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Why have we evolved the capacity to handle advanced maths?

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We in live a universe for which we have been able to create mathematical models to describe & predict its behaviour. Some of those models are quite complex. I can see how we've evolved skills to handle basic maths. But how is it that for some individuals those skills can handle, for example, the Standard Model. That doesn't seem to add much evolutionary advantage.

To re-phrase, why is H. sapiens clever enough to understand the universe.

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That doesn't seem to add much evolutionary advantage.

Basic mathematics and science skills are an advantage for our species. The more advanced mathematics and physics seems less so, directly at least. I suspect that our love for science and mathematics comes from our early ancestors need to develop hunting methods, and then farming methods and so on.

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I suspect that our love for science and mathematics comes from our early ancestors need to develop hunting methods, and then farming methods and so on.

 

 

In real life, most work is not only physically demanding, but also boring. For a lot of people, sitting at the desk thinking about something is a lot more attractive than actually doing something useful, like ploughing or weeding.

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In real life, most work is not only physically demanding, but also boring. For a lot of people, sitting at the desk thinking about something is a lot more attractive than actually doing something useful, like ploughing or weeding.

 

Sure, bit I am think of our biological ancestors and early groups of humans. The planning and communications skills in hunting laid the foundations for farming and then economics, mathematics and science. Our in built curiosity has just grow and grown

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Maybe it didn't evolve. Since it's happened in such a short time it seems unlikely to me.

Brain power evolved to handle the basic needs which could be selected for, and then more recently that brain power was expanded more by collective learning and by passing on that knowledge through the generations by teaching rather than via mutation and selection.

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We in live a universe for which we have been able to create mathematical models to describe & predict its behaviour. Some of those models are quite complex. I can see how we've evolved skills to handle basic maths. But how is it that for some individuals those skills can handle, for example, the Standard Model. That doesn't seem to add much evolutionary advantage.
To re-phrase, why is H. sapiens clever enough to understand the universe.

 

He is not.

Maybe it didn't evolve. Since it's happened in such a short time it seems unlikely to me.

Brain power evolved to handle the basic needs which could be selected for, and then more recently that brain power was expanded more by collective learning and by passing on that knowledge through the generations by teaching rather than via mutation and selection.

I agree +1

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Maybe it didn't evolve. Since it's happened in such a short time it seems unlikely to me.

If our capacity for mathematics is not tied to the evolution of our species, then where did it come from? Some supernatural source?

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If our capacity for mathematics is not tied to the evolution of our species, then where did it come from? Some supernatural source?

Mathematics is only a field of human thinking.

I suppose the human kind would have feel very early the need for counting. Maybe even before being a human. IIRC it is argued that some animals have this ability.

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Mathematics is only a field of human thinking.

Sure, but still this has to be part of our evolution.

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Sure, but still this has to be part of our evolution.

I am not sure.

I'd better say that we are using or skills to whatever. In-between this whatever there are mathematics. As an abstract thought.

Edited by michel123456

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I am not sure.

If mankind's ability to think abstractly, form complex communication systems and develop mathematics is not tied to the evolution of our brains, then what? Are you suggesting some supernatural element here?

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If mankind's ability to think abstractly, form complex communication systems and develop mathematics is not tied to the evolution of our brains, then what? Are you suggesting some supernatural element here?

No I meant that abstract thought is tied to evolution. I don't think we are especially gifted for doing maths. Sometimes a simple multiplication is a challenge. If we were so brilliant we wouldn't need computers that much.

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We in live a universe for which we have been able to create mathematical models to describe & predict its behaviour. Some of those models are quite complex. I can see how we've evolved skills to handle basic maths. But how is it that for some individuals those skills can handle, for example, the Standard Model. That doesn't seem to add much evolutionary advantage.
To re-phrase, why is H. sapiens clever enough to understand the universe.

 

 

The pinnacle of our evolution is a brain capable of adapting our environment to our survival needs beyond our physical capabilities, which requires an ability to devise tools and strategies essential to our survival goals. H. sapiens developed the mental capacity for mathematics as an extension of its brain's evolving capacity to devise survival strategies and tools. Our primal ancestors likely intuit the rudiments of math the moment they began foraging for food (e.g., distance and probability) or using wooden and stone tools (e.g., angles and trajectories), in my opinion.

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If our capacity for mathematics is not tied to the evolution of our species, then where did it come from? Some supernatural source?

 

We are talking about the distinction between simple and advanced mathematics. The question was about advanced maths and maybe I should have been clearer in my post.

As I understand it there is a distinct difference between evolved behaviour and learned behaviour. One is transmitted through genetics and one through communication of some sort.

I'm suggesting that more simple maths evolved. Advanced maths has only existed for a very small number of generations (much of it only in the current generation I assume) so evolution has had no time have any effect. Therefore it must be a learned and communicated behaviour.

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Advanced maths has only existed for a very small number of generations (much of it only in the current generation I assume) so evolution has had no time have any effect. Therefore it must be a learned and communicated behaviour.

I see it differently. It is the ability of some humans to think in the terms of advanced maths that is being questioned. I am mathematically dumb. Simple arithmetic operations, back of the envelope calculations without an envelope are a breeze, but real maths some people "see" is beyond me. That's nothing to do with learned behaviour. I've learned a bunch of other things, but not the clever stuff.

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We are talking about the distinction between simple and advanced mathematics. The question was about advanced maths and maybe I should have been clearer in my post.

I am not sure that we should make too much of a distinction here. Advanced maths could have only been developed on top of more basic notions.

 

I'm suggesting that more simple maths evolved.

The mathematics itself or the ability to comprehend mathematics? It seems that everyone has a natural ability to understand basic number and shape - more advanced ideas take more effort.

 

Advanced maths has only existed for a very small number of generations (much of it only in the current generation I assume) so evolution has had no time have any effect. Therefore it must be a learned and communicated behaviour.

Sure, modern mathematics has taken a long time to develop and is still developing.

 

Anyway, the fact that our brains are able to cope with mathematics and that we generally have the ability to think mathematically is amazing.

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I think it's entirely possible that the question itself is looking at this backwards.

 

Asking why humans evolved the ability to do complex mathematics is like asking why humans evolved the ability to play basketball.

 

Advanced mathematics, like basketball, is not a single skill. It is a combination of lower order skills that all add up to a whole that is more complicated than any of its parts. In basketball, the skills are related to our abilities in running and jumping and the ability to quickly and intuitively calculate parabolic arcs. In mathematics, they are mostly related to reasoning, planning, pattern recognition and our propensity for symbolic representation with some limited counting thrown in for good measure.

 

It's also important to recognize that the way we go about doing math is tailored to the abilities people have, in the same way that basketball didn't spring fully formed into the world and humans are coincidentally able to play it, but was rather designed around skills that humans have.

 

There may be better ways of tackling some mathematical problems that no one has thought of or is capable of pulling off simply because our brains don't work that way, and the existence of proofs that are only possible thanks to computers may be evidence of that.

 

Essentially, when looking at a complex task, whether mental or physical, you need to break it down into its smallest component skills and requirements in order to trace an evolutionary path to it in most cases.

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OK, I'll have a go at a reason why advanced thinking may have evolved.

For a few thousand years it's been culturally important to build monuments of worship, particularly to the sun and maybe other objects. Some complex thinking and communication is involved to build these accurately to line up the relevant parts to mark the winter solstice or whatever. Perhaps those that where able to understand and build these things were reproductively successful - some kind of sexual selection happening maybe. Just a thought.

So complex 'maths' could have evolved. But the utilisation of the evolved brain power for more and more complex understanding must have a greater emphasis on learning passed on through communication rather than genetics, the more recently we consider. But I agree, the physical brain we have (well, some have, certainly not me) to do it must have evolved.

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I can see how we've evolved skills to handle basic maths. But how is it that for some individuals those skills can handle, for example, the Standard Model. That doesn't seem to add much evolutionary advantage.

 

It's a huge advantage if we get smart enough to figure out how to leave the planet and spread some biodiversity around. Harsh environments provide lots of evolutionary pressures and challenges. Challenges make intelligent creatures even more intelligent.

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I am not sure that we should make too much of a distinction here. Advanced maths could have only been developed on top of more basic notions.

 

 

The mathematics itself or the ability to comprehend mathematics? It seems that everyone has a natural ability to understand basic number and shape - more advanced ideas take more effort.

 

 

Sure, modern mathematics has taken a long time to develop and is still developing.

 

Anyway, the fact that our brains are able to cope with mathematics and that we generally have the ability to think mathematically is amazing.

It is amazing indeed. But I am afraid it is a spark. Doing mathematics is coping for the most. It could vanish just like that and then humanity would be dumb. And lost forever.

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It's a huge advantage if we get smart enough to figure out how to leave the planet and spread some biodiversity around. Harsh environments provide lots of evolutionary pressures and challenges. Challenges make intelligent creatures even more intelligent.

 

 

Perhaps it would be better if we concentrated this "smartness" into making the planet habitable enough so that we didn't feel the need to abandon it. Now that would be intelligence.

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It's a huge advantage if we get smart enough to figure out how to leave the planet and spread some biodiversity around. Harsh environments provide lots of evolutionary pressures and challenges. Challenges make intelligent creatures even more intelligent.

It would be an advantage, but as it hasn't happened yet, it's clearly not an advantage that contributed to the capacity to do so.

 

 

Perhaps it would be better if we concentrated this "smartness" into making the planet habitable enough so that we didn't feel the need to abandon it. Now that would be intelligence.

And as much as I agree with that sentiment to an extent, there are issues with remaining on Earth long-term that have nothing to do with problems we're causing ourselves. Earth is a Titanic ship in a universe full of icebergs, and there is no way we can deal with many of them currently, and for some there may never be anything we can do about it.

 

Getting off of Earth isn't really about abandoning a sinking ship so much as it is about getting some people aboard other ships so that if and when this one sinks it doesn't take the entire human race with it.

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Perhaps it would be better if we concentrated this "smartness" into making the planet habitable enough so that we didn't feel the need to abandon it. Now that would be intelligence.

 

Wow, you aren't invited. It's not about abandonment at all. It's about curiosity and exploration, something that happens with smarter humans. Nothing says we can't improve at home and abroad.

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We in live a universe for which we have been able to create mathematical models to describe & predict its behaviour. Some of those models are quite complex. I can see how we've evolved skills to handle basic maths. But how is it that for some individuals those skills can handle, for example, the Standard Model. That doesn't seem to add much evolutionary advantage.

To re-phrase, why is H. sapiens clever enough to understand the universe.

 

Poor physicist that I am, it often seems to me that our understanding of the universe is not that great. We have these staggering paradoxes, wave/particle duality for example, that we can define in such ways as to manipulate them but it seems to me we have no intuitive understanding of the true nature of what's happening. We just have conventions of describing them in terms that do not reflect their true nature. It seems to me that there are number of these things in cosmology, particle physics, relativity, etc. that are simply beyond us. I don't picture us as clever enough to understand all that much. So, maybe we invented higher math to describe that which we don't really understand? ;) Edited by Cynic

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Intuition is mostly extrapolation from past experience. A lot of things that are outside of our daily experience don't behave in a way that is immediately extrapolatable from said experience. That doesn't mean you can't develop an intuition for those things by working with them extensively, though.

 

There are a lot of things that are "counter-intuitive" in various fields that I remember being counter-intuitive when I first learned them but currently have to stop and think about why because they now seem very natural and the way I formerly 'intuited' that things should work seems quite wrong.

 

Intuition is not a matter of what we are capable of understanding. It's a matter of what we are capable of easily guessing based on what we already know. The first would be a hard limit. The latter most certainly isn't.

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