by Matthew Cobb
This fantastic video shows a young orangutan being shown a ‘magic’ trick through the enclosure glass. Just watch:
The orangutan shows the same kind of response as you’d expect from a one year-old human infant. It knows that things don’t just disappear, so when something apparently does, the response is one of amazement and what looks like laughter.
D*gs can similarly be confused by a trick, although lacking the wit of an orangutan, they simply get cross:
You can guess what cats think of something as trivial as prestidigitation:
Learning the physical rules of the universe, in particular what the Swiss psychologist Piaget called the conservation of matter, is a tricky business. This neat video of a 4.5 year old child showing his understanding of the world is fascinating:
Finally, you may have noticed that the YouTube user who posted the orangutan video, Dan Zaleski, entitled it ‘Monkey sees a magic trick’. I sent the link to my daughter, who is studying Zoology, and she immediately replied ‘Monkey!’ Many of the commenters under the video have also complained that the orangutan is an ape, not a monkey, some of them not so nuanced (YouTube comments are not noted for their subtlety).
In fact, there’s a pedantic argument to be made on the basis of nested taxonomy that apes are indeed monkeys (see here and here). Whatever the pedantry (and I would not call an ape a monkey), the correct term would surely have been ape, or even better, orangutan. That’s what was written on the poor animal’s cage.