Is Mathematics Innate?

I showed my niece of around two years, both hands full of chocolates. In one of my hands, I had two chocolates and the other four.

She was able to observe and choose the hand with more chocolates. Also, whenever given a choice, she always chose toys or objects that were relatively bigger. My niece’s case is not unique, and the root of our perception of something big or more has been critical to our evolution.

Innate Understanding of Mathematics

Humans were a hunter-gatherer society, and survival needed to identify trees bearing more fruit than those that bore less. Situations like this and many others throughout our evolution helped us develop a sense of number.

We never taught my niece counting or numbers or any other mathematical concept. How could we? She was only two years of age. These experiences show that there is something innate about the way we perceive and view numbers. Moreover, what does innate mean in mathematical understanding? Innate is the child’s ability or which is present in the child from birth to understand the world.

Noam Chomsky, a linguist, put forth the idea that humans are born with a hypothetical language acquisition device. Furthermore, research has shown that when human beings are born, they have this sense, which helps them acquire the language spoken around them. Similarly, some research shows that children also respond to mathematical clues in the early years.

For instance, when a toddler is shown some objects say; 2 pencils, and then after that, a pencil is added, toddlers are more likely to respond differently, which shows that there is some innate knowledge that children have when they are born. To better understand, if we talk about animals, they also have some mathematical sense when born.

Mathematics is innate in humans and animals, but that does not mean that we are fully equipped with mathematics. We have a sense of mathematics, and that too is a part of our unconscious self. It needs the right grooming and education to make sense of the world around it.