Paradigm Shifting Monkey Business
An experiment was recently conducted to demonstrate how belief systems are formed and perpetuated using monkeys and their insatiable desire for bananas.One day a nice ripe banana was hung from the top of a large 3 meter high cage just out of reach of a group of monkeys who lived below. Try as they might, the monkeys could not reach the coveted banana. Eventually a small step ladder just big enough to hold one monkey and high enough to reach the banana was placed into the cage under the banana. As one would expect pandemonium broke out as each of the monkeys vied for position to get access to the ladder and the prize hanging just above it. After considerable jockeying for position, a dominant male finally made it up the ladder and obtained the prize. As he sat on the top rung feasting, all the remaining monkeys below were being squirted with cold water by the lab technician who was observing the entire scene just out of sight. An hour later this same procedure was repeated, first a new banana was hung, then the inevitable scuffle, the winning monkey climbing to obtain the prize and the remaining monkeys being squirted with cold water.
After repeating this procedure several times, the remaining monkeys finally got wise; every time a new banana was hung in the cage, the other monkeys starting ganging up and beating up the dominant monkey. It didn’t take much convincing for him to stop trying to climb the ladder to reach the prize. No other monkey dared to try to retrieve the coveted banana lest they also be beaten as well. The reward for the remaining monkeys – they were not squirted with cold water.
Then the lab technician tried something really devious. He removed the dominant monkey from the cage and replaced him with a new monkey from another room. Of course the same thing happened to him and he soon learned not to even bother to try to attempt to climb the ladder lest he would be beaten as well.
Being very deviously minded, the lab technician then started swapping out the remaining monkeys one at a time. Soon after each new candidate was placed in the cage, a new banana was hung with the same predictable results. This procedure was repeated until all the original monkeys had been replaced by new monkeys. Always the results were the same: the banana being spotted, the fight for the ladder, attempts to climb the ladder, and subsequently being beaten up. And, of course, since no monkey climbed the ladder, none of these monkeys were ever again squirted with cold water.
The purpose of this story is to remind us all that we are like monkeys in how our behaviors are formed: once a behavior pattern is habitualized, a stimulus and associated response generally becomes so automatic the stimulus triggers unconscious (and therefore unquestionable) behavior. A behavior that it is assumed to be a fundamental and unquestionable truth is the definition of faith. This is the reason behind a famous quote by Albert Einstein who once said that “You cannot solve a problem with the same kind of [unquestioned] thinking that originally got you into it”. Given our current predicament, it is clearly time for new perspectives and new ways of thinking. We need to question why we are beating each other up as we climb the ladder in our quest for new perspectives and new understandings of our antiquated behaviors and associated belief systems.