3V0531.01 COUNTING: beginning of notes. Cookies, hands, and counting (7/7/79)
During interviews at IBM, Moshe Zloof raised the question of whether
or not, in effect, counting is innate. I told him the question was a big
one about which I felt no one could speak with authority but that I had
very strong prejudices. As an example of the kind of experience from
which I felt the knowledge of counting might develop, I cited Peggy’s
reception of cookies. After convincing us to get her a cookie, Peggy
would sometimes open her mouth to receive it directly. More
commonly, she would hold out her hand (usually the right), take the
cookie, and put it in her mouth. Some time ago (we neither can recall
just when), in a situation where a whole stack of cookies was available,
Peggy requested and received a cookie for each hand. In some
circumstances, Peggy ended up transferring two cookies to one hand
and eating a cookie sandwich. The final step, which I witnessed but
can’t date, was Peggy requesting a cookie for each hand, then
transferring the right cookie to the left hand and requesting another.
In this little series of incidents, we see one-to-one correspondence and
a procedure for “getting one more”. These two are enough to base a
counting system on.
Today, Peggy began picking up all the various things on my chair side
table. I gave her three small bean bags to play with. The game of
choice became putting them in my palm and removing them. The
material scraps from which the bean bags were made are all colorful
and quite different from one another. She removed them several ways:
by ones, two first, and two last. When my hand was empty, she twice
scratched my palm after removing the third bag.
Peggy was much engaged with this bean bag play, talking all the while
(the talk is recorded on audio tape #3). I intend to play with these
little bags during our next experiment on videotape. Let’s see if we can
catch the development of Peggy’s knowledge of counting.