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7. Reasoning: Hacks 70–74 > 70. Use Numbers Carefully

Use Numbers Carefully

Our brains haven’t evolved to think about numbers. Funny things happen to them as they go into our heads.

Although we can instantly appreciate how many items comprise small groups (small meaning four or fewer [Count Faster with Subitizing]), reasoning about bigger numbers requires counting, and counting requires training. Some cultures get by with no specific numbers higher than 3, and even numerate cultures took a while to invent something as fundamental as zero. 1

So we don’t have a natural faculty to deal with numbers explicitly; that’s a cultural invention that’s hitched onto natural faculties we do have. The difficulty we have when thinking about numbers is most apparent when you ask people to deal with very large numbers, with very small numbers, or with probabilities [Think About Frequencies Rather than Probabilities].


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