- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Papermac; New edition edition (24 Mar. 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0333766105
- ISBN-13: 978-0333766101
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 3.5 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 770,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
The Mathematical Brain Paperback – 24 Mar 2000
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At first glance, neuropsychologist Brian Butterworth's The Mathematical Brain might infuriate mathsphobes who insist that they just can't get a handle on numbers. Could it be true that natural selection produced brains preprogrammed with multiplication tables? Read a few pages, though, and you'll see that Professor Butterworth has more than a little sympathy for the arithmetically challenged, and indeed confesses that he too has a hard time with figures. His thesis isn't that we are born doing mathematics, but that we are born with a faculty for learning mathematics, much like our ability to learn language. He goes on to argue that unique individual differences in this faculty combine with our educational experiences to make us either lightning calculators or klutzes who can't work out the right tip.
Butterworth's style is perfect for his subject, seamlessly weaving scholarly analysis with down-to-earth humour and practical examples that will satisfy the researcher and the lay reader alike. Drawing on archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, and his own neuropsychology, he makes his case like a masterful attorney while remaining careful to leave room for scientific falsification. The history of counting is engrossing and will be new to many readers, as it has been a rather arcane field until recently--but it's just one of the many new vistas opened for the readers of What Counts. -- Rob Lightner, Amazon.com --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Publisher
Recent paperback reviews:
'[Brian Butterworth's] invigorating book fleshes out an idea that number knowledge is innate and universal, a basic capability to be ranked alongside seeing and feeling... Butterworth's book is itself the perfect panacea for anyone to whom maths is a distant or unpleasant memory. Despite its complexities, he handles his subject matter with great deftness and good humour, while his argument sweeps in epic style from mathematical habits around the globe to the inner working of the brain's hemispheres.' Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, FINANCIAL TIMES 25th March 2000
'Numbers, their human psychology and cultural history. Restores to numerals - those Indo-Islamic signs the medieval west adopted to record transactions computed on the abacus - a depth of character and long back-stories. Four, eight and nine have dark meaningful pasts, 60 acquired in Babylon its power over the division of time and angles of space and thus over the dimensions of the known universe; the total sum of the Yupno of Papua New Guinea, who figure by naming body parts in sequence, is 33, signifying the penis (Yupno women dont' count). Mega.' THE GUARDIAN 25th March 2000
Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunately, some of the first few chapters deal too long with the same subject matter, citing similar repetitive examples reinforcing the main argument of the chapter.
However, like this review, further reading rewards the reader with more information, prompting the reader to develop his own insights. I draw attention to chapter 7, "Good and Bad at Numbers". Whilst reading this chapter, I came to the conclusion that the Distributive Law, whilst useful in pure mathematics, is "never used" in real life: not so! It is in fact a necessary part of long-multiplication, which we are all taught in primary school. Towards the end of this chapter, Butterworth makes similar conclusions.
Reading this book renewed my interest in mathematics as an art, to be admired like a painting - something which studying Pure Mathematics at University failed to do.
The points made are personal accusations and the evidence used to enforce Butterworth's points seem to be obvious and at most times poor. Although it can appear obvious why critics would lap up the book in a frenzy of interest with many questions in their minds, it becomes apparent that Butterworth answers little of these intriguing ideas and in some places manages to trail off from very interesting points. The result is a book with little structure and a lack of information that would appeal to the curious reader rather than the mathematician.
While it could be said that Butterworth's attempt to capture the mind is one of original and almost emotive exploration, it can also become a very tedious journey with great ease. If you're willing to spend the money on such an overpriced book, be weary that your reaction will most probably be one of misunderstanding, frustration and bewilderment. For the few people that, by the title, can identify that the book is in their interests, the buy isn't so bad, even if the author's writing style is flawed and tiring.
If you have any comments to make about my review, please feel free to e-mail me. Feedback would be welcome.
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