Rafael E. Núñez

Rafael E. Núñez
University of California, San Diego | UCSD · Department of Cognitive Science

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70
Publications
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Publications

Publications (70)
Article
Full-text available
Much prior research has investigated how humans understand time using body-based contrasts like front / back and left / right. It has recently come to light, however, that some communities instead understand time using environment -based contrasts. Here, we present the richest portrait yet of one such case: the topographic system used by the Yupno...
Preprint
Full-text available
Much prior research has investigated how humans understand time using body-based contrasts like front/back and left/right. It has recently come to light, however, that some communities instead understand time using environment-based contrasts. Here, we present the richest portrait yet of one such case: the topographic system used by the Yupno of Pa...
Article
Mathematics is a unique body of knowledge. Among others, it is abstract, exact, efficient, symbolizable, and it provides astonishing applications to the real world. In the domain of philosophy of mathematics the study of the practice of mathematics has gradually become an important area of investigation. What aspects of the human body and mind make...
Research
In this episode we talk with Rafael Núñez from the University of California San Diego about his research into if human understanding of number has developed through biological evolution, or through the evolution of language and culture. His article, “Is There Really an Evolved Capacity for Number?“, was published in the June 2017 edition of Trends...
Article
Humans and other species have biologically endowed abilities for discriminating quantities. A widely accepted view sees such abilities as an evolved capacity specific for number and arithmetic. This view, however, is based on an implicit teleological rationale, builds on inaccurate conceptions of biological evolution, downplays human data from non-...
Article
Number lines, calendars, and measuring sticks all represent order along some dimension (e.g., magnitude) as position on a line. In high-literacy, industrialized societies, this principle of spatial organization—linear order—is a fixture of visual culture and everyday cognition. But what are the principle’s origins, and how did it become such a fixt...
Article
People use space in a variety of ways to structure their thoughts about time. The present report focuses on the different ways that space is employed when reasoning about deictic (past/future relationships) and sequence (earlier/later relationships) time. In the first study, we show that deictic and sequence time are aligned along the lateral axis...
Chapter
Mathematics is a quintessentially abstract, stable, and extraordinarily robust conceptual system. But what is mathematics, f and how is it learned? More specifically, is there any part of mathematics that is “hardwired” in the brain? Influential views in developmental psychology, animal cognition, and cognitive neuroscience claim that there is a nu...
Article
Long, short, forward and back: our concepts of time—And How We Process it in the brain—are based on our understanding of Physical Space, with some surprising cultural variations
Article
Speakers of many languages around the world rely on body-based contrasts (e.g., left/right) for spatial communication and cognition. Speakers of Yupno, a language of Papua New Guinea's mountainous interior, rely instead on an environment-based uphill/downhill contrast. Body-based contrasts are as easy to use indoors as outdoors, but environment-bas...
Article
Full-text available
We investigated, in a university student population, spontaneous (non-speeded) fast and slow number-to-line mapping responses using non-symbolic (dots) and symbolic (words) stimuli. Seeking for less conventionalized responses, we used anchors 0-130, rather than the standard 0-100. Slow responses to both types of stimuli only produced linear mapping...
Article
Full-text available
While we often talk about time using spatial terms, experimental investigation of space-time associations has focused primarily on the space in front of the participant. This has had two consequences: the disregard of the space behind the participant (exploited in language and gesture) and the creation of potential task demands produced by spatiali...
Article
Mathematics requires precise inferences about abstract objects inaccessible to perception. How is this possible? One proposal is that mathematical reasoning, while concerned with entirely abstract objects, nevertheless relies on neural resources specialized for interacting with the world-in other words, mathematics may be grounded in spatial or sen...
Chapter
Pointing is a foundational building block of human communication, but does it take the same form from one culture to the next? Index finger pointing is often assumed to be universally privileged. Use of non-manual pointing morphologies has been attested around the world but it has never been clear how central these variants are in the communities i...
Article
Everyday concepts of duration, of sequence, and of past, present, and future are fundamental to how humans make sense of experience. In culture after culture, converging evidence from language, co-speech gesture, and behavioral tasks suggests that humans handle these elusive yet indispensable notions by construing them spatially. Where do these spa...
Article
The canonical history of mathematics suggests that the late 19th-century "arithmetization" of calculus marked a shift away from spatial-dynamic intuitions, grounding concepts in static, rigorous definitions. Instead, we argue that mathematicians, both historically and currently, rely on dynamic conceptualizations of mathematical concepts like conti...
Article
Full-text available
This article describes a previously undocumented deictic facial gesture of Papua New Guinea, which we call nose-pointing . Based on a video corpus of examples produced by speakers of Yupno, an indigenous language of Papua New Guinea’s Finisterre Range, we characterize the gesture’s morphology — which involves an effortful scrunching together of the...
Article
Time, an everyday yet fundamentally abstract domain, is conceptualized in terms of space throughout the world's cultures. Linguists and psychologists have presented evidence of a widespread pattern in which deictic time-past, present, and future-is construed along the front/back axis, a construal that is linear and ego-based. To investigate the uni...
Article
Full-text available
The generic concept of number line, which maps numbers to unidimensional space, is a fundamental concept in mathematics, but its cognitive origins are uncertain. Two defining criteria of the number line are that (i) there is a mapping of each individual number (or numerosity) under consideration onto a specific location on the line, and (ii) that t...
Data
Number lexicon screening task. Participant matching quantity to auditorily presented Yupno number words during the cardinal number-lexicon screening. (TIF)
Data
Instructions for number line task. Description of the instructions for the number line task, including a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss of the Yupno expressions employed. (TIF)
Data
Example responses on number line task. Pointing examples for stimulus numbers 3 and 6 (dots) during the number line task. (TIF)
Article
The Aymara of the Andes use absolute (cardinal) frames of reference for describing the relative position of ordinary objects. However, rather than encoding them in available absolute lexemes, they do it in lexemes that are intrinsic to the body: nayra ("front") and qhipa ("back"), denoting east and west, respectively. Why? We use different but comp...
Conference Paper
In his critique of Theodosius Dobzhansky's influential work, the prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin wrote: "Dobzhansky's construction of the problem of speciation as solely the problem of reproductive isolation was a piece of scientific synecdoche, substituting the process of reproductive isolation for the speciation process in its e...
Article
Numbers are fundamental entities in mathematics, but their cognitive bases are unclear. Abundant research points to linear space as a natural grounding for number representation. But, is number representation fundamentally spatial? We disentangle number representation from standard number-to-line reporting methods, and compare numerical estimations...
Article
Many authors in the field of numerical cognition have adopted a rather nativist view that all humans share the intuition that numbers map onto space and, more specifically, that an oriented left-to-right mental number line (MNL) is localized bilaterally in the intraparietal sulcus of the human brain. We review results from archaeological and histor...
Chapter
This chapter argues that cases wherein an empirically observable physical reality is lacking—when there is no pregiven world to be mentally re-presented—are provided by mathematics. In particular, it argues that mathematical infinity, as a form of cognition which by definition is not directly available to experience due to the finite nature of livi...
Article
Talk about time is commonly accompanied by co-speech gesture. Though much recent work has looked at how time is construed as space in the languages of the world, few studies have examined temporal gestures in any detail. Our focus is on a particular pattern among American English speakers — transversal temporal gestures — in which time is conceptua...
Article
The neural realization of number in abstract form is implausible, but from this it doesn't follow that numbers are not abstract. Clear definitions of abstraction are needed so they can be applied homogeneously to numerical and non-numerical cognition. To achieve a better understanding of the neural substrate of abstraction, productive cognition--no...
Article
In recent years, studies have suggested that gestures influence comprehension of linguistic expressions, for example, eliciting an N400 component in response to a speech/gesture mismatch. In this paper, we investigate the role of gestural information in the understanding of metaphors. Event related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants...
Article
What is the nature of number systems and arithmetic that we use in science for quantification, analysis, and modeling? I argue that number concepts and arithmetic are neither hardwired in the brain, nor do they exist out there in the universe. Innate subitizing and early cognitive preconditions for numberwhich we share with many other speciescannot...
Article
The brilliant physicist Wolfgang Pauli was seriously involved with investigations in natural philosophy. Many (often unpublished) manuscripts and an abundant correspondence with prominent scholars of his time reveal his thoughts on causality, consciousness, the relationship between physics and psyche, and the complementarity of mind and matter, amo...
Article
Early quantitative skills cannot be directly extended to provide the richness, precision, and sophistication of the concept of natural number. These skills must interact with top-down mathematical schemas, which can be explained by bodily grounded everyday mechanisms for abstraction and imagination (e.g., conceptual metaphor, blending) that are bot...
Chapter
This chapter looks at the embodiment of stable inferential patterns created and sustained by communities of individuals, which exist beyond the individuals themselves. The approach taken here is comparable to the study of, say, speech accents, in that although they are created, manifested, and sustained by individuals, they—the speech accents thems...
Article
Pointing is a common accompaniment to adult speech. Yet researchers in the cognitive sciences have focused more on the pointing behaviors of primates and infants than in how pointing is used in fully adult, human discourse. This lack of empirical attention may be related to the assumption that most adult pointing is canonical pointing. In the canon...
Article
Imagine you read in a book about English grammar the following statement: The regular plural marker in English is 's' , which is placed at the end of the noun as in dog/dogs. There are, however, some exceptions like mouse/mice. Then, you read in a book about child development a statement such as this one: English speaking children have difficulties...
Article
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
Article
Full-text available
Research in cognitive linguistics and in processing of temporal metaphors has traditionally distinguished between Moving-Ego and Moving-Time mappings: Either the Ego is construed as moving regarding fixed temporal landmarks or Time is construed as moving regarding the Ego. Both of these metaphors involve time events in reference to an Ego, which sp...
Article
Cognitive research on metaphoric concepts of time has focused on differences between moving Ego and moving time models, but even more basic is the contrast between Ego- and temporal-reference-point models. Dynamic models appear to be quasi-universal cross-culturally, as does the generalization that in Ego-reference-point models, FUTURE IS IN FRONT...
Article
The infinite is one of the most intriguing, controversial, and elusive ideas in which the human mind has ever engaged. In mathematics, a particularly interesting form of infinity—actual infinity—has gained, over centuries, an extremely precise and rich meaning, to the point that it now lies at the very core of many fundamental fields such as calcul...
Conference Paper
Robotics, artificial intelligence and, in general, any activity involving computer simulation and engineering relies, in a fundamental way, on mathematics. These fields constitute excellent examples of how mathematics can be applied to some area of investigation with enormous success. This, of course, includes embodied oriented approaches in these...
Article
The Infinite is one of the most intriguing ideas in which the human mind has ever engaged. Full of paradoxes and controversies, it has raised fundamental issues in domains as diverse and profound as theology, physics, and philosophy. The infinite, an elusive and counterintuitive idea, has even played a central role in defining mathematics, a fundam...
Article
This article gives a brief introduction to a new discipline called the cognitive science of mathematics (Lakoff & Núñez, 2000), that is, the empirical and multidisciplinary study of mathematics (itself) as a scientific subject matter. The theoretical background of the arguments is based on embodied cognition, and on relatively recent findings in co...
Chapter
Recent findings in Cognitive Science — the multidisciplinary scientific study of the mind — have radically changed the views of human thought and conceptual systems. Ever since Aristotle, and later, through the legacy of Descartes and Leibniz, human thought was considered to be rational, conscious, monolithic, consistent, literal, and based on univ...
Article
Full-text available
In this paper we analyze, from the perspective of 'Embodied Cognition', why learning and cognition are situated and context-dependent. We argue that the nature of situated learning and cognition cannot be fully understood by focusing only on social, cultural and contextual factors. These factors are themselves further situated and made comprehensib...
Article
Introduction to Special Issue on ‘Reclaiming Cognition: The Primacy of Action, Intention and Emotion’. Making sense of the mind is the human odyssey. Today, the cognitive sciences provide the vehicles and equipage. As do all culturally shaped activities, they manifest crystallized generalizations and ideological legacies, many of which go unquestio...
Article
This article examines the primacy of real-world bodily experience for understanding the human mind. I defend the idea that the peculiarities of the living human brain and body, and the bodily experiences they sustain, are essential ingredients of human sense-making and conceptual systems. Conceptual systems are created, brought forth, understood an...
Article
The cognitive science of mathematics is the study of mathematical ideas from the perspective of research on our largely unconscious everyday conceptual systems as they are embodied in the human brain. A major result is that most everyday abstract ideas are metaphorical in nature that is, they involve inference-preserving mappings from one conceptua...
Article
Full-text available
This research studies mental rotation in different cultural groups. An experiment is described in which 72 pupils from Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and 79 from Matran (Switzerland) responded to a computerized mental rotation task. When compared to classical studies, results show, for both groups, similar patterns of reaction times (RTs) across degrees of...
Article
The recently celebrated division into ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ problems of consciousness is unfortunate and misleading. Built on functionalist grounds, it carves up the subject matter by declaring that the most elusive parts need a fundamentally and intrinsically different solution. What we have, rather, are ‘difficult’ problems of conscious experience, b...
Article
Mainstream cognitive science shows a strong tendency to explain the mind by postulating a level of analysis separate from the biological and the sociological, and by assuming that the idea of computation is essential. John Searle has challenged these assumptions and suggested a solution to the mind-body problem (biological naturalism). I endorse hi...
Chapter
Full-text available
Résumé Le processus d'apprentissage de 8 adolescents (14-15 ans) ayant suivi un cours de LOGO durant une demi-année a été étudié aux moyens d'observation directe et d'analyse de protocoles. Le travail des sujets était sauvé dans des fichiers espions. La seconde partie du cours était consacrée à l'étude de la récursivité, en se centrant sur le trait...
Article
This chapter discusses the cognitive science of mathematics, particularly the conceptual metaphors used in mathematics. It seeks to characterize exactly what mathematical ideas are. Studying the nature of mathematical ideas changes what we understand mathematics to be and it even changes the understanding of particular mathematical results. The rea...
Article
A challenge to embodiment: The nature of mathematics Mathematics is a highly technical domain, developed over several millennia, and characterized by the fact that the very entities that constitute what Mathematics is are idealized mental abstractions. These entities cannot be perceived directly through the senses. Even, say, a point, which is the...
Article
Full-text available
Interactions between number and space, exemplified by the SNARC (Spatial-Numerical Association of Response Codes) effect, are often taken as evidence for a privileged spatial representation of number. Naturally, research on the spatial representation of number has typically focused on spatial tasks. But in order to make inferences about numerical c...
Article
The study of speech-gesture-thought co-production serves multiple purposes, providing deep insight into many areas of investigation that go from psycholinguistics and cognitive linguistics to discourse analysis, and to the neuroscience of motor action and language. In this piece, building on my previous work (with George Lakoff) on the cognitive sc...

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