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Journal Article

Mathematical logic in the human brain: Syntax


Friedrich,  Roland
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;


Friederici,  Angela D.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Friedrich, R., & Friederici, A. D. (2009). Mathematical logic in the human brain: Syntax. PLoS ONE, 4(5): e5599. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005599.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0010-C54C-A
Theory predicts a close structural relation of formal languages with natural languages. Both share the aspect of an underlying grammar which either generates (hierarchically) structured expressions or allows us to decide whether a sentence is syntactically correct or not. The advantage of rule-based communication is commonly believed to be its efficiency and effectiveness. A particularly important class of formal languages are those underlying the mathematical syntax. Here we provide brain-imaging evidence that the syntactic processing of abstract mathematical formulae, written in a first order language, is, indeed efficient and effective as a rule-based generation and decision process. However, it is remarkable, that the neural network involved, consisting of intraparietal and prefrontal regions, only involves Broca's area in a surprisingly selective way. This seems to imply that despite structural analogies of common and current formal languages, at the neural level, mathematics and natural language are processed differently, in principal.