In her studies unlocking math mysteries of our minds, Elizabeth Brannon has worked with monkeys, lemurs, small babies, and college undergraduates. She has discovered that Duke University students are about as good as the monkeys and lemurs when it comes to judging quantities of items.
Her research was recently highlighted in a “Nova” episode, “The Great Math Mystery”. She has found that our brains have a built in understanding of numbers and math concepts. The study of numbers continues around us without end, and we are barely aware of it.
Galileo has said “The universe is written in the language of mathematics.” The question explored by “Nova” is whether humans discovered that language, or invented it.
“Mathematicians argue about that all the time,” says Brannon. She believes that humans are born with primitive math abilities, along with other primates. However, our understanding of higher symbolic math is probably a human invention. “Our work shows that some aspect of mathematics is discovered rather than invented.”