective reports about it; and (2) many experimental paradigms suggest that the intuitive notion of a rich but non-reportable phenomenal world is, to a large extent illusory – in a sense that requires clarification.
Reading in the Brain (Les neurones de la lecture, 2007) examined the origins of human reading abilities in the light of contemporary cognitive neuroscience. It argued that reading acquisition, in all cultures, recycles preexisting cortical circuits dedicated to invariant visual recognition, and that the organization of these circuits imposes strong constraints on the invention and cultural evolution of writing systems. In this article, seven years later, I briefly review new experimental evidence, particularly from brain imaging studies of illiterate adults, which (...) indicates that reading acquisition invades culturally universal cortical circuits and competes with their prior function, including mirror-invariant visual recognition and face processing. In response to my critics, I emphasize how brain plasticity and brain constraints can be reconciled within the Bayesian perspective on learning. I also discuss the importance of a newly discovered gesture system in reading and writing. Finally, I argue that there is consistent evidence for deep cross-cultural universals in writing systems, as well as for the multiple subtypes of dyslexia that are expected given the broad set of areas recruited by the reading task. (shrink)
Much research supports the existence of an Approximate Number System (ANS) that is recruited by infants, children, adults, and non-human animals to generate coarse, non-symbolic representations of number. This system supports simple arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, and ordering of amounts. The current study tests whether an intuition of a more complex calculation, division, exists in an indigene group in the Amazon, the Mundurucu, whose language includes no words for large numbers. Mundurucu children were presented with a video event (...) depicting a division transformation of halving, in which pairs of objects turned into single objects, reducing the array's numerical magnitude. Then they were tested on their ability to calculate the outcome of this division transformation with other large-number arrays. The Mundurucu children effected this transformation even when non-numerical variables were controlled, performed above chance levels on the very first set of test trials, and exhibited performance similar to urban children who had access to precise number words and a surrounding symbolic culture. We conclude that a halving calculation is part of the suite of intuitive operations supported by the ANS. (shrink)
Kant argued that Euclidean geometry is synthesized on the basis of an a priori intuition of space. This proposal inspired much behavioral research probing whether spatial navigation in humans and animals conforms to the predictions of Euclidean geometry. However, Euclidean geometry also includes concepts that transcend the perceptible, such as objects that are infinitely small or infinitely large, or statements of necessity and impossibility. We tested the hypothesis that certain aspects of nonperceptible Euclidian geometry map onto intuitions of space that (...) are present in all humans, even in the absence of formal mathematical education. Our tests probed intuitions of points, lines, and surfaces in participants from an indigene group in the Amazon, the Mundurucu, as well as adults and age-matched children controls from the United States and France and younger US children without education in geometry. The responses of Mundurucu adults and children converged with that of mathematically educated adults and children and revealed an intuitive understanding of essential properties of Euclidean geometry. For instance, on a surface described to them as perfectly planar, the Mundurucu's estimations of the internal angles of triangles added up to ∼180 degrees, and when asked explicitly, they stated that there exists one single parallel line to any given line through a given point. These intuitions were also partially in place in the group of younger US participants. We conclude that, during childhood, humans develop geometrical intuitions that spontaneously accord with the principles of Euclidean geometry, even in the absence of training in mathematics. (shrink)
Letter-position tolerance varies across languages. This observation suggests that the neural code for letter strings may also be subtly different. Although language-specific models remain useful, we should endeavor to develop a universal model of reading acquisition which incorporates crucial neurobiological constraints. Such a model, through a progressive internalization of phonological and lexical regularities, could perhaps converge onto the language-specific properties outlined by Frost.