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October 24, 2021

How finger counting gives away your nationality

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From the BBC:

Many people around the world learn to count on their fingers, but we don't all do it in the same way. Could there be a better method?

How would you count to 10 on your fingers? Do you start with the thumb or the index finger? Left hand or right? Dactylonomy (counting on your hands) seems like such a simple and natural thing to do that you might assume it's nearly the same everywhere.

After all, it's no coincidence that we have 10 digits on our hands and the most common number systems have 10 digits. This way of counting (called a base 10 system) probably arose because we have 10 fingers. If we had evolved with 8 or 12 fingers, our number system might be quite different. And the word "digit" in the sense of numerals comes from the Latin digitus, meaning finger or toe — because of the way we use them to count.

But it turns out that people around the world have vastly different techniques for keeping track of numbers on their hands.

For example, if you're from the UK or many parts of Europe, you probably start counting with the thumb, and finish with the pinky. While in the US, they start counting with the index finger, ending with the thumb. In parts of the Middle East like Iran, they begin with the pinky, whereas in Japan they start with the fingers extended in an open palm, drawing them in to make a closed fist.

However, this cultural diversity in finger counting hasn't always been appreciated. "What struck me was that most researchers treated it as if there was just one way of counting with your fingers," says Andrea Bender, a professor of cognition, culture, and language at the University of Bergen, Norway.

"In the past, researchers have believed that finger counting, and especially the way that we do it in the West, is essential for children when they start to learn counting, and when they try to grasp what numbers actually are. One reason for casting doubt on that is that there is so much cultural diversity in how fingers or body parts are used for counting."

In India, for example, they use the lines between the segments of the fingers to count. This means each digit can represent four numbers and the whole hand can represent 20. While in parts of Eastern Africa like Tanzania, among speakers of some Bantu languages, they use both hands in a symmetric way as much as possible. The number six, for example, is shown with the index, middle and ring finger of both hands. There's also the indigenous Northern Pame people of Mexico, who count on their knuckles, and the (now extinct) Yuki language in California, which used the spaces in between the fingers.

You can see examples of these ways of finger counting, and a way of counting to 1,000 on two hands, in this BBC Reel video.

Some cultures don't use quantities of fingers to represent numbers at all — they use symbols. In China, they count from one to five in the same way as the US, but six to 10 are represented symbolically. Six is shown by extending the thumb and pinky, while 10 is either a closed fist or crossing the index and middle fingers. And the ancient Romans also used a clever (but difficult to master) symbolic system that allowed them to count into the thousands.

Bender says that finger counting can be richly varied and researchers may have barely scratched the surface of the multitudes of ways different cultures do it. Her group is about to start on a much bigger survey to try to document finger counting around the world in much more detail.

"We know a little bit about how much diversity is possible, but we have no idea yet of how big the differences actually can be," she says.

Cognitive scientists like Bender are beginning to show that there is still much to discover about the relationship between gesture and language learning. For example, gestures can change how we hear words. But we don't know whether the gesture informs the choice of word or vice versa.

"What I think is extremely exciting is what cognitive implications do these differences have? How do children who grow up with different representations for numbers learn counting?"

At some point, probably hundreds of thousands of years ago, our ancestors started to count and developed different counting systems, concludes Bender.

Not only can finger counting reveal where in the world you come from, it may also shed light on how we learned to understand the concept of number — as children and even as a species. Even though counting on your hands feels as easy as one-two-three, in reality it's not so simple.

October 24, 2021 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Liegender Stier (Reclining Bull) (detail) — Franz Marc


Tempera on paper; 1913; Museum Folkwang (Folklore Museum); Essen, Germany.

From Wikipedia:

Franz Moritz Wilhelm Marc (February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916) was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of German Expressionism.

He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it.

His mature works mostly depict animals, and are known for bright coloration.

He was drafted to serve in the German Army at the beginning of World War I, and was killed in action two years later at the Battle of Verdun.

More on the artist here.

October 24, 2021 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

'... the small significance which, to my mind, so-called great men have in historical events' — Tolstoy


The passages below are from Tolstoy's "A Few Words Apropos of the book 'War and Peace," his appendix to his novel, published in the magazine Russian Archive in 1868, before the final parts of the book had appeared in print.

I say all this in order to show the inevitability of falsehood in the military descriptions which serve as material for military historians, and therefore to show the inevitability of frequent disagreements between artists and historians in understanding historical events.

But, besides the inevitability of untruths in their setting forth of historical events, I encountered in the historians of that epoch that interested me (probably as a result of grouping events, expressing them briefly, and conforming to the tragic tone of the events) a particular inclination to high-flown speech, in which falsehood and distortion often touch not only the events, but also the understanding of the meaning of the events.

And so the tasks of the artist and the historian are completely different....

... the most important consideration concerns the small significance which, to my mind, so-called great men have in historical events.

... I arrived at the obviousness of the fact that the causes of historical events that take place are inaccessible to our intelligence.

A countless number of retrospective conjectures can be made and are being made about the causes of this senseless event; but the enormous number of these explanations and their convergence on one goal only proves that there is a countless multitude of these causes and that none of them can be called the cause.

... man's consciousness of freedom in the committing of acts of a certain sort is mistaken.

And so there are two sorts of acts. One depends, the other does not depend on my will.

... the mistake that produce that produces a contradiction comes only from the fact that I wrongly transfer the consciousness of freedom, which legitimately accompanies any act committed with my I, with the highest abstraction of my existence, to my acts committed jointly with other people and depending on the coinciding of other wills with my own.

To determine the boundaries of the domains of freedom and independence is very difficult, and the determining of those boundaries is the essential and sole task of psychology; but, observing the conditions of the manifestation of our greatest freedom and greatest dependence, it is impossible not to see that the more abstract our activity is and therefore the less connected with the activity of others, the more free it is, and, on the contrary, the more our activity is connected with other people, the more unfree it is.

The most strong, indissoluble, burdensome, and constant connection with other people is the so-called power over other people, which in its true meaning is only the greatest dependence on them.

Tolstoy made his boj debut last month and this encore won't be the last you'll see of his work.

October 24, 2021 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Find the 12 differences


Answers here.

October 24, 2021 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Noguchi Prismatic Table

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From the website:

The small Prismatic Table of 1957 was the last piece of furniture that Isamu Noguchi designed.
This creation coincides with his sculptures of bent and folded aluminum from the late 1950s.
The faceted aluminum piece was designed for Alcoa as part of their advertising "Forecast program" to explore new uses for aluminum.
Noguchi designed two versions.
This one was presented in advertisements of the time as modular and multicolored.
This is the first time it has ever been put into production.
Manufactured by Vitra Design Museum.
Features and Details:
White or Black coated sheet aluminum
• 15" x 18" x 18"

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October 24, 2021 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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