September 16, 2015

The 100th Monkey

It has come to my attention that many of you are not aware of the 100th Monkey effect! Wow, so sorry. As I said in an earlier blog Finding A Thread; there seem to be these “hundredth monkey” events. Although this “effect” has essentially been shown to be a wives tale. The concept has become a sort of “urban legion” through its rather odd mythical staying power. Let’s take a look.

The story goes that in the early 1950s, some scientists observing macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima found that a troop of monkeys learned to clean sweet potatoes and the behavior spread quite rapidly to the younger generation which is an observation that frequently occurs in these sorts of studies. However, the twist to  the 100th monkey story was that our scientist had been reported claiming that when a certain, large enough, number of monkeys in the troop on Koshima was reached (the 100th monkey) members of troops of monkeys on other disconnected islands were also “suddenly aware” of the sweet potato cleaning behavior.

100th Monkey Effect

Monkeys cleaning sweet potatoes. “100th monkey effect.”

It was later thought that this “theory” was merely a series of misquotes and false story telling that led to the tales of the effect. However, the phenomenon maintains a sort of mythical presence.  A way of expressing an “enlightenment” kind of expansion of knowledge.

Examples: Golden Rule and Middle Way

I gave the example of the Golden Rule in Finding a Thread. I can show another example as well; this time our players are Confucius, Aristotle and Siddhartha Gautama (Gautama Buddha). All geographically disconnected with little chance for any cultural diffusion, yet all three are also teaching the concept of the “Middle Way”.

It is said that when Siddhartha finally realized that strict asceticism was not getting him any closer to enlightenment, he pulled back towards the middle way – a place in the middle. History tells us that once he came back to the middle he attained enlightenment (Buddha). Confucius and Aristotle were both teachers of the Middle Way.  Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics is a treatise on the concept of the Middle Way. Confucius taught extensively about reaching and staying within the Middle Path.

GOLDEN RULE – A 100th Monkey concept?

The truth is that most of us understand rapidly the concept that is being conveyed once we hear the story. I had heard the story many years ago and thought it was well known. The funny thing is that this “effect” has been researched and written about since the early 1970s. So really there is no real truth the concept. However, when I explain the effect to someone claiming to be unaware they will normally concede that they have experienced the effect and understand the concept.

The more I talk about the Golden Rule, the more I have come to realize that it isn’t as well known as I first thought. In Finding a Thread; the point about the Golden Rule was, how does one explain the events surrounding the Golden Rule. Three individuals, living at about the same time in history, living in separate geographic locations, with different cultures and language and writing systems (neither Confucius, nor Gautama Buddha wrote their own material) all teach principles nearly identical to one another. Seems rather odd that this sort of knowledge is so widely dispersed without some kind of “guidance”. Or a 100th Monkey! I have given two examples there are many, many others.

What is your conclusion?