Life without numbers in a unique Amazon tribe
1+1=2. Mathematics doesn’t get any more basic than this, but even 1+1 would stump the brightest minds among the Piraha tribe of the Amazon.
A study appearing today in the journal Science reports that the hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting.
Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can’t learn to count or understand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time.
Their lack of enumeration skills is just one of the mental and cultural traits that has led scientists who have visited the 300 members of the tribe to describe the Piraha as “something from Mars.”
Daniel Everett, an American linguistic anthropologist, has been studying and living with Piraha for 27 years.
Besides living a numberless life, he reports in a separate study prepared for publication, the Piraha are the only people known to have no distinct words for colours.
They have no written language, and no collective memory going back more than two generations. They don’t sleep for more than two hours at a time during the night or day.