The Origin of Mathematics and Number Sense in the Cerebellum: With Implications for Finger Counting and Dyscalculia

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Abstract

Background: Mathematicians and scientists have struggled to adequately describe the ultimate foundations of mathematics. Nobel laureates Albert Einstein and Eugene Wigner were perplexed by this issue, with Wigner concluding that the workability of mathematics in the real world is a mystery we cannot explain. In response to this classic enigma, the major purpose of this article is to provide a theoretical model of the ultimate origin of mathematics and "number sense" (as defined by S. Dehaene) that is proposed to involve the learning of inverse dynamics models through the collaboration of the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex (but prominently cerebellum-driven). This model is based upon (1) the modern definition of mathematics as the "science of patterns," (2) cerebellar sequence (pattern) detection, and (3) findings that the manipulation of numbers is automated in the cerebellum. This cerebro-cerebellar approach does not necessarily conflict with mathematics or number sense models that focus on brain functions associated with especially the intraparietal sulcus region of the cerebral cortex. A direct corollary purpose of this article is to offer a cerebellar inner speech explanation for difficulty in developing "number sense" in developmental dyscalculia. Results: It is argued that during infancy the cerebellum learns (1) a first tier of internal models for a primitive physics that constitutes the foundations of visual-spatial working memory, and (2) a second (and more abstract) tier of internal models based on (1) that learns "number" and relationships among dimensions across the primitive physics of the first tier. Within this context it is further argued that difficulty in the early development of the second tier of abstraction (and "number sense") is based on the more demanding attentional requirements imposed on cerebellar inner speech executive control during the learning of cerebellar inverse dynamics models. Finally, it is argued that finger counting improves (does not originate) "number sense" by extending focus of attention in executive control of silent cerebellar inner speech. Discussion: It is suggested that (1) the origin of mathematics has historically been an enigma only because it is learned below the level of conscious awareness in cerebellar internal models, (2) understandings of the development of "number sense" and developmental dyscalculia can be advanced by first understanding the ultimate foundations of number and mathematics do not simply originate in the cerebral cortex, but rather in cerebro-cerebellar collaboration (predominately driven by the cerebellum). Conclusion: It is concluded that difficulty with "number sense" results from the extended demands on executive control in learning inverse dynamics models associated with cerebellar inner speech related to the second tier of abstraction (numbers) of the infant's primitive physics.

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Vandervert, L. (2017). The Origin of Mathematics and Number Sense in the Cerebellum: With Implications for Finger Counting and Dyscalculia. Cerebellum and Ataxias, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40673-017-0070-x

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