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Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Math Cognition

Marcel Danesi, editor
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Mathematics in Mind
[Reviewed by
Peter Olszewski
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In the early 2000s, mathematics cognition started to become a popular interdisciplinary field of study.  The goal was to learn and understand mathematics and more importantly, how mathematical concepts emerge.  The works that kick started this field were those of Brian Butterworth, Stanislas Dehaene, Keith Devlin, Lakoff, and Núñez.  Each of these individuals provided a wealth of data, research, and ideas on how mathematics intersects with other faculties.  While the amount of research devoted to the study of mathematics cognition is quite large, the goal of book, as pointed out in the Preface, aims not to add merely to the accumulation of studies but to show that math cognition is best approached from various disciplines.  The goal is to broaden the general understanding of mathematical cognition through the different theoretical threads.
The book contains 20 papers ranging from Math Puzzles, to The Topology of Mathematics in the Mind and Its Interaction with Verbal and Written Language.  There is also an epilogue by the editor Marcel Danesi, So, What Is Math Cognition?
For example, in Chapter 1: From Biological Brian to Mathematical Mind: The Long-Term Evolution of Mathematical Thinking, David Tull describes how understanding the operation of the brain can give practical advice to teachers and learners to assist them in the long-term development of mathematical thinking.  A very interesting point made early in the research is, why should the reader care?  Tull makes the argument that even though one may not encounter a number theory problem to solve in everyday life when a problem does come along that involves mathematics; past negative experiences may lead to an uncomfortable feeling and, even worse, a belief that one can’t do the mathematics.  Tull presents to the reader how the brain makes sense of spatial information and numbers.  He makes the point that as children mature, they will have many experiences with playing games, practicing arithmetic, and looking at patterns.  
This set of readings will appeal to mathematicians, cognitive scientists, math educators, math philosophers, psychologists, and any scholars who are interested in the historical development and current developments of mathematical cognition.  The book is dense with very well rounded research that provides the reader with a deep understanding of each body of research.  I highly recommend this book for those interested in how math cognition works and to have new, insightful takeaways for additional research of your own making.


Peter Olszewski is a Mathematics Lecturer at The Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College, an editor for Larson Texts, Inc. in Erie, PA, and is the 362nd Chapter Advisor of the Pennsylvania Alpha Beta Chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon. His Research fields are in mathematics education, Cayley Color Graphs, Markov Chains, and mathematical textbooks. He can be reached at