I gave choice to my niece of around 1 year that she could select one of the 2 packets of chocolates. One hand had 2 and the other one had 4. She was able to observe and choose the packet with more chocolates. Also, whenever given a choice she always chose toys or objects which were relatively bigger from each other. The case of my niece is not unique and the root to our perception of something big or more has been critical to our evolution. Humans were a hunter-gatherer society and it was necessary for survival to be able to identify trees bearing more fruit than the ones that bore less. The situations like this and many other throughout our evolution helped us develop a sense of number.
We never taught my niece counting or numbers or any other mathematical concept. How could we? She was only 1 year of age. These experiences show that there is something innate about the way we perceive and view numbers. And what does innate mean in mathematical understanding? Innate is the ability that the child is born with or which is present in the child from birth to understand the world and make a choice using the mathematics senses(he) is born with.
Noam Chomsky, a linguist put forth the idea of Language Acquisition Device which is hypothetically present in human beings when they are born. And research has shown that when human beings are born they have this device which helps them acquire the language that is spoken around them. Similar to this, there is some research that shows that children also do respond to mathematical clues given to them in earlier ages. For instance, when a toddler is shown some objects say; 2 pencils and then after that, a pencil is added, toddlers are more likely to respond differently and this shows that there is some innate knowledge that children have when they are born.
To better understand, if we talk about animals, they also have some mathematical sense when they are born. Like a horse cub who is lost in the forest can easily identify the appropriate way if there is 1 tiger on his left and 4-5 on his right. He would either find another way or choose the way with one tiger as the horse cub has this innate ability to differentiate 4 or more from 1.
Mathematics is innate in humans as well as in animals, but that doesn’t mean that they are fully equipped with mathematics. They just have a sense of mathematics and that too is a part of their unconscious self.