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Number sense and the calculating child: Measure, multiplicity and mathematical monsters

de Freitas, Elizabeth (2016) Number sense and the calculating child: Measure, multiplicity and mathematical monsters. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 37 (5). pp. 650-661. ISSN 0159-6306

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Children and animals of all kinds are said to develop some degree of number sense. The search for ‘number neurons’ and neural correlates of computational thinking aims to identify biological primitives to explain the emergence of number sense. This work typically looks for the sources of number sense in organisms, but one might extend this search and study the possibility of a calculating matter more generally. Such a speculative project explores the implications of the non-human turn within the posthumanities. In this paper, I draw primarily on the work of Vicky Kirby and Gilles Deleuze in order to focus on becomingmonster through calculation. I show how calculation, as a machinic and empirical act that both serves and troubles images of mathematical truth, has always played a unique role in the production of mathematical monsters. I then discuss calculating children who participate in abacus clubs and annual abacus competitions, calculating at inhuman rates with imaginary abacuses. I argue that a new materialist philosophy of immanence demands a radically new approach to number sense.

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