animals and numbers, 112, near where the tree used to be

take a bow. This is not Clever Hans the counting Arabian stallion mention in this article – Animals that count: How numeracy evolved. Hans turned out not to have all the computational powers claimed by his owner, but horses have been proved to have the ability to differentiate between quantities.

“The ability to represent time and space and number is a precondition for having any experience whatsoever,” says Randy Gallistel, a psychologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Of course, without language or a precise symbolic system to represent numbers, animal numerical abilities will never reach human levels. No chimpanzee will ever learn long division, but with enough practice almost any human can master the challenge.

What animals like salamanders and horses can do to various degrees is tell the difference between quantities of things. Salamanders can tell the difference, in large ratios, between one container of insects and another. Humans also have that same first impression, leaping between differences in quantity first. The larger the difference, say between two containers of jellybeans, the longer it takes for us to determine. Which in turn composes part of how we describe and remember our life experiences. Salamanders aren’t going to catch up with us any time soon, but they’re on that first evolutionary step toward more complex computations. Bees are able to tell the difference between geometric shapes – up to 4. Not a bad skill to have if you’re constantly orienting yourself to your surroundings in order to find food or your way back home.


This caught my eye because when I retire as much as I’d prefer coastal South Carolina or coastal Georgia – despite the nearby nuke, the cost of living might be such that I’ve considered Costa Rica or the west coast of Mexico. Out of habit I’ve referred to America’s social safety net, but what we really have is a few threads. As many people that have worked hard and saved have found out, stuff happens that is beyond your control and that nest egg  becomes awfully small or disappears altogether.  Maybe things will go well and I’ll get something close to my retirement dream, but just in case I’m considering my options now. Though the way Costa Ricans give directions might take some getting used to, How to Navigate in Costa Rica—Good Luck

Indeed most addresses in Costa Rica are given in relation to a known monument. Where’s the pharmacy? It’s 20 metres north of the jazz café. Where’s the jazz café? It’s 10 metres north of the church. Where’s the church? Why, it’s just across from the old fig tree of San Pedro, of course. But where the hell is this damn tree? I deduced that most addresses given in San Pedro—the upscale suburb of San José where I was renting a room—were dictated in relation to the old tree – this tree seemed to be the key to unlocking the entire navigational system of the area.

To find anything, Gourgy first needed to locate the fabled tree for a point of reference—but she searched endlessly. Finally a taxi driver clued her in on one very crucial secret: “The tree, of course, it’s no longer standing. Now we just give directions from where the tree used to be.”