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Sentience

September 11, 2020 - The MIT Press Reader

In the Animal Kingdom, the Astonishing Power of the Number Instinct

In the Animal Kingdom, the Astonishing Power of the Number Instinct
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A host of studies examining animals in their ecological environments suggest that they have evolved to use numbers in order to exploit food sources, avoid predators, and reproduce.

One of the key findings over the past decades is that our number faculty is deeply rooted in our biological ancestry, and not based on our ability to use language. Considering the multitude of situations in which we humans use numerical information, life without numbers is inconceivable. But what was the benefit of numerical competence for our ancestors, before they became Homo sapiens? Why would animals crunch numbers in the first place?

It turns out that processing numbers offers a significant benefit for survival, which is why this behavioral trait is present in many animal populations. Several studies examining animals in their ecological environments suggest that representing number enhances an animal’s ability to exploit food sources, hunt prey, avoid predation, navigate in its habitat, and persist in social interactions.

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