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The Math Instinct: Why You're a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs)

3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  140 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
There are two kinds of math: the hard kind and the easy kind. The easy kind, practiced by ants, shrimp, Welsh Corgis — and us — is innate. But what innate calculating skills do we humans have? Leaving aside built-in mathematics, such as the visual system, ordinary people do just fine when faced with mathematical tasks in the course of the day. Yet when they are confronted ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 31st 2006 by Basic Books (first published March 15th 2005)
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Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootMe Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezCollapse by Jared Diamond
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Community Reviews

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Ann
Jan 15, 2015 Ann rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-medicine
This book seems inspired by Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct”. The author explains his theory that humans and animals are endowed with a type of natural ability to “do math”, some level of understanding and skill that is ingrained and active before we obtain math instruction at school, and in some cases even despite that formal schooling. This is of course a fascinating and attractive idea to anyone who has ever struggled with differential equations.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite de
...more
brotagonist
Mar 22, 2014 brotagonist rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I found the first part about the mathematical abilities of animals interesting. The latter part dealt with why humans make a lot of mistakes when dealing with abstract mathematics and the benefits of developing an ability in (re)learning the required concepts. The analyses of why mistakes are prevalent didn't interest me much: I would rather have spent the time reawakening my once considerable mathematical ability. In that regard, the author has succeeded, in that I am motivated to find another ...more
نجلاء العريفي

"أنتَ عبقري رياضيات. وكذلك السلطعونات، الطيور، القطط والكلاب"

هكذا يبدأ الكاتب كيث دلفن بشرح كتابه، لكن يزيد ويتطرق إلى النمل، الأسود، الفراشات وحتى النباتات! (وغيرهم). يدور الكتاب حول محورين: جميع ما في الطبيعة يستطيع تنفيذ حسابات رياضية شديدة في التعقيد في غضون أجزاء من الثانية بطريقة لا شعورية. والنظام التعليمي يقتل الكثير من هذه الحدسية الفطرية ويسلح الإنسان بمعلومات تغبش عليه المعنى الحقيقي لما يتعلمه.

في الحركة، التنقل، النمو، البناء، والإحساس، هناك أمثلة للبرمجة الطبيعية التي خُلق بها الخل
...more
Ensiform
Mar 17, 2012 Ensiform rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, math
The author describes the truly amazing abilities of dogs, bees, ants, birds and other creatures when it comes to eye-mouth coordination, navigation, locomotion, and so on. He uses this data, along with some studies on how infants pay attention to certain sets of things up to three, and some other studies on poorly-educated street vendors who can do complicated math procedures in their heads but not on paper, to argue that people have an innate instinct for mathematics.

It’s an interesting book, b
...more
Andrewcharles420
Nov 19, 2012 Andrewcharles420 rated it really liked it
I like to think that I follow scientific literature pretty well, but this book had quite a few surprises in store for me, citing the results of numerous studies of how humans and animals use and comprehend numbers--even though it's six years old (a long time for such new and active fields). There was a lot to learn about how other animals engage with numeracy in the world, and about how humans learn and interact with it.

I was impressed enough to be interested in reading more from this author--Th
...more
Jarrodtrainque
There are two kinds of math: the hard kind and the easy kind. The easy kind, practiced by ants, shrimp, Welsh corgis—and us—is innate./ What innate calculating skills do we humans have? Leaving aside built-in mathematics, such as the visual system, ordinary people do just fine when faced with mathematical tasks in the course of the day. Yet when they are confronted with the same tasks presented as "math," their accuracy often drops./ But if we have innate mathematical ability, why do we have to ...more
Peter
This book does a good job of describing some remarkable mathematical abilities in animals, including the human animal. In some cases, these abilities rely on deceptively simple methods. For example, when a dog fetches a Frisbee or when a center fielder runs down a fly ball, the runner chooses a trajectory such that the projectile (or maybe just its shadow) appears to the runner to be moving in a straight line.

On the other hand, I found some discussions to be a little unsatisfying. For example, t
...more
Paul The Uncommon Reader
Interesting. Changed my perception of what maths is (innate and somehow present, like scientific data, in the universe, rather than somehow invented by people like e.g. languages are. Though "language" probably isn't).
Also never thought of mathematical ability as being influenced by linguistic norms before. Remain sceptical on that one though. Aren't you either good at maths or at languages, but rarely both?
Mark
Apr 09, 2014 Mark rated it liked it
Beginning and end were good. Middle was on "math" in animals, but not really.
Krista
Jun 19, 2010 Krista rated it liked it
There are two parts to this book; the first half or so contains examples of innate math in animals and humans and the second half contains historical evolution of mathematical symbols and some cognitive science concepts. I was hoping for a third part of the book that had real examples of how some teachers or charter schools are teaching math better or more intuitively, but there was very little if any of that. So the book was interesting, though not mind-blowing; a little like reading Psychology ...more
sharon Cate
Sep 09, 2012 sharon Cate rated it it was ok
I really enjoyed the chapters which tied mathematics and language. The book's message regarding the importance of mathematical relevancy is especially timely with the current emphasis of the common cores standards in education. I guess my biggest gripe with the book is the author's instance on attributing the marvels of vision and how animals and plants are "designed" to do complex mathematics to "Nature" instead of a Designer. This book was okay but it could have been so much more.
Houston
Mar 01, 2009 Houston rated it really liked it
Recommended to Houston by: Todd Surrovell
Shelves: my-library
I found this book interesting, although I do not agree with some of Devlin's claims. It is important to note that the common idea of practicing mathematics is not what he outlines (not the conscious application of mathematical skills)... instead it is the idea of 'innate' mathematics. Overall, the book was very fun to read, and it really does open one's eyes to the different ways mathematics can be applied to everyday life.
Mirek Kukla
Sep 18, 2010 Mirek Kukla rated it liked it
Shelves: math-logic
Author argues that animals 'do math', by which he means 'do things that humans aren't be able to do (or understand) without math.' A couple of interesting facts - lobsters navigate using the earth's magnetic field, for instance - but the argument is mostly shallow
Alaine
Dec 21, 2014 Alaine rated it liked it
Shelves: unfinished
Lost interest after the guy said something about corgis not actually doing calculus. Bro, do you even corg?

Seriously, just got busy with school and didn't manage to finish by the time I was out of renewals with the library.
Elizabeth
Aug 02, 2009 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Math enthusiasts
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Dad
Shelves: math-related
I truly enjoyed every aspect of this book. I loved the discussions about the different mathematical things animals and humans do everyday without even thinking about it. The part about street math was quite interesting.
Paul Berg
Jan 19, 2011 Paul Berg rated it did not like it
I kept waiting for this book to get better, but it didn't -- I ended up skipping large swaths of it. There were a few interesting points, but it seemed like the author kept reitering uninteresting things.
Heidi
Jun 04, 2008 Heidi rated it it was amazing
Interesting book for those who love math. I just started it so I am not quite ready to rate it just yet, but if my preliminary findings are accurate, I would give it a 4/5 star.
Kathryn
Mar 11, 2011 Kathryn added it
Shelves: abandoned
The subtitle of the book is "Why You're a Mathematical Genius," but none of the essays seemed to actually get at the why. I might go back to this but, then again, I might not.
Katharine
Oct 02, 2009 Katharine rated it it was amazing
This is an informal look at how math appears in all sorts of odd placed in our world. It's very accessible for non-mathy people.
Kathryn
Sep 18, 2008 Kathryn rated it really liked it
Full of interesting observations of the way we think about and of math. Really interesting.
Jonas Adler
Dec 31, 2012 Jonas Adler rated it it was ok
Shelves: math
Not as interesting as it sounded. In fact I don't think I finished it which is rare for me...
Phillip
Feb 09, 2012 Phillip rated it did not like it
This is underwhelming. It is't even worth spending time to read or write about.
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Dr. Keith Devlin is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a Consulting Professor in the Department of Mathematics, a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. He is a World Economic Forum Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His current research is focused on the use of differ ...more
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