Monkeys and money

Okay, I’m not trying to position this blog as a resource for monkey news or anything, but this article is hilarious. It’s about teaching capuchin monkeys to use currency. This is the best line from the article:

The data generated by the capuchin monkeys, Chen says, ”make them statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.”

Ouch. Haha! Okay, that was taken out of context, but it’s still funny. Here’s some more info on the experiment:

It is sometimes unclear, even to Chen himself, exactly what he is working on. When he and Santos, his psychologist collaborator, began to teach the Yale capuchins to use money, he had no pressing research theme. The essential idea was to give a monkey a dollar and see what it did with it. The currency Chen settled on was a silver disc, one inch in diameter, with a hole in the middle — ”kind of like Chinese money,” he says. It took several months of rudimentary repetition to teach the monkeys that these tokens were valuable as a means of exchange for a treat and would be similarly valuable the next day. Having gained that understanding, a capuchin would then be presented with 12 tokens on a tray and have to decide how many to surrender for, say, Jell-O cubes versus grapes. This first step allowed each capuchin to reveal its preferences and to grasp the concept of budgeting.

Isn’t this basically what happened to humans? Certain humans invented money and then they had to convince all the other humans that money was valuable. Of course, if you’ve been reading my screeds on the Federal Reserve you’ll know that the “evolved” humans pulled a fast one. After having convinced us that money is valuable they removed the U.S. from the gold standard and put us on fiat currency. So essential, our money is worthless; it has no inherant value and it’s not backed by gold, silver or even copper. It’s paper. What kind of monkey games are we playing here?

Back to the article. It amused me to no end when the monkeys started going a little crazy in a very human manner. They start stealing money and the humans bribe them to get it back. Who’s testing who?

Once, a capuchin in the testing chamber picked up an entire tray of tokens, flung them into the main chamber and then scurried in after them — a combination jailbreak and bank heist — which led to a chaotic scene in which the human researchers had to rush into the main chamber and offer food bribes for the tokens, a reinforcement that in effect encouraged more stealing.

Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the monkeys’ true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)

He taught monkeys prostitituion! Boy, I bet he’s proud… er, well, maybe “proud” isn’t the word for it. Anyway, it’s a good article; check it out.


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