Lewis Thomas

"Ordinary language can be taken as a biological given; we are born with centers and circuits for making words and stringing them along in sentences that make sense to any listener. Mathematics is quite something else, not in our genes, not waiting in the wings of our minds for the proper time to begin speaking numbers. Numbers, their symbols and the ways of manipulating them into the outer spaces of abstraction have to be worked at, learned. To be sure, our sort of species has long required an agility with numbers for its plans to succeed and make progress as a social species, but meeting this imperative is not a gift we come by automatically, as we do with speech. The Indo European root for "mathematics', prophesying the whole future of the enterprise, was mendh, meaning learn. Not a root suggesting something natural, lying around in the world waiting to be picked up. On the contrary, a new, ungiven human activity, requiring lots of hard thought and hard work, even possibly, at the end of the day, unattainable. But mendh, learning something, also implies something peculiarly pleasurable for the human mind, with cognates carrying the meaning of awake, alert, wise, and eager."

__ Lewis Thomas in Et Cetera, Et Cetera