Science Among the Trees
The New Haven Times Circular reports that one Laurent Sandborn has at last
resolved the question of intelligence among the primates, or among the
non-human ones at any rate. It seems that Dr. Sandborn has recently returned
from the wilds of Puerto Rico, where he has spent the last year studying a
colony of Rhesus Macaque monkeys. Dr. Sandborn describes a battery of
experiments in which the monkeys earned grapes as a reward for displaying
cognitive prowess, incontrovertible evidence, he says, of intelligence. Now,
I say that if a monkey can convince grown men to spend a year peeling
grapes, we have all the evidence of intelligence we need. However, Dr.
Sandborn insists that the details are significant, and who are we to argue
with the dictates of science? Even its casual suggestions sometimes get the
best of me.
Once Dr. Sandborn's team of scientists had established relations with the
monkeys, which is to say once they established themselves as
grape-providers, things fell into a friendly routine. The scientists would
appear each morning with some sort of test, and the monkeys would spend the
day figuring it out and eating grapes, with a break at three for tea and
scones all around.
The tests started with simple concepts such as mathematical ability. The
scientists hid several grapes in a bed of straw, winking knowingly at the
watching monkeys as they performed a complicated ritual of addition and
subtraction that left, say, three grapes hidden. Then the monkeys were
allowed to search out the hidden treats. No fools, these monkeys, they dug
through the straw until every grape (and not a few beetles) had been
recovered. Dr. Sandborn's team, not to be outdone in cleverness, immediately
wrote up the results and submitted them to the journal Nature for
Over time, the team moved from mathematics into subjects such as geometry,
engineering, and higher ethics. Dr. Sandborn reports that his hosts were
nothing if not gracious, and he hopes to see them again next year. Perhaps
they will return the visit at his home over the summer holidays.