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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Basic mathematical cognition

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Mathematics is a powerful tool for describing and developing our knowledge of the physical world. It informs our understanding of subjects as diverse as music, games, science, economics, communications protocols, and visual arts. Mathematical thinking has its roots in the adaptive behavior of living creatures: animals must employ judgments about quantities and magnitudes in the assessment of both threats (how many foes) and opportunities (how much food) in order to make effective decisions, and use geometric information in the environment for recognizing landmarks and navigating environments. Correspondingly, cognitive systems that are dedicated to the processing of distinctly mathematical information have developed. In particular, there is evidence that certain core systems for understanding different aspects of arithmetic as well as geometry are employed by humans and many other animals. They become active early in life and, particularly in the case of humans, develop through maturation. Although these core systems individually appear to be quite limited in application, in combination they allow for the recognition of mathematical properties and the formation of appropriate inferences based upon those properties. In this overview, the core systems, their roles, their limitations, and their interaction with external representations are discussed, as well as possibilities for how they can be employed together to allow us to reason about more complex mathematical domains. WIREs Cogn Sci 2015, 6:355–369. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1351 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Reasoning and Decision Making Philosophy > Foundations of Cognitive Science

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