Monkey Puzzle – a monkey that can count

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Hymie | 20:50 Wed 08th Feb 2012 | Science
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This is now quite old – but it keeps re-appearing every once in a while on main stream TV.

A monkey is shown a display screen with single digit numbers at various locations on the screen, the monkey touches each number in ascending order and is rewarded with a peanut, having completed the task.

Next, the numbers are displayed for a short time and then obscured by blocks. The monkey again touches the hidden numbers in the correct sequence (counting up).

In some sequences, the monkey is only shown the numbers for a fraction of a second before being obscured by blocks, but can still touch the hidden numbers in sequence - something that humans cannot match.

Scientists claim that this shows that the monkey can count and has a true photographic memory (to remember where the numbers are).

It is very doubtful to me from the footage that the monkey can count and has a photographic memory. What it does show is how easy it is to fool scientists.

I would be willing to bet a £ to a penny that if the numbers displayed were replaced by random graphic symbols (then obscured by blocks) – the monkey would follow whatever pre-arranged sequence it has been taught to mimic.

The monkey knows nothing of numbers, and does not possess a photographic memory - it has simply been taught a series of sequences to follow – and is rewarded with a peanut.


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If the numbers are dispayed in a new, random sequence each time and the monkey remembers where they were on the screen but presses them in the correct order, then it has a photographic memory. Just think of what the possession of a photographic memory implies. It does not mean that the owner has any knowledge of the underlying meaning of what they see, only that they can remember it as an image.

As to whether the monkey as any knowledge of counting, I too would doubt it, but then I doubt also that that is what the scientists are claiming. If the image displayed was of a computation e.g. 1+1= and the monkey could correctly press 2, then it might be different. What the monkey is demonstrating is the ability to recognise a sequence of unrelated symbols and repeat them - that's what humans do as well, at least to begin with. The fact that we can go beyond this is what makes the difference between us.
The dog on the skateboard was funny tho. The whole programme was a bit like horizon meets animals do the funniest things. Bizarre but entertaining.
Just found the video on youtube - link above doesn't seem so work for me. Just one further point - it isn't a monkey, it's a chimpanzee - humans and chimps share about 98% the same DNA. If they CAN count I wouldn't necessarily be astounded!
I think the monkey was put up to it .
There was a horse, featured on The Paul Daniels Magic Show if I recall correctly, that would stamp it's hoof A set number of times in response to being asked to add 2 numbers. All very clever but just a bit of entertainment. The horse couldn't really count and had no concept of addition. Your video doesn't work for me either, but I'm pretty sure it's much of the same trick.
He may be able to count but if so it has no affect on that feat.

He clearly knows the correct series, and I suspect can recall a scene having seen it for a very short time, so can mentally study the image after it has gone to determine where the touches need to be to get the numbers in the correct order. I don't accept you know what sort of memory he has, but the above would explain a lot.

Humans would probably fare worse, as most of us try to interpret the scene as it is there, and of course the information is gone before we can mentally 'file' all the info.
I can't run the link but thanks to dundurn I gather it's a chimp and as he says chimps are our closest relative in the animal kingdom. I think it's highly likely they can do a lot more than we give them credit for, including count - and no they are not monkeys they are apes.
Yes, Toby, the horse that counts is an old phenomenon; there was one in France in the C18. He was 'counting', tapping a hoof, to the correct total because his trainer was giving a discrete signal at the point the horse should stop. Stopping the deliberate signal, once the trick was discovered, only proved the horse was a mind reader too! That was because the horse sensed some inadvertent movement, look, or expression of the trainer, or of the expectant audience, at the key moment and stopped tapping as a result. No deliberate signal was necessary. Magic!
mibn2cweus, rise of the planet of the apes?
I think Hymie is saying that the chimp has memorised the shapes of the display and the order in which they are to be erased by rewarding it whenever it is right. It would account for the 0.06 seconds of display which was so short I did not even see any numbers, after which the shapes are displayed which the chimp duly erases in the right order and receives a treat.
Why shouldn't chimps be able to count, pigeons can count(up to 7 I believe) and they have a brain the size of a pea. Chimps probably can't multiply or divide and I expect square roots will always be beyond them along with calculus, however we do underestimate the abilities of other animals because we delude ourselves with the idea that humans are superior in every way.
And frogs can do fractions.
Only when jumping out of a pond..
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What I am claiming is that the owner of the chimp has taught the animal to touch the blocks on the screen in a certain (set) sequence – which appears to be random (but it is not).

If no numbers were displayed at all – the chimp would still touch the blocks on the screen – following a set sequence.

I have not studied every block position/number sequence where the chimp is doing his/her stuff – but I am willing to bet that there is a fairly simple set of sequences which the chimp has memorised to give the impression that they can count and can memorise where the hidden numerals are located.

The computer program that supposedly randomly places the number on the display is rigged to position the numbers in the required sequence for the chimp to do his/her trick.
From looking at other youtube offerings it seems that the on-screen 'buttons' are randomised for each try.
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Yes – they appear random, but I am claiming that they are not.

There may be some ‘key’ square which tells the chimp which ‘set sequence’ to follow.

As an example – if there is a square positioned in any corner location, then a certain sequence is followed; or if there is a square on an edge then another sequence is followed, and so on.

It would only take 4 or 5 such hidden sequences, and it would be very difficult to spot how the trick is done.

If I were a scientist testing the validity of these tests – would want the computer to display the blocks, having shown no numbers. As I said, I am willing to bet a £ to a penny, that the chimp would then touch the squares in a sequence – where no numbers existed; showing that the whole thing was a confidence trick.
Teaching a monkey a variety of sequences would in itself be something of a task and if there were more than a few of these it might be thought that just learning the numbers in order would be easier for the poor animal! As it happens these tests have been performed on a number of animals and are subject to a number of variations. Some of the tests are run with a shortened, dicontinuous subset of the numbers between 1 and 9, e.g. 2,5 7,8.

So the chimpanzee can't simply learn a number of sequences all starting from 1, but instead has to have some concept of the individual order of the digits within the overall sequence. As I said before this is still not necessarily anything to do with an ability to count. Arguably the use of numbers for this experiment merely makes it easier for the human observers to see whether the chimp gets it right or not.
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If a chimp really could recognise our numbering system 1-9, then it could be trained to do much more impressive tasks (with numbers) than touch a series of numbers on a screen in sequence.

In one of the youtube video clips, the chimp shows an almost total disregard for the screen while the numbers are displayed – which are then blanked for him/her to do his/her stuff.

I still say that you have all been fooled into thinking the chimp can count – prove me wrong by having the blocks in a valid pattern on the screen, for the chimp to perform the trick (but with no numbers displayed) – and I am willing to bet a £ to a penny that the chimp will touch them in the predetermined sequence.
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Or during the chimp’s routine – obscure the chimp’s view of the numbers (by placing a hand in front of the chimp’s eyes), then let it do its stuff.

Don’t alert the owner beforehand– otherwise he will train the chimp not to perform following some obstruction being placed in front of the screen.

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