8 monkeys are in a room. There is a ladder in the room, and at the top of the ladder is a bunch of bananas. The monkeys are fed adequate but unappetizing food.

For the first week, any time a monkey climbs the ladder, a nozzle drenches all the monkeys in icy cold water. Soon, any time a monkey starts to climb the ladder, all the other monkeys beat him senseless to avoid being punished.

One monkey is removed, and another takes his place. Not knowing about the ice water punishment, he approaches the ladder. All the other monkeys beat him senseless. Every time he gets near the ladder, they all gang up on him.

A second monkey is replaced. Same thing. The first replacement monkey joins in the beating.

A third is replaced. A fourth. Eventually all the original monkeys are replaced. The new 8 monkeys have never experienced the ice water punishment, yet any time any of them approaches the ladder, the rest of them gang up on him and beat him senseless.

I’m reminded of another story. A woman is teaching her daughter how to cook a roast. She cuts a small portion off each end of the roast, and the daughter asks her why. The woman replies “I don’t know, but my mother always cut the ends off her roast, so I do it. The daughter calls up her grandmother, and asks her why she always cut the ends off the roasts. Grandmother replies “I don’t know, my mother always did it”. The next time Daughter visits great-grandma in the nursing home, she asks why she cut the ends off the roasts. Great-Grandma replies “Because my pan wasn’t large enough to cook a whole one.”

These two concepts are dogma. They are memes. The behaviour outlined in these tales poses a significant danger to an intellectual society.

Let’s add some ideas to the monkey problem. Now we have a ladder leading to one bunch, and a rope leading to another. One group of monkeys is punished any time they go up the ladder, the other is punished any time they go up the rope.

Take one monkey from the first group and put him in the second. Initially, he will try to fight any monkey going up the ladder, and the rest of the monkeys will punish him for going up the rope. For awhile, at least. Eventually, he’ll learn the new rules and conform to his new society.

What about when you put all 16 monkeys in a room with a rope and a ladder?

Chaos. An “Us vs Them” mentality develops. Each group continues to reinforce its own dogma. Peace only exists when no monkey tries to get a banana.

How many parallels to historic human behaviour can you find?