Monday, 23 June 2014

When is a number not a number?

Question: when is a number not a number?  Ever since my toddler learned to recognise numbers, she saw the number one everywhere.  (Partly because a non-stylised number one is a pretty basic shape and partly because one, zero and ten are her favourite numbers).  Shapes that presented like the number one, were, to her, number one.  For example, if she saw a rectangular shaped shadow that looked, for all intents and purposes just like number one, in her view, it was number one.  I always clarify with - yes it does look like number one.  Recognising, in the back of mind that it wasn't number one, it was just a shape that appeared to be number one.  Yet, was I wrong?  Was she right?  If we see a saucer, we recognise it as a saucer because sociological knowledge tells us that it is a saucer and if it is circular, we acknowledge that it is also a circle shape because we have learned what circles look like.  As adults we don't do this conciously but upon interacting with children, categorising things is done conciously, so that they can totally ignore the categories as adults. ;-)

As adults, it seems that, if we see a shape that appears to be a number, but we 'know' it is not intentionally a number, we decide that it just looks a number. In fact, as adults, we simply don't see things as numbers unless they 'are' numbers.  Intention seems to matter.  I suppose there are shapes and images that we struggle to categorise - but generally we categorise so quickly and, significantly, we totally fail to question things.  Perhaps we should question more.   

With toddlers, you explain things all the time.  It's just what happens.  So, if they see something that looks like something then a dialogue takes place.  If a shape presents like a cat, then, to a toddler, it's a cat.  Though they appear to know the difference between a picture of a cat and an actual living cat.

What I'm getting at here, is that perhaps if something looks like something then that's what it is.  Maybe a number one could be a shadow, a shape and any number of other things.

Perhaps toddlers have a stronger grip on the handle of philosophical questions than adults do? 

Perspective is everything.


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