It’s official: I am dumber than a monkey. To be precise, I am–at least in the field of mathematics–mentally inferior to a rhesus macaque.
Two recent studies (see here and here) conducted tests that required rhesus monkeys to perform addition and subtraction, and in both cases the monkeys demonstrated a clear ability to do mental addition very similar to humans. Of course, the monkeys had to be trained to solve the mathematical tasks, but what’s striking in these studies is that the animals were not simply memorizing quantity symbols: they were able to calculate sets of data new to them using mental processes. This provides a central clue to how humans developed their mental capabilities for arithmetic.
I flunked most of my math tests in school (and copied homework from the smarter kids), so this is not good news for me. What’s next? Mice? Or worse, pigeons?
If you’re anything like me, here’re some interesting reads that should give you a head start on the monkeys.
- Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel
- The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day byDavid J. Hand
- What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (Second Edition)by Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins (revised by Ian Stewart)
- Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction by Timothy Gowers