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Friday, December 08, 2006

Polya's Inner Neanderthal

I remember reading, years ago, the excellent book "The Psychology of Mathematical Invention" by the mathematician Jacques Hadamard...

He surveyed a bunch of mathematicians, intending to find out how mathematicians think internally. Many mathematicians thought visually, it was found; some thought in terms of sounds, some purely abstractly.

But, George Polya was the only mathematician surveyed who claimed to think internally in terms of grunts and groans like "aaah", "urrghhh" , "hmtphghhghggg"....

At the time I read this, I thought it was very odd.

However, now I have just read Mithen's book ("The Singing Neanderthals", discussed in another, recent blog of mine) claiming that the language of Neanderthals and early Cro-magnons was like that: no words, just lengthy, semi-musical grunts and groans with varying intonation patterns....

So maybe Polya was just old-fashioned.... ;-)

Anyone else out there think in terms of grunts and groans and so forth? If so please contact me....