French Study Shows Amazon Tribe Knows Geometry

June 23, 2011

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. innate (adj.) [ih-neytin-eyt] – something that is already present since one’s birth
Example: The ability to make sounds is innate in all human beings.

2. tribe (n.) [trahyb] – any group of people that are joined together by common ancestors, way of life and/or loyalty to a leader
Example: People from the tribe of Eskimos all know how to hunt whales.
3. concept (n.) [kon-sept] – an idea
Example: The concept of democracy is hard to explain.

4. accurately (adv.) [ak-yer-it-lee] – done without error or mistake
Example: He won the contest because he answered the questions accurately.

5. counterpart (n.) [koun-ter-pahrt] – a person or thing that has the same function or quality as another
Example: A governess is the female counterpart of a governor.

Read the text below.

Knowledge of geometry may be innate according to an experiment by French scientist Pierre Pica.

In most formal schools, people learn geometry using the principles introduced by the Greek mathematician Euclid 2,300 years ago. Pica and his team wanted to find out if other cultures which do not have formal education are able to answer geometry questions.

In his experiment, Pica involved 22 adults and 8 children from an Amazon tribe called Mundurucu. The tribe does not have words for geometrical concepts like square, triangle, lines and points, so Pica presented them with everyday situations that lead to questions concerning geometry.

The participants answered accurately even without formal training in geometry. Pica then compared the answers of the Mundurucu to French and American participants who answered similar questions. The answers of Mundurucu participants matched their Western counterparts.

Pica got a more surprising result when he asked the Mundurucu a question based on a non-Euclidean concept. This concept opposes Euclidean geometry which is normally taught in formal schools. Mundurucu participants answered the questions more accurately than the Western participants who were trained in Euclidean geometry.

Pica’s experiment reveals that knowledge of geometry does not depend on language or formal training and may, in fact, be innate. In addition, it suggests that western education can be misleading because as demonstrated in the experiment, not all concepts used in western education apply to all situations.  

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Why do you think western education is used in most schools across the globe?
·         Do you think non-western schools should use their own knowledge in education? Please explain your answer?

Discussion B

·         Do you enjoy math? Why or why not?
·         In what situations do you think do we use or need mathematics?

June 23, 2011