# The Naked Scientists Forum

### Author Topic: How many until you have to count?  (Read 4599 times)

#### Chemistry4me

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##### How many until you have to count?
« on: 05/01/2009 07:47:54 »
Say you had three eggs on the table, by simply looking at them you can tell that there are three eggs, and if you had four eggs, you can tell easily that there are four of them (without counting one, two, three etc...). My question is, how many eggs or any other objects does there have to be until you have to start counting (i.e, you can't just look and tell how many there are)? Does the size and shape of the object affect how easily they can be counted ? For example, would it be easier to just look at 5 eggs and easily tell that there are five of them compared to looking at 5 jumbled up Rubix cube and realising that there are five of them? Maybe there is no definite margin between counting and not counting ? The number will probably vary between people, but it I think is most likely to be in single figures.

What do you think?

#### dentstudent

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #1 on: 05/01/2009 09:34:34 »
I think that the number would actually be rather higher and it's probably more a question of pattern and ones ability to multiply. For example, if you have 5 objects arranged in the same fashion as the number 5 is represented on a dice (2 dots at the top, one in the middle and 2 at the bottom) this is readily recognised as "5" without counting. If you then have 5 groups of these 5 dots in the same pattern, you immediately know that you have 5 groups of 5, and hence 25 dots. If you then have 5 groups of these 5, there are 5x5x5 dots, thus 125 in total. If you then... etc. The numbers could thus get very large before there is any need to "count".

#### Chemistry4me

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #2 on: 05/01/2009 09:45:36 »
Good point that you raise, but perhaps what I should have written was 'count and/or calculate'. I was thinking more along the lines of just looking at some objects and instantly (or as close to that as possible) recognising the number of objects there are with no time delay for thinking and or counting/calculating.

#### blakestyger

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #3 on: 05/01/2009 10:37:22 »
Interesting topic Chemistry4me, I used to do bird census work regularly and there are many counting techniques that people employ but I found that seven was the cut-off between 'knowing' without having to count and counting.
« Last Edit: 05/01/2009 11:13:49 by blakestyger »

#### dentstudent

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #4 on: 05/01/2009 10:41:28 »
If those 7 were in a "random" formation. If they were in 2 rows of 4, it would be very simple to recognise 8, don't you think?

#### Chemistry4me

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #5 on: 05/01/2009 10:46:02 »
Very interesting indeed blakestyger...Did you find that the colour or size of the birds affected this 'counting', what if the birds were spread out apart, say, a couple might be right on the edges of your vision , did this have any affect? Or you didn't take any notice?

#### blakestyger

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #6 on: 05/01/2009 11:13:29 »
This was when they are in flight, quite large (duck to swan) and in silouhette - I agree, eight doesn't sound impossible. I'll be going to see the evening flights of pinkfeet this week so I'll have a go.

One way is to divide flocks into half then half again until there is a countable number then multiply up. Geese are very obliging as thier skeins are well spaced and quite slow.
« Last Edit: 05/01/2009 11:15:15 by blakestyger »

#### lyner

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #7 on: 05/01/2009 11:57:23 »
It's hard to distinguish between pattern recognition and number recognition; when we deal with small numbers - say, up to five - we may have just learned all the basic patterns that 'look like' five.

Which puts me in mind of Baldrick's "some beans" sketch.

#### Chemistry4me

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #8 on: 06/01/2009 00:25:43 »
when we deal with small numbers - say, up to five - we may have just learned all the basic patterns that 'look like' five.
So if we could learn all the basic patterns for 10 then we can instantly "see" 10, is that what you're saying? Admittedly, it'll take a while longer and no one is probably going to do it...

#### RD

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #9 on: 06/01/2009 00:35:06 »
I've heard of savants who could glance at a plate with scores of similar objects,
(e.g. M&Ms), and instantly be able to tell exactly how many there were.
« Last Edit: 06/01/2009 00:38:43 by RD »

#### Chemistry4me

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #10 on: 06/01/2009 01:08:09 »
Thank you RD, there are some very very amazing people on that page  .

#### lyner

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #11 on: 06/01/2009 10:58:56 »
The concept of number is very sophisticated; humans got on fine for a long time without using 'digits', as such.
Once we get as far as writing numbers down we get into Maths. Maths is an intellectual engine which manipulates abstract things and (mostly) the results can be injected back into the real world to give a valid answer.
Without resorting to this higher intellectual level that Maths provides for us, I think we would not be able to 'count' up to more than four or five, in an innate way. For any more than this, it becomes a different exercise and we can only directly appreciate comparative numbers  ('more' or 'fewer') in a fuzzy, analogue, sort of way.
Of course, where the objects are grouped in some way, the problem becomes much easier. Our brains do their very best to make sense of things and Maths (arithmetic) is a set of rules to allow us to make a major step in complexity.
We take it for granted that we can count and appreciate numbers but the fact that children have to be taught to count implies that it is not innate but cultural.

#### Chemistry4me

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #12 on: 09/01/2009 07:24:54 »
Do you think that the number is around 5-7? Or a bit less/more?

#### lyner

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #13 on: 09/01/2009 08:33:16 »
For me it's no more than five, unless they're laid out in some familiar pattern.

I could tell if one of the second row of a Rugby scrum was missing.

#### Chemistry4me

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##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #14 on: 15/01/2009 07:03:13 »
I have a feeling that this question will be answered by an 'expert' soon.

#### The Naked Scientists Forum

##### How many until you have to count?
« Reply #14 on: 15/01/2009 07:03:13 »