An experiment was apparently conducted with five monkeys.

A bunch of bananas was hung from the roof of their cage.

Then a stepladder was placed under the bananas.

Monkeys like bananas, and monkeys are smart.

So they ran to the stepladder and started climbing it.

Immediately they did, all the monkeys were sprayed with ice-cold water.

Monkeys don’t like ice-cold water, so they stopped.

But, when the water stopped, they tried it again.

Again, all the monkeys were sprayed.

Some of the monkeys got the message and stopped trying.

It didn’t make any differences.

When any of the monkeys tried, all the monkeys got sprayed.

So fewer and fewer monkeys tried.

But when even a single monkey tried, everyone got sprayed.

So the monkeys stopped anyone else from trying.

Eventually this became group learning.

No one goes near the stepladder because the group will get sprayed.

So the group stops the individual.

And eventually the individual learns not to try.

Then one monkey was replaced.

The new monkey came in and went to get the bananas.

As soon as he got near the stepladder the other four monkeys jumped on him and stopped him.

He didn’t know why they stopped him, but he knew there was something bad about the ladder.

He learned fear of the ladder, even though he’d never been sprayed.

His fear wasn’t even about water.

It was about the other monkeys jumping on him.

One-by-one they replaced the monkeys.

And each time the new monkey had the same experience.

Innocently going for the bananas, then being forcibly stopped by the other monkeys.

Learning that, for some reason, they shouldn’t go near the bananas.

If they did something bad would happen.

Eventually, all the original monkeys had been replaced.

Not one remaining monkey had ever been sprayed as a result of going for the bananas.

But they’d all been trained by the other monkeys to fear the bananas.

Now monkeys can’t talk of course.

They’re smart enough to learn behaviour, but not smart enough to question it.

The hose had been disconnected and taken away ages ago, so there was no way to spray them.

But it didn’t matter.

None of the monkeys knew about the hose anyway.

They just knew they should be terrified of the thing they wanted.

And they didn’t know why.

It was just passed on from one group to the next.

The fear, not the reality.

And so eventually the fear became the reality.

Unlike us, monkeys have no way to question what they fear.

But, although we can question it, we still respond like monkeys.

That’s group behaviour.

A thing can’t be done because everyone agrees it can’t be done.

So the agreement is not to try.

It’s learned thinking.

But actually it’s not really thinking at all, it’s just acceptance.

Real thinking is about questioning.

Thinking is about finding out, and coming to our own conclusions.

That’s scepticism.

That’s the basis of western philosophy.

That’s what brought us out of the dark ages.

Before a thing is done, all the agreement, all the conventional wisdom, says it can’t be done.

And it’s stupid even to try.

After someone has ignored the group and done it, all the conventional wisdom is reversed.

Of course it could be done, anyone could see that it could be done, no one really believed it couldn’t be done.

And then all the conventional wisdom shifts to something else that can’t be done.

That’s what I love about people who are ‘enfant terrible’.

They love finding out what you shouldn’t do.

Then doing it.

They don’t just want to be known for doing what was do-able.

Doing something anyone could do.

That’s boring.

The fun is in doing what everyone said couldn’t be done.


In finding another way to get the bananas.