For thousands of years, people have wondered if the basics of geometry came naturally to all humans or if they were something you had to learn through instruction or cultural experiences. According to Plato’s writings, Socrates attempted to determine how well an uneducated slave in a Greek household understood geometry, and eventually concluded that the slave’s soul “must have always possessed this knowledge.”
While a slave in a Greek household would have been introduced to aspects of geometry through the Greek language and culture, the Mundurukú villagers who participated in the new study did not have this head start. Nevertheless, the 14 Mundurukú children, as young as 6 years old, and the 30 adults who were quizzed by anthropologist Pierre Pica from Paris VIII University did well on the basic geometry test. Even if you never learned the difference between a triangle, a rectangle and a trapezoid, and you never used a ruler, a compass or a map, you would still do well on some basic geometry tests, according to a new study.
This research appears in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.