In Paul Simon’s 1967 hit single At the Zoo, he gives human traits, emotions and intentions to the animals. This is called anthropomorphism.
- Monkeys are honest
- Giraffes insincere
- Elephants kindly but dumb
- Zebras are reactionaries
- Antelopes missionaries
All these descriptions are fun, rhyming and fitting with the mellow tempo. It’s a cheerful and upbeat song that evokes a smile.
But my favorite line:
I like it because it hits home. Are we humans really much different?
This primate cousin is the most intelligent of the great apes. They are solitary by nature. Live in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Make their home in trees.
And according to Paul Simon … they’re skeptical of changes in their cages.
We homo sapiens also prefer order. Predictability.
Surprises and new directives are unsettling. Disconcerting. Received with skepticism. Our brain’s amygdala initiates the automatic reaction of fight or flight. Skepticism.
The brain’s frontal cortex controls reasoning, planning, abstract thought, and other complex cognitive functions. It’s the part of the brain where we have the ability to overcome our skepticism.
The frontal cortex of great apes and humans are proportionally similar in size.
However, in this case, size may not matter.
Somehow, we humans have an additional advantage over our cousins in reasoning and abstract thought. The science is not entirely clear. It could be:
- The parts of the frontal cortex are different
- The organization of the frontal cortex is different
- The connections of the frontal cortex is different
Bottom line: While we both may be skeptical to changes in our cages, we human beings have greater ability to overcome our skepticism.