The hundredth macaca

Raising awareness. Has there ever been an activity more utterly fucking pointless? If you want to do something to fix, say, breast cancer, you could become a doctor or a biochemist or something. You could give money to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Or, you know, ask your mom if she’s had a breast exam lately (go on. She’s bound to be really touched by your thoughtfulness instead of totally creeped out and a little scared). But surely there is no one on the whole fucking planet stupid enough to believe that simply being aware of the existence of breast cancer is going to help in any way.

Ho ho. Never underestimate the reach, the breadth, the staying power, the sheer heart-stopping stupidity of a thirty-year-old brain-dead New Age hippie idea.

Once upon a time — some time in the ’50s, in fact — Japanese monkey scientists (primatologists, not apes in lab coats) were studying Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) on the island of Koshima. They did this by dumping yams on the beach. Because the best way to study animal behavior in the wild is to introduce something foreign and unnatural.

When yams were dumped on the beach, they got covered in sand. The monkeys loved them some yams, but hated the sand. I mean, sure. Who likes sandy yams? So one day, this one girl genius monkey figured out how to wash her yams in the sea. Wooo! Clean yams! She taught her peers, who taught their peers, and the idea slowly spread across the island.

The story so far is true.

Now enter Lyall Watson, Ph.D, botanist, zoologist, biologist, anthropologist, ethologist, dipstick. He read this research and discovered the following thing in it that was not there. Monkeys taught one another to wash yams, yes, up until a certain hypothetical number of monkeys had learned in this way. Ninety nine, let us say. When the 100th monkey learned to wash its yams, something wonderful happened: suddenly, instantly, every monkey on the island knew how to wash yams! And on the nearby islands! Hell, we can’t be sure, but maybe every monkey in the world got voodoo intelligenced, bang — like that — with the magic monkey yam-washing mojo, already!

And there you have it. The Hundredth Monkey Effect. The birth of a monster. Awareness as a commodity. Patient Zero for the infectious belief that sitting around on your fat ass being aware of something is helping in any way — and, hey — if you make other people aware of something, it’s like the Amway of voodoo monkey yam-washing mojo!

Ken Keyes, founder of the the Living Love Center in Berkeley (so, you know, he’s got some credibility there), picked it up next and wrote a book called The Hundredth Monkey that you — you lucky macaca — can read for free on the internet. It’s about how we’ll save ourselves from flaming eyeball-melting nuclear catastrophe by being aware of the possibility of it. I shit you not.

Rupert Sheldrake, who took a first class honors degree in biochemistry at the University of Cambridge but then switched to pseudoscience because there weren’t enough unicorns and goblins in regular science, used the 100th Monkeys thing to support his notion of morphic resonance. Which is “the idea of mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species” plus I think there are vibrating monkey voodoo yam-washing unicorns in there somewhere.

It never happened, of course. The hundred monkey thing. It’s not in the original research. Watson claimed it was based on conversations with the scientists, who were embarrassed to report such a thing, but none of the scientists have backed him up. Then he said it was an original metaphor.

Y’uh-huh. I’ve used the “metaphor” gambit, too.

So? It’s a nice metaphor, so what’s the problem? Well, the problem is, it’s NOT TRUE. It’s happy clappy hippie bullshit. Bullshit is like the carbon monoxide of ideas; it lethally elbows truth out of the way. In comes bullshit, out goes information. True things are always more useful and important to know than bullshit, because decisions made on facts have a chance of doing what you want them to.

Because while you’re sitting around congratulating yourself on the fabulous contribution you’re making with your mind, you’re doing absolutely nothing to fix breast cancer or AIDS or domestic abuse or whatever problem is stuck in the leftist hive mind this week.

Understand now, Moonbeam?


  1. Posted December 13, 2006 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    What the data did show was that young monkeys readily took to yam washing, but older monkeys (especially males, who lived apart from the group) did not. Gradually, though, the non-yam-washing monkeys died out, and the monkeys who had learned as children kept it up, until all monkeys washed yams. Max Plank said that new ideas don’t replace old ones by convincing the scientific establishment, they just survive until all the old farts die out (those may not have been his exact words).

    Now, that’s something worth knowing. Because it’s TRUE.

  2. Posted December 15, 2006 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    World Orgasm Day passed and I didn’t feel a twitch at all. You would think some of those busty moonbat babes banging for Gaia would have been able to send a few Orgone Rays my way – but nooooo, it didn’t happen.

    Q.E.D. This resonance thing is bullshit.

  3. Posted December 15, 2006 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I’ve never heard of the “Hundredth Monkey” thing, but I have encountered Rupert Sheldrake and his “morphic resonance” before. There was a series on The Learning Channel back in the mid-90’s about some of the more speculative areas of scientific theories and their proponents, and Sheldrake was one of them. He didn’t reference yam washing monkeys in his explanation of his theory, but he did talk about crossword puzzles and clever cream-stealing birds. He also mentioned that he had some interest from one Japanese computer company that was considering hiring him to direct a research program into proving his theory and developing practical applications from it. But that was in the before the tech-bubble burst and people were flinging money at all kinds of stuff.

    Having said all that, I’m not sure that the various efforts of “Raising Awareness” about this-or-that issue or cause is actually related to the “Hundredth Monkey Effect”. Perhaps it was in the early days, but present-day the term Raising Awareness has been wholly taken over by the mainstream advertising industry, to the effect where the current meaning is almost completely uncoupled from that past definition. Almost in the sense that the thoeretical morphic resonance field is replaced in actuality with a constant real-world advertising resonance field. The concept has been embraced, just not the delivery method.

    I work for an organization that recently contracted with the ad company that came up with the “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas” campaign. Was your awareness of Las Vegas as a potential vacation destination raised by this campaign?

  4. Posted December 15, 2006 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Ha! I just found your comment gummed up in the Akismet spam filter, Enas Yorl. I wonder what made it think you were a bot. The reference to advertising, maybe?

    I have received a ringing defense of Sheldrake, but I still maintain that a sensible person’s reactions on hearing the 100th Monkey hypothesis is going to be, “that didn’t happen.” If you’re firing on all available cylinders, you need a claim that strange proved to you, not disproved for you.

    I am, perhaps, more aware of Vegas. I am no more likely to go there, however.

  5. Posted December 15, 2006 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Ah, thanks for fishing that out – I thought that I did something wrong and it was lost to the void. Understand though that what I wrote is no defence of Sheldrake or his thoery. I don’t know enough about him or his methodologies to fairly evaluate either. As for strange claims, I know that some VERY strainge claims associated with Quantum Physics are nonetheless generally accepted by the scientific community. I also know that Einstien went to his grave disputing the very cental tenants of QT and trying to come up with something better. In my own reading and thinking about the Great Mysteries encountered in Math & Science I’ve come to the conclusion that we live in a very strange universe and that the strangeness goes all the way up, and all the way down! :-D

    Keep up the great blog, Mr. Weasel! I’m glad I encountered it.

  6. Posted September 23, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Hey everybody, How do I become a distributor for Amway.

  7. Posted November 11, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Приветствую Вас. Вот меня, как консультанта из РБ, волнует вопрос о отношении к нам, так сказать к тем, кто только начинает свою карьеру… Говорят, что в других регионах в случае праздников, консультантов поздравляют, дарят что-то ценное, а не обходятся банальной открыткой, как это делается у нас… Ведь это же бесспорно и приятно и понимаешь, что тебя хотя бы каплю, но уважают. Расскажите, как у Вас с этим?

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