Counting On You

Have you ever thought about the fact the humans can’t really understand number higher than six or seven? You might think this is untrue, but take an uncounted number of matches (marbles or rat turds work well too, whatever you have around really) toss them on the table, and then try to guess how many there are without counting them. If you’re like me, you’re going to find it more difficult than you might think. Even when I’m looking at a number as small as eight I tend to think of it as two groups of four. And when the numbers get higher things get even more problematic.
The point is if you had to rely only on what you could easily understand you wouldn’t be able to deal with anything in quantities greater than ten. But we can deal with numbers greater than seven or eight because we have a thing called counting. Counting is really cool because it allows you to take a tally of numbers far bigger than what your mind can easily comprehend with sequentially named place holders called numbers. Now you might not think counting is a big deal, but I think it’s one of the things that makes man the dominant species on the planet. Counting opens the door for other abstract mental gymnastics like math which makes commerce and science and even timekeeping possible.
But if counting is one of the things that makes humans different from animals, then what is it about our brains that makes us capable of something so ostensibly simple? If the way I’ve set up that question makes you think I’m going to follow it with some clever answer you’re sorely mistaken. I don’t know why we can count and other animals don’t. If you do, then please let me know.
In the mean time* I’m going to go cook some chicken.

*”In the mean time”? What does that phrase even mean? Is it a time that’s somehow meaner than other times? What made it so cranky? Sometimes language really confuses me.


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