Sunday, January 22, 2006

Catchy Boing Boing headline of the day - “Peeling bananas from the other end is easier“

After reading the blurb, I had to add bananas to our breakfast menu. We had four, and I passed one to each person at our table, explained the story, and made the inaugural pinch and peel.

It was fun. It was easy. And somehow a lot less messy than I thought it would be. But I wondered how many bananas it would take until I automatically peeled them that way.

Apparently a lot - if our breakfast dialogue was any indication:

J: Here you go C, try peeling it from this end like Mommy.
Caroline: Noooo....I do it this way!! (opens banana from the stem, smashes half of it in the process, as usual).

J: What do you think, a technique to try again?
Will: It‘s surprisingly hard to adjust to. I mean, it inverts the natural order.
J: You mean the learned order?
Will: I mean how I was taught to do it as a kid. But hey, if it works for the monkeys it’s all right by me.

Naturally, I had to write this scintillating experiment (and dialogue) down for the world to see. And when I did I remembered a story from the New York Times that has been on my mind since December: Children learn from Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don‘t."

The story describes a study that demonstrated children were more tied to learning through mimicry than monkeys. Apparently monkeys and children both will watch someone solve a problem - say opening a box, or peeling a banana - and use the same gestures (even extraneous one) to get to the goodie. But if a monkey then sees a faster solution, he’ll skip the extra steps and go straight to the banana. Children in the same situation stick with the original extra gestures.

The scientists in the study speculated that by learning through imitation, humans don’t have to understand a solution in order to achieve it. My own speculation is that yes, it is useful to learn without thinking (remember spelling class?). But copied gestures are also a great way for a complex society to survive without being overwhelmed by the detail of constant difference. Sure, we don't speak the same language, but by gum, we all peel our bananas the same way.

Unless, of course, you're a Boing Boing reader. What do you say - want to change the world, one peel at a time?


Ellen said...

Where's the banana when you need one. I'm suddenly VERY compelled to try this out - as it seems sooooo odd and un-doable.

Julia said...

It's the invisible zipper I never knew a banana had. Let me know when you do try it!

Karla said...

I'm nervous about this idea that our species is more tied to imitative learning than are monkeys, who apparently learn in a bolder, more intelligent, more intuitive manner. (Is this why monkeys are so often the victim of laboratory experiments? we are trying to keep them from taking over a world they are too smart to want?)

If I see a banana soon, I'll try the new routine.

tuckova said...

Czechs I've seen ALL peel them from the non-stem end as well. I got into it with a friend of mine over who was probably more "correct" - I offered that as she had once had to stand in line for hours just to get one, she didn't know from bananas, and she offered that monkeys do it her way, and they probably know what they're on about.
Ugh. The truth is, her way (the monkey way) is easier. So: she won. I hate that.