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Sumerian numbers question (original thread)

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  • Michael F. Lane
    I thank Marc and Chuck for the links to the interesting and useful articles by Høyrup. I am eager to read several of them. Having said that, I will add
    Message 1 of 13 , Oct 21, 2009
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      I thank Marc and Chuck for the links to the interesting and useful
      articles by Høyrup. I am eager to read several of them.

      Having said that, I will add humbly, and with all due respect, that I
      don't think anyone answered my question about the cognition of counting
      except with skepticism about whether we can know at all ("It's one thing
      to know what Sumerians meant, it's another thing to recover the contents
      of their minds").

      The suggestion that I wish to get to the hidden contents of their mind
      without recourse to meaning seems specious to me. We know what they meant
      because we can make logical inferences about *how* they meant. How else,
      for example, do we recognize a human language, on first encounter, as
      such, especially in unfamiliar discursive circumstances (e.g. newly found
      texts in the common sense of the word)? (Private language arguments are
      pointless.) In the present case, positing a basic capacity to count
      (entailing certain basic numerical relationships) in the face of patent
      evidence of counting is warranted, lest we fall into infinite regress (an
      act substituting for an act substituting for an act, .... etc., none of
      which is thought actually to involve a concept of number).

      In fact, it occurred to me that the Assyriologist who was so kind as to
      take notice of my remarks was proposing the arithmetical variant of the
      Schmandt-Besserat's argument about the origins of Sumerian writing, which,
      in my opinion, Glassner has lately pretty thoroughly torn to pieces on
      theoretical and empirical grounds (inter alia, "tokens" begging the
      question of the origins of iconism in early texts). (I'll confess, I am
      not au fait with counter-arguments to Glassner's.)

      In any case, again, I am grateful for the citations. They should prove
      useful for present purposes -- which do NOT include the zodiac, I hasten
      to add! :D

      All very best,

      Michael F. Lane
      Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County

      --
      Dr. Michael Franklin Lane
      Mycenaean Landscapes Project (MYLAPRO)
      Ancient Studies Department
      University of Maryland, Baltimore County
      Fine Arts Building, Room 452
      1000 Hilltop Circle
      Baltimore, MD 21250, USA
      Tel. +1-410-455-6265 / Fax +1-410-455-1660
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