Peirce/Piaget coordination

17th May, 2008

two days ago i quoted Peirce:
“It is a matter of real fact to say that in a certain room there are two persons. It is a matter of fact to say that each person has two eyes. It is a matter of fact to say that each person has two eyes. It is a matter of fact to say that there are four eyes in the room. But to say that if there are two persons and each person has two eyes there will be four eyes is not a statement of fact, but a statement about the system of numbers which is our own creation.” p. 59, from Philosophical Writings of Peirce, edited by Justus Buchler. Available (kind of) via Google Books.

now Piaget, from here:
“In cases involving the physical world the abstraction is abstraction from the objects themselves. A child, for instance, can heft objects in his hands and realize that they have different weights – that usually big things weigh more than little ones, but that sometimes little things weigh more than big ones. All this he finds out experientially, and his knowledge is abstracted from the objects themselves. But I should like to give an example, just as primitive as that one, in which knowledge is abstracted from actions, from the coordination of actions, and not from objects. This example, one we have studied quite thoroughly with many children, was first suggested to me by a mathematician friend who quoted it as the point of departure of his interest in mathematics. When he was a small child, he was counting pebbles one day; he lined them up in a row, counted them from left to right, and got ten. Then, just for fun, he counted them from right to left to see what number he would get, and was astonished that he got ten again. He put the pebbles in a circle and counted them, and once again there were ten. He went around the circle in the other way and got ten again. And no matter how he put the pebbles down, when he counted them, the number came to ten. He discovered here what is known in mathematics as commutativity, that is, the sum is independent of the order. But how did he discover this? Is this commutativity a property of the pebbles? It is true that the pebbles, as it were, let him arrange them in various ways; he could not have done the same thing with drops of water. So in this sense there was a physical aspect to his knowledge. But the order was not in the pebbles; it was he, the subject, who put the pebbles in a line and then in a circle. Moreover, the sum was not in the pebbles themselves; it was he who united them. The knowledge that this future mathematician discovered that day was drawn, then, not from the physical properties of the pebbles, but from the actions that he carried out on the pebbles. This knowledge is what I call logical mathematical knowledge and not physical knowledge.”

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