Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Vice is Like a Monkey

I had a long talk the other night with old family friend the Logeyed Roman, during the course of which he told me an anecdote that very much struck me.

His father spent a number of years stationed over in the Pacific after World War II, and during that time was shown the local technique for hunting monkeys.

You took a coconut and drilled two holes in it just large enough to put a rope through. This allowed you to tie the coconut tightly to a tree. Then you drilled a larger hole, just barely large enough for an adult monkey to reach its hand into. Through this hole you poured a few handfulls of peanuts into the coconut, and then you sat back to wait.

A monkey would approach the coconut, put its hand in, grab a handful of peanuts, and then find that it could not withdraw its hand while holding the peanuts in its fist. While the monkey was struggling with this, the locals would approach and club it. As the humans approached, the monkey would scream hysterically and struggle to get free, but the one thing the monkey would not think to do, as death bore down on it, was to simply let go of the coveted peanuts so that it could pull its hand out and scamper up the tree.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I strongly suspect this is an urban legend. Stupid animals (like cows) might fall for something like this, but smart animals (like dogs) would know better. And monkeys are smart.

Of course, it still works as a parable.

Joel

Darwin said...

I did think about that for a while, though it's possible that the stress of having humans approach messes with the monkey's problem solving abilities.

Googling around a bit I find various people reporting versions of the story, with no one providing clear answers as to whether it's true or not. It also apparently appears in Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Repair.

Tim said...

So what you are saying is that a monkey is like a vice because it holds things really tight? That's great, but monkeys would probably mess up my workshop and harass the neighbors if they ever escaped. I think I'll just stick with my 6" bench mounted vice, thank you very much!

Sorry, but as soon as I read the title of this post I couldn't figure out for the life of me how a vice (the tool) was like a monkey. I guess I'm homonym impaired.

Brandon said...

They say raccoons sometimes fall for similar traps. The problem is not that raccoons are stupid (they're deviously clever animals); rather, it's that they're a bit one-track-minded. So they say, anyway; that might be folk fiction, too.

Anyway, it should perhaps be pointed out that you don't have to go to monkeys and raccoons to find intelligent animals in a trap of the same general sort. Just put a human child in a Chinese finger trap; there was a study done a while ago by some organization that showed that over sixty percent of American elementary school children were unable to escape from one, and many would start trying to tear the trap apart before it occurred to them to stop trying to pull their fingers out of the trap and instead try to push them in.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Something like this story happened to Homer Simpson. Illustrates your point, I think.

Anonymous said...

I checked. Neither Snopes nor The Straight Dope says anything about this. I guess it's just unknowable.

Joel

Ben Espen said...

I saw something exactly like this in the documentary Animals are Beautiful People.

Cody... said...

I actually remember seeing a documentary about something similar.

There was an Saharan tribe that would trap monkeys like this, then would feed them salt. After several hours, they would let the monkey loose. Why did they do this? When the monkey was let loose, it was quite thirsty. The nomadic tribe did not know where water was, but the monkey did. So they fed the monkey salt then followed it to water!