Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/54

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44
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

fect. There seems to be considerable evidence that very primitive peoples do not count above four or five, all quantity above that being simply an indefinite many. Mr. Galton has given so striking and graphic an account of a Damara's conflict with matters mathematical, that one can not forbear citing it in detail: "In practice, whatever they may possess in their language, they certainly use no numeral greater than three. When they wish to express four, they take to their fingers, which are to them as formidable instruments of calculation as a sliding rule is to an English school-boy. They puzzle very much after five, because no spare hand remains to grasp and secure the fingers that are required for units. Yet they seldom lose oxen; the way in which they discover the loss of one is not by the number of the herd being diminished, but by the absence of a face they know. When bartering is going on each sheep must be paid for separately. Thus, suppose two sticks of tobacco to be the rate of exchange for one sheep, it would sorely puzzle a Damara to take two sheep and give him four sticks. I have done so, and seen a man put two of the sticks apart, and take a sight over them at one of the sheep he was about to sell. Having satisfied himself that one was honestly paid for, and finding to his surprise that exactly two sticks remained in hand to settle the account for the other sheep, he would be afflicted with doubts; the transaction seemed to come out too 'pat' to be correct, and he would refer back to the first couple of sticks; and then his mind got hazy and confused, and wandered from one sheep to the other, and he broke off the transaction until two sticks were put into his hand and one sheep driven away, and then the other two sticks given him, and the second sheep driven away. . . .

"Once while I watched a Damara floundering hopelessly in a calculation on one side of me, I observed Dinah, my spaniel, equally embarrassed on the other. She was overlooking half a dozen of her new-born puppies which had been removed two or three times from her, and her anxiety was excessive as she tried to find out if they were all present, or if any were still missing. She kept puzzling and running her eyes over them backward and forward, but could not satisfy herself. She evidently had a vague notion of counting, but the figure was too large for her brain. Taking the two as they stood, dog and Damara, the comparison reflected no great honor on the man."

Of corresponding difficulties in children it would doubtless be possible to collect considerable evidence. Prof. Preyer, in his painstaking study of his infant son, found that the child would miss one of his set of nine-pins when ten months old, but so late as the twenty-seventh month he failed to teach the child the difference between numbers from one to five: and two months later