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The hundredth-monkey effect is a supposed phenomenon in which a learned behavior spreads instantaneously from one group of monkeys to all related monkeys once a critical number is reached. By generalization it means the instantaneous, paranormal spreading of an idea or ability to the remainder of a population once a certain portion of that population has heard of the new idea or learned the new ability. The story behind this supposed phenomenon originated with Lawrence Blair and Lyall Watson, who claimed that it was the observation of Japanese scientists. One of the primary factors in the promulgation of the myth is that many authors quote secondary, tertiary or post-tertiary sources who have themselves misrepresented the original observations.

Contents

Popularization of the claim

The story of the “Hundredth Monkey Effect” was published in the foreword to Lawrence Blair's Rhythms of Vision in 1975.[1] The claim spread with the appearance of Lifetide, a 1979 book by Lyall Watson. In it, Watson repeats Blair's claim. The authors describe similar scenarios. They state that unidentified scientists were conducting a study of macaques monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima in 1952.[2] These scientists purportedly observed that some of these monkeys learned to wash sweet potatoes, and gradually this new behavior spread through the younger generation of monkeys—in the usual fashion, through observation and repetition. Watson then claimed that the researchers observed that once a critical number of monkeys was reached—the so-called hundredth monkey—this previously learned behavior instantly spread across the water to monkeys on nearby islands.

This story was further popularized by Ken Keyes, Jr. with the publication of his book The Hundredth Monkey. Keyes' book was about the devastating effects of nuclear war on the planet. Keyes presented the “Hundredth Monkey Effect” story as an inspirational parable, applying it to human society and the effecting of positive change. Since then, the story has become widely accepted as fact and even appears in books written by some educators.

The original research

In 1985, Elaine Myers re-examined the original published research in “The Hundredth Monkey Revisited” in the journal In Context. In her review she found that the original research reports by the Japan Monkey Center in Vol. 2, 5, and 6 of the journal Primates are insufficient to support Watson’s story. In short, she is suspicious of the existence of “Hundredth Monkey” phenomenon; the published articles describe how the sweet potato washing behavior gradually spread through the monkey troupe and became part of the set of learned behaviors of young monkeys, but she doesn’t agree that it can serve as an evidence for the existence of a critical number at which the idea suddenly spread to other islands.

However, the story as told by Watson and Keyes is popular among New Age authors and personal growth gurus and has become an urban legend and part of New Age mythology. Also, Rupert Sheldrake has cited that a phenomenon like the "Hundredth Monkey Effect" would be an evidence of Morphic fields bringing about non-local effects in consciousness and learning. As a result, the story has also become a favorite target of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and was used as the title essay in The Hundredth Monkey: And Other Paradigms of the Paranormal published by them in 1991.

In his book Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer explains how the urban legend started, was popularised, and has been discredited.

The effect discredited

An analysis of the appropriate literature by Ron Amundson, published by the Skeptics Society, revealed several key points that demystified the supposed effect.

Unsubstantiated claims that there was a sudden and remarkable increase in the proportion of washers in the first population were exaggerations of a much slower, more mundane effect. Rather than all monkeys mysteriously learning the skill it was noted that it was predominantly younger monkeys that learned the skill from the older monkeys through the usual means of imitation; older monkeys who did not know how to wash tended not to learn. As the older monkeys died and younger monkeys were born the proportion of washers naturally increased. The time span between observations was in the order of years.

Claims that the practice spread suddenly to other isolated populations of monkeys ignore the fact that at least one washing monkey swam to another population and spent about four years there. It is also to be noted that the sweet potato was not available to the monkeys prior to human intervention: it is not at all surprising that isolated populations of monkeys started to wash potatoes in a similar time frame once they were made available.

Cultural references

This phenomenon is referenced in the comic Y: The Last Man and is suggested to be related to the phenomenon that is at the core of the series (the sudden, simultaneous death of almost every male mammal on the planet).

Karl Pilkington mentioned it in one of his monkey news items on the Ricky Gervais Show, XFM, on the 16th of August 2003.

Michael Ruppert mentions the story in the 2009 documentary film Collapse. However, in his story the potatoes are mentioned as coconuts and the reason for washing them was residual radioactivity from a nuclear testing site. The monkeys were placed on the site to see the effects of nuclear fallout and the probability of sustained existence. His version of the story has a greater impact on the movie's and his own personal agenda(s).

Sources

See also

External links

References

  1. ^ Blair, Lawrence. Rhythms of Vision: The Changing Patterns of Belief. London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1975: 1.
  2. ^ Blair, unlike Watson does not assign the date 1952 to the observations.
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