Allegory of the Apes

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Allegory of the Apes

...and the human condition

  • Start with a cage containing five apes.
  • In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put stairs under it.
  • Before long, an ape will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the apes with cold water.
  • After a while, another ape makes an attempt with the same result --- all the apes are sprayed with cold water.
  • After a while, turn off the cold water. If later, another ape tries to climb the stairs, the other apes will try to prevent it even though no water sprays them.
  • Now, remove one ape from the cage and replace it with a new one.
  • and The new ape sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other apes attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.
  • Next, remove another of the original five apes and replace it with a new one.
  • The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. The new ape has no idea why he is not permitted to climb the stairs, nor why he is participating in the beating of the newest ape.
  • After a few more iterations, all the apes which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no ape ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not??

"Because that's the way it's always been around here!"

This story has brilliant corollaries on humanity as well. In technology and computers it is the most common excuse for sticking with the status quo. It must be good because everyone else is doing it, right!?!?

This is called an appeal to authority, consensus, tradition, common practice, or bandwagon fallacies. Until we learn to question and challenge more often, and tolerate that questioning, we'll never be more than primitive apes.

Allegory of the cave

Socrates.jpg

This is a revision of the older 'allegory of the cave', by Plato. Which would be paraphrased as:

  • Imagine people locked in place to only see shadows cast on the wall (and not the actors behind them speaking and doing a puppet show in front of the fire), and that was all they knew their entire life.
  • Then you freed them to see truth, and the light of the sun.
  • The fire's light would burn their eyes, the sunlight even more, and returning to the cave they'd be blind for a while (while the eye's adjusted back).
  • After that, they'd all agree to not only not leave, but stop anyone that tried such a journey for everything about it was strange and painful.
  • After that, you could remove the shackles, but from that point on, none would leave (or allow others to).

Many books got their theme from this thought experiment (think Fahrenheit 451, Room, The Matrix). It's the idea that the longer a human gets used to something, the more comfortable they become with that reality and the more resistant they are to change. Pretty much, Stockholm Syndrome is just a manifestation of this phenomenon. People prefer confirmation bias and the known to the truth and complexity of the real world.

Written: by Anonymous, Plato, many plagiarists Entered: 2002.02.28 Added Allegory of the Cave: 2016.10.21