The Place Where There is No Math

Dr. Hakan Oztunc
7 min readNov 24, 2023

Although the Pirahã people lack mathematical knowledge and do not use quantities as we do, assuming they lack intelligence would be a mistake.

Fountain magazine

IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Can you imagine waking up in a place where numbers are not utilized? Is such a place possible? Can we find a location where numbers are absent?
  • The Pirahã tribe, an Amazon-native community, has no concept of mathematical numbers in their language. This tribe represents one of the rare global communities that lack numerical words and mathematical concepts in their linguistic structure.
  • What sets the Pirahã apart is their contentment with what they have and their lack of envy towards the possessions of others. Unlike other tribes, they do not yearn for the belongings of Brazilians, such as guns or horses.

My father used to tell me a story in which a young boy was searching for a place where nothing like math existed. I'm curious if he crafted it for me or read it elsewhere. However, I still liken those who fear math to that child. Individuals with "math anxiety" spend their lives trying to avoid mathematics and its formulas, which often haunt them.

Numbers are ubiquitous, and a world without them is highly improbable. Consequently, a life devoid of mathematics is unimaginable. In an episode of the once-legendary TV show "Twilight Zone," a man discovers that nobody understands him. Imagine waking up one morning and realizing your loved ones no longer comprehend your language. It is a nightmarish scenario where those who understood you yesterday fail to grasp your words today — your spouse, children, neighbors, and relatives. It highlights how the modern world can isolate us, rendering us incomprehensible to those closest to us. Similarly, picture waking up in a place where numbers are not utilized. Is such a place possible? Can we find a location where numbers are absent?

Surprisingly, such a place exists in the Amazon jungle. The Pirahã tribe, an Amazon-native community, has no concept of mathematical numbers in their language. This tribe represents one of the rare global communities that lack numerical words and mathematical concepts in their linguistic structure. Comprising approximately 700 to 1000 individuals living in scattered villages of 10 to…

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Dr. Hakan Oztunc

Statistics Professor, Math Lover, Teaching @UOFT. Author of numerous Math Novels. Always looking to make math fun for everyone. MyBook: https://amzn.to/2M5F5Nz