Monday, May 5, 2014

We like to run into smart cousins

A few days ago, I presented a video about a smart monkey [display]. And here I’m at it again. This marvelous photo [from Gallica, here], taken on the beach at Deauville in August 1921, shows excited kids watching a lovely little monkey who’s doing a tightrope act (not a particularly hard task for such an animal).

Click to enlarge

The joyous expressions on the kids’ faces reveal their intense expectations. They want that monkey to succeed, and they’re convinced that he will in fact get to the other end of the rope without slipping and falling down onto the sand. So, they’re ready to applaud him as soon as he gets to the end of his act. Most of our human fascination for watching smart monkeys comes from the fact, I believe, that we associate ourselves with the beast. For those kids on the beach, the monkey is a kind of baby brother, and they’re tremendously proud that he can do smart things. The children are all saying to themselves: “Gee, the little baby brother is really talented, and he’s courageous, too. None of us would be able to do what he’s doing.”

If a donkey were to come along and start chewing at the rope, or throwing its weight against the rope and trying to burst through (I can assure you that donkeys do things like that), the smiles would disappear immediately from the kids’ faces. They would consider the big clumsy animal as stupid, and not at all like themselves. But a baby monkey is quite another cup of tea. It actually looks a bit like us (or like some of us, in any case… but don’t expect me to give you names). And it’s smart enough to be our cousin… which it is, in fact. Like the donkey.

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