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Keywords:

  • Spatial cognition;
  • Cognitive development;
  • Conceptual change;
  • Form perception;
  • Navigation

Abstract

For many centuries, philosophers and scientists have pondered the origins and nature of human intuitions about the properties of points, lines, and figures on the Euclidean plane, with most hypothesizing that a system of Euclidean concepts either is innate or is assembled by general learning processes. Recent research from cognitive and developmental psychology, cognitive anthropology, animal cognition, and cognitive neuroscience suggests a different view. Knowledge of geometry may be founded on at least two distinct, evolutionarily ancient, core cognitive systems for representing the shapes of large-scale, navigable surface layouts and of small-scale, movable forms and objects. Each of these systems applies to some but not all perceptible arrays and captures some but not all of the three fundamental Euclidean relationships of distance (or length), angle, and direction (or sense). Like natural number (Carey, 2009), Euclidean geometry may be constructed through the productive combination of representations from these core systems, through the use of uniquely human symbolic systems.