Creativity · Our Subconscious

Why Is It That Some Africans Can’t Count Beyond Three?

There are brown goats, spotty ones and white ones - each goat is different. How then, can one count them as being the same?
Does this goat herder know how many goats he has?

A Lesson In Commodity.


There was a joke in Colonial times doing the rounds. It ran “They can only count ‘one, two, many’ ” to which there would be chorusses of laughter in the bar.

Now I have to admit that I cannot find much by way of information on this African tribe. There is a tribe in the Amazon, the Pirana who are equally numerically challenged – we won’t meet them later*. Back to Africa and this African tribe. What I heard was that they were goat herders; not only that, they keep goats in large numbers. No doubt, being serious goat herders, goat herding is something they do as little as possible. Not surprising when you can leave goats to do what they will – that is to say, eat anything – and you can enjoy the company of your friends under shady trees down in the valley. Guess what? A stock photo of African goats. Well, what did you expect? A Starbucks coffee shop?

Now these herders keep anything up to six hundred goats. That is rather a large number for a tribe who serially or plurally cannot count beyond two. Yet these herders can sit in the shade and enjoy the company of their friends, giving scant attention to their animals. A quick glance will tell them that all is fine.

Or not.

If a goat is missing, they will know at a glance. They will also know which one is missing. “Oh” says the European “but they know which goats are likely to stray, etc, etc” – but rationalizing in this way is to miss the point entirely. By the way, the people who raise such objections are those who find themselves challenged by new ideas and new thinking: it is a situation that encloses itself. A clearer understanding of this process is the key to modern ‘progressive’ diseases.

These tribes whilst illiterate are still intelligent people. This cannot be stressed enough: just because a person lacks an education does not make them stupid. Nor does it make them less than an person educated in intellectual sophistry. There is too much emphasis placed on being able to juggle terminology (sophistry) and too little on what the terminology actually means in reality. Again: this is the challenge to the intellectually trained person, and it is this very challenge they dismiss as irrelevant.

Because there is something about a human that in lacking one capacity, they get something else in return.

Uniqueness, Number and Quality

I want first to dig down into this first: a goatherd has innumerable goats, yet if one is missing, they will know which individual goat is missing. Their “oneness” and “twoness” seem to be a little more than our “one, two, three”.

Take a look at a goat. Just an ordinary goat. It has a head, tail, four feet and an appetite. You don’t need to know much more about goats than that save that they make good dinners. Take another look at the chap with his goats. They are all goats for sure; yet here are black ones, grey-brown ones, ones with spots. There are ones that look interested, and ones that don’t. Now tell me: are there two identical goats here?

No, there are not.

This may sound trivial, but let us consider the reality of this, for the seemingly trivial is anything but. The truly trivial is the person who dismisses such things as irrelevant or says one should look to science for the answer. Because if a goat is unique, it means that there are no others quite like it. Emphasize the differences, and suddenly you have a gathering of unique goats, not a goat herd. Can you understand the difference? Because the African herder that cannot count sees his goats not as goats, but as individual unique animals.

For us, an analogy would be: “how do I count ‘a house, the colour blue and a love affair’ as three things”? It makes no sense to group these things together – and this is the quality of thinking behind our African’s inability to count.

Let us look at a modern European farmer: their attitude to goats is “how much can I sell ten kilos of meat for?” I am being a little unkind here perhaps, but in essence that is “the bottom line” and no few farmers think of anything else. They need to make a profit in order to exist, don’t they? In a world fixed on the end – profit – the means have become trampled by the desire for the end itself. In short, the goat has become a commodity. A weight in kilos or tons, a value according to some future bought by a Chicago dealer. The dealer doesn’t care if the goat is brown, spotty or green.

They aren’t interested in the uniqueness of the animal, indeed such thoughts are as foreign to them as ‘four’ would be to our tribesman! These businessmen aren’t even interested in the dinner! They are only interested in the money – as sterile and blank as any Ahrimanic thinking you could wish for.

The reality of money is that is is the means in itself – not the end. We live in a world where the things one can buy with money are irrelevant. Money itself is the goal, yet if you run your business focussing on the profit, it will be in financial difficulties. That is a guarantee – and it is to be seen everywhere. When you understand that the key to good business is your knowledge of the means to achieving profits, and regarding profits in the manner of a harvest.

A human, packaged like a supermarket chicken. Most workers are bought and sold like this...
Human genius sold by the pound to people who can only think with muscle.

Because I warn you, you cannot eat money – and King Midas discovered that when he couldn’t eat gold.

What we are talking about here is commoditization. The reality of the term – and its abstract nature – are part and parcel of the way most modern people think. If you don’t think too hard, you are a commodity. Why? Because everyone else who doesn’t think too hard will treat you as a commodity. Why? Because they don’t know any different either. Nor do they care to look any further – and the reasons for this are explored in my series on the human Double (published on my private blog and available to friends only).

*Sorry, Piranas, you got written out. You can read about them in the New Scientist study here. Like all good Europeans, they completely miss the point. “Language may shape human thought” – oh, dear. If you have read the above, you might just know why. Language, thought and just about anything else depend on your perceptions. But perceptions are for another day. Sorry.


The Subconscious: Links To Other Parts In This Series.

Part 1 Why Some Africans Can’t Count Beyond Three.
Part 2 Doctor Jazz, Düsseldorf.
Part 3 Letting The Lizard Drive!
Part 4 The Lizard Brain Meets Its Match: Brian’s Fiat Panda.
Part 5 Snow White And The Railways.
Part 6 Enemies In The Boardroom.
Part 7 The Clock Ticks: The Unconscious Threshold.    (Published on my private blog)
Part 8 Milena Sees Witchcraft Everywhere.
Part 9 Frustration!
Part 10 What’s On Mina’s Mind Today?
Part 11 A First Peek At Autism.
Part 12 A Railway Waggon At The Roots Of Dementia?
Part 13 What’s It Like In There? Life With Dementia… (Published privately)
Part 14 The Evidence For Dementia.
Part 15 The Trouble With Alzheimer’s.
Part 16 The Man On Platform Two.