Human Evolutionary Success Tied To Innate Need to Slavishly Imitate
By Elaine Meinel Supkis
Scientists discover that chimps can rationally take short cuts while humans, once exposed to a time wasting methodology, will slavishly imitate this despite being able to see there is a short cut. This reveals how prone our minds are to imprinting. Ask any propagandist about this. Or Madison Avenue!
From the NYT:
I got to this article via Battlepanda. Although I comb the web for material, it is awfully easy to miss something which is why visits to other bloggers is most useful.
Mr. Lyons explained how his study might shed light on human evolution. His study would build on a paper published in the July issue of the journal Animal Cognition by Victoria Horner and Andrew Whiten, two psychologists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Dr. Horner and Dr. Whiten described the way they showed young chimps how to retrieve food from a box.
The box was painted black and had a door on one side and a bolt running across the top. The food was hidden in a tube behind the door. When they showed the chimpanzees how to retrieve the food, the researchers added some unnecessary steps. Before they opened the door, they pulled back the bolt and tapped the top of the box with a stick. Only after they had pushed the bolt back in place did they finally open the door and fish out the food.
Because the chimps could not see inside, they could not tell that the extra steps were unnecessary. As a result, when the chimps were given the box, two-thirds faithfully imitated the scientists to retrieve the food.
The team then used a box with transparent walls and found a strikingly different result. Those chimps could see that the scientists were wasting their time sliding the bolt and tapping the top. None followed suit. They all went straight for the door.
The researchers turned to humans. They showed the transparent box to 16 children from a Scottish nursery school. After putting a sticker in the box, they showed the children how to retrieve it. They included the unnecessary bolt pulling and box tapping.
The scientists placed the sticker back in the box and left the room, telling the children that they could do whatever they thought necessary to retrieve it.
The children could see just as easily as the chimps that it was pointless to slide open the bolt or tap on top of the box. Yet 80 percent did so anyway. "It seemed so spectacular to me," Mr. Lyons said. "It suggested something remarkable was going on."
Humans are "crazy apes." Namely, our brains don't work like a monkey's brain in certain specific and unusual ways. One of the strongest forces in the human mind is the ability to ritualistically follow a set order of things but obvious and not so obvious. Namely, we do and learn many things reflexively and once learned, we tend to want to stick to it which is why changing one's habits is extremely troublesome and in many cases, impossible.
Ask any therapist!
Humans that imprinted swiftly and thoroughly had more survivors than those who had to rationalize and think through things all the time. But of course, as per always in evolution, the rationalizers were not eliminated, only marginalized. Less than a quarter of the population.
Now, quick, how many "original thinkers" pop up in our mass of humanity? See? Of them, a great number are "insane" because their rationalizations have no connection with any useful reality. Sometimes, the insane are successful due to historic forces. People like Jesus, for example. Anyone acting like him today would be shut up in an asylum.
Humans are so set on imprinting bizarre processes upon their own young they have managed to extend this deep into the animal world. I have spend rather a few hours making Sparky, my horse, do things he rationally knows are stupid, from his point of view. Carry a human on the back and turn when asked? Har! No way.
I have to use the old carrot/stick/voice/bit routine repeatedly to get him to conform. When training any animals, I use my voice, hand gestures and rewards as well as sharp "No"s.
The need to copy parental actions is a survival technique. When humans first walked this earth, there were no cribs nor fences or any restraining systems. All of the monkey and ape kingdoms have one thing humans don't have at all: lots of body hair which babies can clutch. I happen to believe that we evolved the no hair look because we lived mostly on the sea's edges and swam a great deal. Hair was in the way except for on top of the head. The underarm and pubic hair evolved as sexual transmitters of potent smells to either repulse or entice but baby couldn't clutch that!
To transport the young required carrying them in the arms or learning how to make slings to carry. And young females who watched mother's actions in seeking out materials to build a sling, weaving or shaping the materials or the sons watching fathers kill and skin animals and using the pelts to make slings by universally handing it over to the mothers to chew and pull and shape, all this learning was enabled by rank imitation. Since the art of speech grew slowly as the mouth and brain evolved to enable it, using imitation of actions was and still is the prefered way to communicate vital action information.
If the researchers took older children and instead of showing them how to get into the box, gave them written instructions or worse, verbal, most would skip many of the stages not because they can't follow instructions but because if the instructions are verbal, it is "in one ear and out the other." All teachers find that showing while talking has the maximum effect. This is because humans are hardwired to imitate. Processing things via reading means engaging the conscious mind which then begins the rationalization process which is why writing and rationalization walk hand in hand.
Often, when doing complicated to explain things like when I am building something that is easy for me to visualize but hard to explain technically, I just tell people working with me to "watch what I do and do the same," and while doing it, once they imitate me, I will explain the process and why we are doing something.
Whenever, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, I just explain before doing something odd, always the people trying it out will question my wisdom, methodology and process! Always. Then I waste hours trying to explain the rationale behind the process and in return, they will merely find rational objections to nearly every step! To nip this off at the bud, I found that making them imitate first eases the process considerably.
The military understands this very well which is why anyone who questions any process is immediately punished. Religions do this by various means often ending up with threats of eternal damnation or burning at the stake.
The mind often is used to rationalize memorized imitative processes. This mental activity is very creative. Like the earlier story here about how people rationalize their choices when researchers cheated and pretending the subjects chose a face they disliked and assured them the disliked faces were the choices! People would then set the brain in gear to justify this by deceiving themselves into believing they chose via free will instead of being grossly manipulated by the researchers.
So our brains exist mostly to lie to us. Far from being truth machines, the brain is a dangerous entity that strives to delude us. People who circumvent this set up either go insane or are geniuses. As a person who does this myself, namely, forcing the brain to think rather than rationalize, I can assure it, it is no way to win popularity contests or keep out of prison as a political prisoner or sleep well at night.
I subscribe my strange brain to being hit by lightning.
Anyway, the dangers of a thinking mind are many-fold. Scientists are trained to learn to think with the mind while not falling into rationalization traps yet it happens all the time. Like the rationalization that the universe is rapidly expanding clashes with the facts on the ground showing vast black holes sucking in other galaxies even now, not just in the "distant past." Since this means rethinking Einsteinian physics as taught, mostly through imitation, it baffles astronomers who just don't deal with it yet. But some smart aleck chimp-thinking astronomer will pull together a new theory of the cosmos and win everyone over to the new format.
Just a matter of time!
Criminals often are people who are outside the box, too. They look upon the whole human/learning process with a cold eye and are uninfluenced by it and are often willing to exploit other human's trusting learning process to manipulate them into doing things that are bad for themselves as well as others. Some of these criminals rise to the very top of many countries and wreck hideous damage and kill many humans.
Which is why understanding there are psychopaths out there who are not fettered by the limitations of the mind's desire to learn and please others is so important. They want to have us mislearn and mislead.
Monkeys are skeptics. Humans are believers.
To return to homepage click here
To read more science news click here