Look, don’t get mad about this, but according to research and video evidence available, chimpanzees do much better on short term visual memory tasks than humans. This ability has to be seen to be believed and below are a few videos to astound you.
Could this be faked digitally? Sure. You could just teach the chimp to press squares at random and then using digital editing, you could put the right numbers in the video to make it only look like the chimp had guessed correctly, etc., but the research is real.
On Twitter, you can see people arguing that a trained human could do as well on the memory test designed by researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa, but no human has. Humans have definitely tried, some with hours and days of practice. While some humans do much better than most of us, none could beat the chimps in Matsuzawa’s lab. With a human brain, we simply cannot do what they can. In just 0.65 seconds Matsuzawa’s star chimp can easily remember the location of 9 digits placed at random on a computer screen. The chimp can subsequently point to these numerals when the digits are quickly covered and hidden. We can’t. They can.
Some things just are the way they are. This chimp memory demo really bothers some people, specifically those with a “we are superior to animals in every way” attitude. Perhaps the fact that this chimp is better at this task using a computer, something we humans invented, is part of what might seem like an insult. It is no insult, however.
The reason chimps beat us at this appears to be that during evolution humans traded a lot of short term memory space in our primate brains for the speech centers we now have which allow us to use complex symbolic language. We can talk and they can’t. Ha ha! We win! Go humans.
Still, we can’t beat them at short term visual memory tasks. Watch this video showing an amazing chimp computer skill.
Tetsuro Matsuzawa at the Kyoto Primate Research Institute in Japan devised a memory test for chimpanzees on which they significantly out perform humans.
If your competitive human ego says, “No! This can not be!!” then consider this: Dogs have a much better sense of smell than we do. You don’t hate dogs for that, do you? Bees can see ultraviolet light we cannot. Cows can digest grass which we cannot. If you train hard, if you spend years training and practicing, if you focus and meditate and practice every day year after year, well, … the dog, bee and cow will *still* beat you at these respective abilities.
What we can do, however, is invent devices and strategies to supplement our existing biological abilities, such as they are. We have excelled at this. Our ability to “time travel mentally,” that is, to run useful possible scenarios in our mental models of the world, this ability allows us to excel at planning and at inventions.
The point of knowing our limits is not to feel put down by reality, but to accept what is and then to make the best of it. This attitude has allowed us to “see” a single Hydrogen atom and to peer back into the beginnings of the entire universe, seeing the oldest stars.
Thanks for reading. Here’s a banana with a tattoo. Don’t worry, this artwork was not created by the above Chimpanzee.
Would it bother you if it was?