Darwin-L Message Log 6:22 (February 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<6:22>From asap@u.washington.edu  Sat Feb  5 17:41:55 1994

Date: Sat, 5 Feb 1994 15:39:55 -0800 (PST)
From: Andie Palmer <asap@u.washington.edu>
Subject: quinarianism
To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Regarding Peter Stevens' posting earlier today:

"The title of G. A. Miller's article in Psychol. Rev. 63: 81-
97. 1956 says it all:  "The magical number seven, plus or
minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing
information." "


"I haven't look at "folk" classifications from this point of
view, but my guess is that there is going to be some sort of
intersection of prototype theory as invoked by Berlin in his
recent "Principles of Ethnobiological Classification", at
least some of the variants of biological typological thought
(perhaps particularly Farber's "classification type
concept"), and these number systems."

Of interest in this area is the upcoming article:

Place Names, Population Density, and the Magic Number 500, by
Eugene Hunn, in Current Anthropology, Volume 35, Number 1,
February 1994, pp. 81-85.  (Pagination is given according to

Hunn's article presents some interesting ideas regarding the
constraints of human memory on categorization.  In
particular, Hunn examines the correlation between toponymic
(placename) density and population density for 10 Native
American groups (plus groups in Tonga and Australia) and
finds that " the relationship between population density and
toponymic density is mediated by individual memory, in
particular by an information-processing limitation that I
will call the magic number 500."  Individuals from each group
are found to have place-name repertoires close to 500,
whether from densely or sparsely populated areas, within
their respective territories.

I expect this interesting article to spur those
anthropologists and others working with Native American
languages to re-examine their own data sets of collected
place names with respect to Hunn's findings.  I mention this
regardless of the fact that the article's author is my
dissertation advisor!

Andie Palmer
Department of Anthropology, DH-05
Unviersity of Washington
Seattle, WA   98103

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