pp 1–24 | Cite as

Numerals and neural reuse

  • Max Jones
S.I.: MathCogEncul


Menary (in: Metzinger T, Windt JM (eds) OpenMIND, MIND Group, Frankfurt am Main, 2015) has argued that the development of our capacities for mathematical cognition can be explained in terms of enculturation. Our ancient systems for perceptually estimating numerical quantities are augmented and transformed by interacting with a culturally-enriched environment that provides scaffolds for the acquisition of cognitive practices, leading to the development of a discrete number system for representing number precisely. Numerals and the practices associated with numeral systems play a significant role in this process. However, the details of the relationship between the ancient number system and the discrete number system remain unclear. This lack of clarity is exacerbated by the problem of symbolic estrangement and the fact that unique features of how numeral systems represent require our ancient number system to play a dual role. These issues highlight that Dehaene’s (in: Dehaene S, Duhamel J-R, Hauser MS, Rizolatti G (eds) From monkey brain to human brain, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 133–157, 2005) neuronal recycling hypothesis may be insufficient to explain the neural mechanisms underlying the process of enculturation. In order to explain mathematical enculturation, and enculturation more generally, it may be necessary to adopt Anderson’s (Behav Brain Sci 33(4):245–266, 2010; After phrenology: neural reuse and the interactive brain, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2014) theory of neural reuse.


Mathematical cognition Numerical cognition Enculturation Neuronal recycling Neural reuse Cognitive integration Affordances Philosophy of psychology Philosophy of neuroscience 



This paper is based on a presentation delivered at the symposium on Mathematical Cognition and Enculturation at the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology Conference 2016. Huge thanks to Caterina Dutilh Novaes for organising this brilliant symposium and for her useful insight into this work, as well as Richard Menary, Markus Pantsar, Jean-Charles Pelland, Regina Fabry, Alexander Gillett, Christopher Burr, Zoe Drayson, and Harry Farmer for excellent discussions throughout the event that shaped this work. I’d also like to thank Michael Anderson for fascinating discussions elsewhere on his theory of neural reuse. Many thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful comments.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LeedsLeedsUK

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