Not a too far-fetched question, I fear…but I was just wondering, by any chance, has modern neuroscience discovered if any specific area of the human brain is responsible for math skills (like Broca’s Area is involved with language, or the hippocampus is involved with memory)?
I’m a little rusty in this area of study, I’m afraid, so I don’t know if there have been any recent discoveries, old established ones that I’m forgetting, or bizarre little Oliver Sacks stories that I overlooked.
Actually, I’d be more interested in knowing what area of the brain controls people being proud of not knowing mathematics when they wouldn’t be caught dead admitting they haven’t read a given famous literary work.
As you know, math has both a computational side and a visualizing side. Simple computation lives in the so-called angular gyrus on the left side of the brain at the junction of the parietal and temporal lobes, quite close to part of the language centre. Interestingly, damage to this area leads to not just acalculia, but also to Gerstmann’s Syndrome: acalculia, left-right confusion and finger agnosia (the inability to recognize and distinguish among the fingers) (and, despite what the Wiki link says, agraphia is not generally considered part of the syndrome).
On the other hand, spatial visualization seems to be dependent on the right parietal lobe and, to a lesser extent, the left one too (i.e. a much coarser localization than the relatively small angular gyrus). I haven’t found a concise link (yet).
Does this actually happen? Certainly people are unusually content to be ignorant of mathematics, and in particular to develop the mental stumbling block of thinking that they are somehow pathologically incapable of grasping math (rather like those who say “I can’t draw” rather than merely “I haven’t learnt or practiced to draw”), but are there really many people who take pride in this ignorance?
As for your nonconstructive proof of existence, I dare say, the brain being presumably finite, we could constructivize it with enough trial-and-error debilitating surgery (in the name of science!).
I once read about a lightening calculator who was a shepherd as a child, with little opportunity to speak and his speech was retarded. Later, after he grew up his speech became normal, but he lost his calculating ability. Something similar hapens to some autists. This suggests, at least, the possibility that some of the same brain centers are used for both.
For myself, me feeling is that my geometric visualization abilities are quite modest. Abstract algebra was what got me interested in algebra and it is still what interests me.