The Box Experiment

While surfing youtube the other day (which I’ve recently managed to pry open), I found an interesting video that I’ve been thinking about ever since.

Here are the links

The video starts as showing the sophistication of the chimp mind, and comparing it to that of a human child. A black plastic box is brought, and demonstrated in front of the chimp are the moves it has to make to get a hidden reward. A complex series of pushes, pulls, taps, that have to be done so the reward can be taken. The chimp does it flawlessly, and so do the children who are put through the same experiment.

The second part is much more sinister. The black box is replaced by a transparent one. Through it, you can see that there’s an obvious wooden obstacle between the top of the box and the reward at the bottom. Meaning, none of the movements you are doing at the top have any effect on the outcome. The biggest shock happens. The children, knowing the movements are pointless, keep doing them anyway, as they are exactly told. The chimpanzee however, goes “ahh hell”, ignores all the movements, and goes straight to the prize.

Conclusion: A chimp is smarter than a human baby.

Even bigger conclusion, our focus on imitating each other when childrenΒ  and learning through that, while kinda “anti-existentialist?”, is the reason we have society and culture in the first place, the reason we are the dominant species on the planet. Yes, sheeple built society, and you oh so aware and omniscient being, have the intellectual capacity of an ape.

We like being in groups where we all do the same thing, think the same way. We like imitating, and being imitated, it’s the way our species show a connection. It’s how nearly any social group or movement is founded. Does it make it a skill? Does this make people like me, who can never fit in or accept making something we see pointless, at a disadvantage rather than how we imagine ourselves to be?

I used to believe using rationality to cherry pick what you naturally see right from multiple sources is the way to go, but this video is making me rethink the whole idea.

What do you think, should imitation be celebrated?

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13 Comments on “The Box Experiment”

  1. Abdo Says:

    This is exactly what bothers me about us”humans” , that we always think and act inside the room of” what we saw and learned”.
    but here comes the question: are we able to “relatively” change this? i mean in order to not be stupid and follow stupid ideas and cultural traditions without even discussing them? isnt creativity simply the act of going out of this room, even though we are “designed” to stay within them?
    i liked those chimps πŸ™‚

    • seleucid Says:

      Man… I think we should start hanging out with those “no bullshit” chimps :P.

      But I still believe this experiment is a serious challenge to our way of thinking :/. It seems sometimes although we get out of the large circle, we fall into smaller ones again. Even if we create something, we either build a circle with us at the center, or our creation is ignored and forgotten.

      Big Question: Would humans, even with a mind this sophisticated, have been able to achieve anything without having this mentality?

  2. Rima Says:

    hey I agree with you we (human)like imitating, and being imitated. Great post and happy eid πŸ˜‰

  3. solange Says:

    Ability to imitate works for many because most humans feel reassured by those who seem similar and fearful of those who seem very different. I beleive one should be cautious of those who say what we like to hear. Hypocrisy seems to be a survival quality in this century. Those with the biggest egos get the best seats in the power chambers. For example : the behaviors of politicians: “think what you want, but say what people want to hear.otherwise be a dictator.” Thank you for sharing this information that gives a chance to think. The only ones believing humans re the superior race are humans.

    • seleucid Says:

      “Hypocrisy seems to be a survival quality in this century. Those with the biggest egos get the best seats in the power chambers.”

      Was there ever an age in which this wasn’t true?

      Other than that I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      • sol Says:

        one could argue that Jesus, Mohamed , Buddah etc accessed GREAT power being contrarians. They were the opposite of imitators. Whether they were hypocrites is another subject. Were they authoritarian? Keep writing, Seli. it’s a nice gift

  4. Well the answers to your questions depend on what your motive is. If your motive is to be and remain the dominant specie on the planet, then yippy for copycats! If it is self-propelled action and education with a focus on the individual rather than the group, then no it is not. Once again, I get into a conversation with you over the individual vs. the group.

    Imitation should be celebrated as an unfinished act. Ideally, we would teach our children to replicate the results that others have achieved and strive to find their own. We obviously don’t do that… we’re obviously teaching our children to be silly, although clinically speaking, authority trumps all in this sort of scenario.

    Exhibit A

    If we can create artificial lab Nazis by the sole fabrication of authority…

    • seleucid Says:

      Stanford prison and Milgram’s experiment reveal shocking truths.

      As how imitation can easily coerce people into doing crazy things? Who doesn’t see that every day. Come to my hospital if you want.

      I wonder that for people who have read and know about this, if the situation comes up again. Will you react differently?

  5. PS: the font on your header is completely illegible to those like me… for more on that, see the post I wrote on color blindness :@

  6. Haitham Al-Sheeshany Says:

    So chimps r way more adaptive and sophesticated than we r?! Nooooooooooooooooooooo πŸ˜€

    Is it b/c we rely a lot on authoratitave figures / role models? The kids were told to follow certain procedures and they complied!

    R we a creativity-hindered species! hmmmm

    *liked the comments πŸ™‚

  7. Haitham Says:

    Try searching “Kanzi” on youtube.

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