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At the sight of two dots, one cell responded. At sight three, another cell

Research done in monkeys strengthens the assumption that the brain has "number cells" - cells that respond to specific numbers and not to other numbers

Yanai Ofran

"The smart miracle", a horse that knew mathematics, stunned Europe at the beginning of the last century.
Hans's owner, a Prussian nobleman who believed that everything depended on education, taught him arithmetic
From the day the young foal came into the world and into the stable. After years of arduous study he
Reported that the horse knows arithmetic at the level of a 12-year-old boy. A renowned psychologist from Berlin,
Invited to the stable at the head of a delegation of researchers, to his astonishment he was forced to confirm that the horse knew
count and perform arithmetic operations. When the teacher wrote numbers or arithmetic exercises
blackboard, the student tapped the appropriate number with his paw.

A few years of wondering went by until it became clear that Hans is indeed smart, but does not know arithmetic.
A Berlin researcher proved that the horse simply responds to the excited body language of its owner. When
The teacher looked expectantly down at Hans' hooves, the horse began to tap
on the ground As he neared the correct number, the landlord responded with an almost invisible twitch
of satisfaction that caused the horse to stop. If the teacher wasn't around, or even
Standing nearby and cheering on the miracle without seeing the numbers that were being shown to him, she was swallowed whole
The mathematical wisdom of the horse.

Since this case, any research on the mathematical perception of animals has been treated with suspicion. but
This issue still preoccupies brain and cognition researchers a lot. The claim that you
Appropriate education even animals can learn the arithmetic operations is no longer discussed
Seriously nowhere, but animals clearly have a number sense. in an encounter with
Predators or rivals the number will decide whether to fight or leave, and also in search of food there is
The numerical concept is of crucial importance. The question is how exactly the animals are processed
Such quantitative data. Is it a general ability to distinguish between many and few, or
Perhaps there are animals that are able to perceive abstract entities such as numbers, that philosophers
of mathematics find it difficult to define them. Three researchers from the Technological Institute of
Massachusetts offers a definitive answer to this question this week. The three edited the
The experiments with monkeys, but the results of the experiments may also explain the way in which
The human mind deals with numbers.

Andreas Neider, David Friedman and Earl Miller showed the monkeys pictures in which they appeared
Points of different sizes and numbers. They taught the monkeys to press an if button
The number of dots in the image shown to them is greater than the number of dots that were in the previous image.
The monkeys succeeded in a good exercise, but this is not the innovation of Neider and his team. The fact that
Transparents are able to perform such a task with some success (which is limited only to numbers
low single digits) has already been discovered before.

The novelty of the current study is in trying to find out what happens in the minds of the monkeys when they are
Trying to count. The researchers recorded the electrical activity of cells in the brain's cortex
The monkeys discovered a surprising phenomenon. In a certain area they found cells that specialize in numbers.
They had cells that started firing electric currents if there were two dots in the picture - no
It matters in what size and in what place; Other cells responded to three dots; And so on.
Each of these cells had a single number that caused it to fire at a maximum rate. The fact that
That the position of the dots on the surface of the image or their size were not important greatly strengthens the
The assumption that these are "number cells" - that is, a brain mechanism that recognizes the entity
The abstract of any number, and not some visual parameter like size, shape, color or
pattern.

In the past there were researchers who proposed that numbers are represented in the brain by an intricate network of cells
brain from different regions. The new study, published this week in the journal "Science" found
A much simpler representation - a single cell that identifies a number. The area where these cells were found
Corresponds to the active area in the human brain while performing arithmetic operations, which strengthens the
The hypothesis that "number cells" also exist in the human brain. Do horses also have cells?
like these? And if so, what does that say about their mathematical abilities? It's hard to say. "cellular
The numbers" join a long list of surprising findings that reveal something about activity
The brain, but still do not allow us to understand how it really works.