An acquaintance of mine is a world renowned expert on monkeys. He told me a story about an experiment dealing with recognition and relationships in monkeys that I found hilarious, until I thought of how I would feel if it was my girlfriend behaving so brazenly in the playground. Then I felt kind of empathetic to my little hairy faced bi-pedal cousin.
A group of primate researchers (I wanted to say eminent primatologists but I thought it sounded too over the top.) were studying monkeys. (What else, us?) They were trying to determine whether monkeys could tell the difference between their own image in a mirror or a photograph and an image of other monkeys. Can they connect the dots as to who’s who in the zoo? On the surface this looks fairly straightforward. Certainly not something I’d particularly want to dedicate my life’s work to resolving. However, when you sit and think about it, while eating a nice ripe banana, you can begin to see the depth of the question. Association between objects, images or symbols can be tricky. It takes kids years to actually understand what a mirror is reflecting, or how a photograph captures a likeness of the subject, not the actual thing. Anyway, onward, before I go and sit in a tree picking unmentionables from my beloved’s downy little tummy hairs.
It was finally decided to use live video cameras for the experiment strategically placed throughout the monkey’s living compound. Some cameras would be situated outside to capture them at rest or at play as a group. Other cameras would be placed inside a locked room. The idea was to take the Alpha male from the group and lock him inside the room where he could sit and watch a television screen. He had been taught to push a button to start and stop the video. Unfortunately the only program he could watch was a previously taped video of his girlfriend having random sex with a couple of his subordinate male buddies. Although everything seemed peachy while he was in the yard defending his lady’s virtue, it all quickly fell apart as soon as he was out of sight. (They could have rubbed salt in his emotional wounds by playing Charlie Pride’s old country classic, “What Goes On Behind Closed Doors” but that might have been too much stimulation. He could have just up and had a stroke.) They wanted to determine whether he would actually recognize his girlfriend and her two gigolo lovers from the pictures on the screen. Well needless to say he watched that program over and over and over. He pushed the button, sat on it, stomped on it and eventually attempted chewing it to smithereens. I think he may have tried putting his balled up fist right through the TV screen. He was pissed!
Then the scientists opened the locked door and let old banana breath back into the general population. He made a straight B-line to his girlfriend, little Miss Innocence sitting chatting with gal friends, and gave her a couple of smacks up the side of the head. He now sought out the two Romeos, conveniently hiding in the farthest corners of the compound. He proceeded to beat the royal crap out of them both. After this he stomped back into the room, closed the door and started the TV up again. Obviously the same program came on. Unfortunately for all concerned this had the same effect on our hero. (At this stage I would have tried to intervene, but I’m not an eminent primatologist, I’m just a guy caught between feelings of sympathy for the jilted lover and empathy for the two cads skulking around the playground. They may have truly believed this whole escapade to be nothing more than a little harmless fun.) Another whipping ensued, perhaps even more violent than the first. (I suppose a cuckold’s hurt had quickly turned to insult after the second screening.)
So you might be asking “What’s the point?” (You’re obviously not an eminent primatologist either.)
The only lesson I see is that monkeys act like us in more ways than one.