“Cheeky Monkey”

Last night, I watched by chance a programme in the BBC’s Natural World series called Cheeky Monkey.

Photo: Alice Wiegand on Wikimedia Commons.

This was a fascinating programme which explored intelligence, learning, culture and communication within monkey populations and between monkey species.

The ability of some monkeys to lie tied in with Robin Dunbar’s thoughts on man’s “theory of mind” – the ability to think through how others might react to something one says. The film showed monkeys exhibiting both second order and third order concepts of mind.

The learnt use of tools by monkeys in a variety of settings was also really interesting – it shows that (some) monkeys were thinking about things they couldn’t see – visualising the outcome of using the tools, including weapons.

All in all, I couldn’t help thinking that anthropomorphising about monkeys might not be anthropomorphising at all – maybe they really are thinking what we think they might be thinking!


2 thoughts on ““Cheeky Monkey”

  1. Sam Dixon

    I believe you may have been deluded by fancy editing and misled by the noble DA!
    It was the editing which implied the macaque’s were sad for their leader’s death – it was meant to tug on our heartstrings…

    And the lying monkey? The one who supposedly “worked out” that he can pretend there’s a predator to keep food to himself? Ockham’s Razor dictates that scientists can only make the simplest assumptions – the monkey may just be mastering cause and effect.
    Imagine if he accidentally mistakes something for a snake and calls out – when he realises he’s wrong he stays on the floor eating and notices how he gets to eat more. Eventually he’ll decide that calling snake when there is none means more food – it’s not the great intellectual feat they would have us believe.

    See my statements here.

  2. patrickhadfield Post author

    I was also thinking of the example of potential adultery amongst a large troop of monkeys – the female (from a “harem”) and younger male were trying to deceive the watchful older male, and then (again, possibly in the editing) appeared to deny their subterfuge.

    But you’re right – maybe I was just being anthropomorphic, and seeing what I was looking for!


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