That old saying about monkey see, monkey do, has reached a new and amazing threshold. According to news sources,
a recent study reveals that monkeys can do simple mathematics. Even though human mathematical capabilities are unmatched within the animal kingdom, there is increasing evidence that at least some of these abilities are shared with other animals. For example, many animals can mentally distinguish which of two sets of dots is larger or smaller.
The scientists at Duke University tested two monkeys and 14 college students on a math task where they had to add two sets of dots together. They were each shown one set of dots on a computer touch-screen for a half-second, and then another set a half-second later. They were then shown two separate clusters of dots at the same time, one of which was the correct sum of the first two sets.
The monkeys were rewarded with Kool-Aid for choosing the right answers. According to researcher, Jessica Cantlon, a cognitive neuroscientist at Duke:
When I first began training the monkeys on the addition task, I thought I would have to wait for many weeks before they understood the task. We started the monkeys out on an easy version of the addition task, and the plan was to increase the difficulty of the problems gradually over time. But when I looked at the data from the first sessions, it turned out that the monkeys were already performing the easy problems very well, and so I had to scramble to program the more difficult version of the task.”
Off course, the college students fared better than the monkeys, scoring right 94 percent on average as compared to the monkey's 76 percent for the monkeys. Still, as their human counterparts, the more similar in size the two given choices were, the more difficulty the monkeys had in selecting the right answer. This clearly suggests that monkeys and humans were adding up numbers in their heads in a similar way.
"People might think that we are implying that monkeys can take out a paper and pencil and pass a college math exam, but we're not. We are saying that monkeys and humans use the same mental estimation process. This is important for both figuring out what makes our human minds evolutionarily similar to those of other species but also for figuring out what makes humans so uniqu
Is this enough to make us humble?
Speaking for myself and my particular set of math skills, I would have to say yes.
How about YOU?