New Civilization News: Monkey Business    
 Monkey Business5 comments
picture 6 Jun 2005 @ 21:54, by Flemming Funch

Article in New York Times about an economist who does economic experiments with monkeys. And he finds that they behave like people in many ways.
Two monkeys faced each other in adjoining cages, each equipped with a lever that would release a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. The only way for one monkey to get a marshmallow was for the other monkey to pull its lever. So pulling the lever was to some degree an act of altruism, or at least of strategic cooperation.

The tamarins were fairly cooperative but still showed a healthy amount of self-interest: over repeated encounters with fellow monkeys, the typical tamarin pulled the lever about 40 percent of the time. Then Hauser and Chen heightened the drama. They conditioned one tamarin to always pull the lever (thus creating an altruistic stooge) and another to never pull the lever (thus creating a selfish jerk). The stooge and the jerk were then sent to play the game with the other tamarins. The stooge blithely pulled her lever over and over, never failing to dump a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. Initially, the other monkeys responded in kind, pulling their own levers 50 percent of the time. But once they figured out that their partner was a pushover (like a parent who buys her kid a toy on every outing whether the kid is a saint or a devil), their rate of reciprocation dropped to 30 percent -- lower than the original average rate. The selfish jerk, meanwhile, was punished even worse. Once her reputation was established, whenever she was led into the experimenting chamber, the other tamarins "would just go nuts," Chen recalls. "They'd throw their feces at the wall, walk into the corner and sit on their hands, kind of sulk."

He also learned that the monkeys might cheat or steal to get what they want. And they might think of new kinds of exchanges, like paying for sex, or trying to pass on counterfeit coins. And they would make the same kind of irrational choices as humans tend to, like making certain choices, when presented with a gamble, which seem emotionally satisfying, but which might not be rational.
When taught to use money, a group of capuchin monkeys responded quite rationally to simple incentives; responded irrationally to risky gambles; failed to save; stole when they could; used money for food and, on occasion, sex. In other words, they behaved a good bit like the creature that most of Chen's more traditional colleagues study: Homo sapiens.

Now, this is all a somewhat touchy subject with economists, because economic theory traditionally assumes that it is only humans who can act economically, based on our ability to think rationally. Which is probably a bunch of crap, as humans don't think very rationally half the time, and most economic choices aren't rational. Might very well have a lot more to do with being conditioned. You want this tasty banana (car, tv, house), push this button (go downtown and push papers around all day).

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6 Jun 2005 @ 23:16 by bushman : Hmm
Bannanas for sex, Ill have to try that one, lol.  

7 Jun 2005 @ 17:19 by Chris Hagglund @ : Money messing with monkeys
This study makes me think about contemporary society. If introducing money into a monkey society causes them to get all f***ed up and do strange and irrational things, one must wonder if its not primarily the money causing the same whackiness in humans. I would like to engage in an experiment to live life without using money for a while. Not sure how to start that since I need shelter and food and it seems the only way to get those is by using money. There must be a way. Or hell I'll have to blaze the trail and make the way.  

7 Jun 2005 @ 19:13 by ming : Money and irrationality
That's a good point. Rather than the money system being representative of our rational choices, it might well be one of the major factors that skews our rationality and makes us feel forced into making choices we wouldn't make otherwise.

Well, it is. Most people would not at all do the things they dedicate most of their lives to, if they had a choice. Most jobs have very little to do with what people freely would choose to do. They don't represent what we find most valuable to do. They don't represent the best investment of our efforts. They don't represent what is most needed to do.

The hard part is how to provide any alternative, as we're so very stuck in the money system, that we can't eat or have a place to live without it.

We need a clever slight of hand trick that provides some money-free solution that happens to be a better economic choice than using money. Finding ecomical ways of giving things away for free would be one piece. Like, again, open source software. It is mostly free, it is usually better, it is cheaper to own, and one can still base many businesses on facilitating its production and distribution.  

8 Jun 2005 @ 03:23 by astrid : Dear ming,
some article you have here!... Remember the Crocodile Dundee, when out in the Outback and the pouchers came to hunt Kangoroo and Mick took a kangoroo and held the gun making it look as if it was the kangoroo who held the gun and the pouchers in their big PickUp/Landrover (?) saw the kangoroo with the gun shitting in their pants and couldn't get out of there fast enough!!!..... and they all were in their vehicle, for crying out loud!.... but that just shows how scared Man really is for Animals accessing any of their inherent power, let alone use that power against Man with the means Man has come up with that Animals are not supposed to be able to use!.... an unfair/uneven power game to begin with where the Animal is made the loser before the duel even got started!...
Now... let the monkey learn all about the money; it's all "monkey business" anyway!
I will post an article in my blog where I talk a little more about this whole thing... sooo.  

9 Jun 2005 @ 13:56 by the chick @ : auroville
Hi Chris - have you heard of the society in Auroville? (in India) They live essentially on a trade/barter system, with virtunally no money.  

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