The truth and the hundred monkey phenomenon

This post was written by admin on July 22, 2010
Posted Under: animal story,true story,untrue story

So the story goes:

In the nineteen sixties or seventies some Japanese behavioral biologists were conducting a research project on a group of monkeys which lived around the shores on a series of islands off Japan.

They fed the monkeys some kind of tuber roots (yams. sweet potatoes or something similar). The roots were not washed and covered by dirt from the ground. This made them less desirable to the monkeys.

However, soon some of the younger monkeys learned that they could drop the roots in the ocean water and the sand and grit would wash away and the food would be tastier. These adventurer younger monkeys taught the skill of washing the sand and grit off to the others in their tribes and even the elder monkeys learned the trick.

Slowly, the monkeys on the different islands learned to wash the tubers.

Until one day…

The original book wrote that “say” after ninety nine monkeys had learned the washing trick – the next day when the hundredth monkey had learned the trick the researchers had observed something totally unexpected and exiting. Even though some of the islands were hundreds of miles from the other, the next day every single monkey had learned the behavior. It was as though once a critical mass had learned the skill they all learned it through ESP or some other way.

The above story is the hundred monkey phenomenon.

The idea is that once enough people understand that peace, love, compassion and so on are the way, suddenly all will get the wonderful ideas.

Only one problem…

The story is not true. In fact when you examine the original paper, you notice that the elder monkeys typically learned the activity and then taught it to the younger ones in the tribe. There was no critical mass and suddenly the number of the animals which had learned the skill increasing.

I love the story if it was told as a metaphor, as a teaching story. In fact given modern media and Internet viral marketing and viral memes do take place. It is not through ESP or anything else but through technology and communication.

Moreover, we do affect the others near us. So if you go around smiling and being kind to others, they will smile more and tend to be kind.

My only complain is that many self improvement gurus retell this story even today (more than thirty years after the truth has been known by anyone who wishes to know) quote the story as scientific truth. But then there are human beings who believe every single word in a certain English translation of the bible is true…

As Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.”

Related Articles

Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.

Add a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.