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Spontaneous Understanding of Geometry
In a series of experiments reported in Science, children and adults from an isolated Amazonian indigene group, the Mundurukú, showed that they understood and could use a variety of concepts of geometry even though they do not have words for these concepts.
This study brings new evidence to bear on a much-discussed and debated question amongst psychologist and philosophers alike: how does language influence thought? The work suggests that conceptual principles of geometry are inherently present in the minds of the Mundurukú, even though they lack the words for geometrical terms and concepts.
Both Mundurukú children and adults grasped ideas such as parallel lines and right-angled triangles and were able to use geometric relationships diagrammed on paper to locate hidden objects as well as American children, though somewhat less so than educated American adults. The results provide evidence for geometrical intuitions in the absence of schooling, experience with graphic symbols or maps, or a rich language of geometrical terms.
19 January 2006