consciousness, economics, media

Fish Can Count and Monkeys Can Subtract

Written by Lee Schneider, founder of DocuCinema.

istock_dollar_Bookmark this because it has the solution to the banking crisis. I’ve just found out that fish can count and monkeys can subtract.

People are worried about the exodus of Wall Street talent, but we can hurry up and hire the best fish and monkeys to fill those fat cat positions. Fish are honest and those who can count eat mosquito larvae– no eight-figure bonuses required. Monkeys are a little excitable but they get around just by swinging from tree to tree instead of using limos and corporate jets – a smaller carbon footprint! Both species seem to be more honest and socially aware than our current crop of bankers.

I make that bold, pro-fish, pro-simian statement because I watched Jon Stewart last night. Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, told us what’s happened to at least half of the TARP funds bestowed on bankers by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

The deal was that for every dollar we taxpayers gave the banks, the banks would give us a dollar’s worth of stock and warrants. Fair enough. But the bankers, according to Warren, only gave us 66 cents on the dollar, and the value of those stocks and warrants has dropped even more since the trade.

Well, this would never happen if fish were in key banking positions because fish know how to count. Mosquitofish, a North and Central American freshwater species, successfully counted geometric shapes in a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Padova in Italy.

090331-fish-count_170The fish were taught to associate a door in their tank with a certain number of shapes. They recognized the right number even though researchers varied the size, brightness and distance of the shapes counted. Since Mosquitofish are social animals, scientists believe that being able to count might help them seek safety in numbers.

On Jon Stewart’s show, Elizabeth Warren also mentioned that she doesn’t quite know how much of the TARP funds have actually been distributed.

If monkeys were in charge of that distribution there wouldn’t be a problem, because monkeys know how to subtract. In a test of their subtraction skills at Duke University, Rhesus macaques were able to solve a simple subtraction problem on a touch screen. They didn’t need to count, they just relied on their sense of missing shapes.

The qualities present in fish and monkeys, being social and caring about their fellows, have gone missing in some bankers. While fish seek companionship and protect each other in schools, bankers enjoy purchasing multiple homes while their customers lose the only homes they’ve got. Monkeys and even ravens have been shown to care for their communities.

Maybe it’s not just the bankers who are bonkers, maybe it’s clawing to the top of the food chain that has messed with the human mind. Masters of the Universe, we eat anything that moves, screw over weaker species, profit whenever possible. I lust after profit as much as anyone else (if you want to send me money, please do) but I certainly don’t want to be bettered by a bunch of animals who can count, subtract and are more socially aware than some of the bankers who watch over my money.

Something to consider as we monkey around, fishing for answers.


5 thoughts on “Fish Can Count and Monkeys Can Subtract

  1. John Larson says:

    Thank the stars above for Jon Stewart. I saw the same interview and was struck by the theatre of it all. The bureaucrat, telling us something so unbelievable that it actually was believable. The comedian – who consistently reveals truths most media somehow ignore.

    I think, however, that fish already inhabited Wall Street. Fish who believed they deserved a place at the top of the food chain, but were actually bottom feeders.

    • Clearly the situation would make me cry if it didn’t make me laugh. It is truly strange that a comedian is one of the only people on TV willing to ask the really tough questions. Maybe Mike Wallace used to but he never made me laugh like Jon Stewart. And you are right about the bottom feeders. We might have to ask the executive search committee to begin looking elsewhere.

  2. Bob Ellal says:

    Hi Lee,

    I’m not surprised that fish and monkeys are capable of higher functioning; we can learn a lot from our fellow animals by observing how they take care of their communities. It’s a survival instinct we once had but have lost.

    I don’t know whether it’s rugged individualism or capitalism or some other ism–but people seem to look out mainly for themselves. Human nature is fundamentally flawed–everybody has a poison heart, or ego. It’s when we overcome it we become godlike.

    That’s my rant for this evening!

    Best regards,


  3. This trend of the gradual whittling of everything we suppose is uniquely human is a very good thing. Other animals use tools, so we are no longer the tool makers. Some ants are farmers – growing crops of fungi for food – and these ants were doing this way before agriculture occurred to humans. I’m not surprised about the fish-addition and monkey-subtraction. We can go ahead and subtract these skills from the shrinking list of what makes us as a species feel special.

    The trend gives me hope that some day we’ll collectively wake up and realize that we are not separate from nor different from the rest of the living world.

    Thanks Lee for the blog entries! I’ve been enjoying them!

  4. Jeff Schneider says:

    Perhaps we should try placing some of our bankers and CEO’s at the bottom of the ocean, or up in trees with bananas. It might help our economy.

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