Skip to content

Distinctions by Type vs. Distinctions by Number

January 17, 2019

Before being represented by a numeral, all entities and collections of entities must be stripped of all characteristics such as shape, size, colour, substance, purpose, origin &c. in imagination, if not in fact. All internal group properties such as rank, proximity, natural affinity and so on must also be destroyed. To become numbers, all groups of entities must be both DEPERSONALIZED and DESTRUCTURED. In effect,


This explains the surprisingly rudimentary nature of number concepts amongst hunting/food-gathering peoples, and their stubborn resistance to the introduction of more advanced number systems and number concepts by missionaries. This resistance is not to be attributed to a lack of intelligence since the complex language structures, imaginative myths, pictorial sense and elaborate rituals of such peoples show that they were capable of first-rate cultural achievements. No, the reason for this resistance to number is deep and essentially well-founded since for such peoples it would have been a rash move to automatically prefer distinction by number to distinction by type.

For classification according to type is absolutely essential to the hunter/food-gatherer: he or she must make quick-fire radical distinctions between plants that are comestible and poisonous, animals that are harmless or dangerous, strangers that are hostile or friendly  &c. &c.  ─ and errors can easily lead to death of the individual and even extinction of the tribe. But counting objects is of little utility: what is the point of attributing a number sign to objects that are in front of you every day of your life? Do you know how many suits of clothes or dresses you own? How many rooms there are in your house or flat? Arithmetic only becomes significant when it is essential to know when to sow or reap, when trade is extensive and, above all, when a state official needs to assess a whole country’s resources. It was the Assyrians and the Babylonians who developed arithmetic just as it was the founder of the short-lived Ch’in Dynasty, Ch’in Shih Huang Ti (he of the terracotta warriors), who imposed the metric system on his citizens nearly two thousand years before Napoleon did and who likewise standardized weights and measures throughout his vast Empire.      SH  17/1/19

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: