Posted in History & Literature


They say that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. The job sure lives up to its reputation – the first recorded incidence of paying money for sex is in 2400BC, where prostitution is recorded among a list of professions in ancient Sumer. Of course, there is no proof of it being literally the “oldest” profession, because the money (or any currency) to pay for sex must have come from somewhere else. Evidence of prostitution can be found in almost every other ancient civilisations, including the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Jews, Aztecs, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. It is also heavily referenced in the Bible, suggesting that it was a widely spread profession.

As unnatural as the act of paying for sex may seem, prostitution has been recorded in animals as well. In 1998, a marine biologist named Fiona Hunter was studying the mating behaviour of Adélie penguins. She observed that the penguins would couple up and begin building a nest for their future offspring. The females would go out alone to look for pebbles at the beach. But then, she noticed that some female penguins would not head to the beach to collect the pebbles. Instead, they approached another male penguin (usually one that was single) and engage in courtship rituals to lure them into having sex. The female would then grab some pebbles and run off, while the male just let her go. Hunter concluded that this behaviour was indeed a material exchange for sexual pleasures.

Similar behaviour of offering food or grooming for sex has been observed in different primate species such as chimpanzees and crab-eating macaques. The most interesting study on this topic was that of training capuchin monkeys to use a currency. As soon as they learned that the silver discs could be used to purchase food, monkeys were seen “gifting” these silver discs to each other in exchange for sex. This kind of behaviour does not seem too unnatural if you consider that sex is a biological need (or at least a strong want), and sexual pleasure is, psychologically speaking, one of the strongest rewards.

Prostitution is generally deemed immoral and looked down upon, especially given the exploitation of women for their bodies and cheapening the act of making love. However, it should also be noted that throughout history, there are several cases of women using it as an opportunity to achieve something great. For example, Rahab was a harlot from Jericho in 1400BC. Back then, intelligent, independent women could not have much freedom as a married woman was treated as a slave to her husband. As a harlot, Rahab could live her own life and make her own decisions. When the city of Jericho was laid under siege by King Joshua, he sent in two spies to scout the area. Rahab hid these two men from the guards of the king of Jericho and showed them the secret passages of the city, ultimately allowing for Joshua to conquer the city with easy.

There is also the case of Theodora of Constantinople, who rose from being a harlot to an empress by seducing the Emperor Justinian, who made her a valued co-ruler of the empire. She then proceeded to use her power to crack down on the exploitation of women and protecting women’s rights.


Posted in Philosophy

Monkeys And Acorns

A man living in the Song Dynasty had many monkeys. He was wary that he might not have enough food to feed the monkeys, so he implemented a rationing system, telling the monkeys “As we are short of food, I will limit the acorns you get to three in the morning and four in the evening”. The monkeys screamed and protested, so the man told the monkeys: “Then I will change it to four in the morning and three in the evening. The stupid monkeys could not figure out that the sum was the same and were overjoyed. This is the story behind the proverb: cho sam mo sa ("Three in the morning, four in the evening”, 조삼모사, 朝三暮四).

It is common to see people who cannot see the forest for the trees and only focus on the immediate gains, just like the monkeys. Although there might be some short-term benefit, the results will be the same (or worse) in the long run and not seeing this is very foolish. To lead a successful life one must have the insight to understand how the happiness gained now will affect the future and the wisdom to achieve the balance between short-term and long-term benefits. Too many people lack these qualities and fall into the trap of hire purchases, mortgages and frauds.

The monkeys made another critical mistake. If they protest against the man’s plans for a better future, he can just say “If you’re not happy, starve” and everything will be over. To throw away the future for a quick fix is an incredibly idiotic act.

Posted in Science & Nature


The sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard is one of the most difficult sounds to listen to. This “screech” sound gives the sensation of your soul being ripped to shreds and invokes great discomfort. Why is this?

Professor Randolph Blake of Vanderbilt Center, USA, observed that this sound is very similar to the scream chimpanzees and macaque monkeys make when they see a predator. According to other researches on this phenomenon, many species of monkeys also hate this sound greatly. Blake used these facts to hypothesise that as our primitive ancestors used this sound to alert an enemy approaching, it has been programmed into our primitive brain to trigger a negative response. Also, physically this sound amplifies in our ears at a certain frequency to cause intense pain. The pain and our basic instincts combine to generate such an unpleasant feeling.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine, Special Long Essays


How many friends can a person have? Believe it or not, science has solved this question. An anthropologist called Robin Dunbar studied various societies, tribes and primate groups to determine how many members a group can have to maintain stability. He discovered that the ideal size for a group of humans was about 150.

What happens if there are more than 150 people in a group? This is easily explained by the following thought experiment. Imagine that you have a friend called Mr. White. Add a personality to him – flesh him out as a person. Next, you make another friend called Mr. Red. Then Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Maroon… At a certain point, you will no longer remember the name or personality of your “friend” and not even care about that person. This is the limit set by our brains – known as Dunbar’s number, or more colloquially the Monkeysphere.

Any person outside of this Monkeysphere is not of your concern. Once you saturate your brain with 150 relationships, the brain ceases to care about other people. Interestingly, the Monkeysphere is directly related to the size of the neocortex (the part of the brain responsible for higher order thinking). For example, most monkeys can only operate in troupes of 50 or so.

The Monkeysphere can be defined as the group of people that you conceptualise as “people”. Because of this limitation, we are physiologically incapable of caring about everyone in the world. For example, we are highly unlikely to be concerned about the welfare of the janitor at work compared to a loved one. As politically incorrect it may be, the brain sees the janitor as “the object that cleans the building” rather than a human being. You may “care” about the janitor in the sense that you greet him in the corridor, but there is a limit to this. This effect actually explains quite well why society is dysfunctional in general.

Because we do not see people outside the Monkeysphere as “people”, they mean less to us. Stalin once said that “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”. Similarly, the death of a family member is devastating but 10,000 people dying in a foreign country from war does not have the same emotional effect. Furthermore, if a stranger was to die in front of your eyes, you would still not be nearly as devastated as the death of someone you are close to.

Also, as we do not feel connected to these “outsiders”, we are much more prone to act rude or aggressively. For example, one may insult other drivers with the most colourful words on the road, but would (hopefully) never say those words to a friend.


This expands to a greater scale in the context of survival. We are wired to put the need of the members of our Monkeysphere ahead of those outside of it. Thus, we would not steal from our friends but openly evade taxes as we see the government and others as a cold, faceless body. It does not occur to us that through our actions, we are harming other human beings. The same applies to our view of corporations; despite being made up of real people, we only see them as heartless machines actively conspiring against us.

What if the scale was then expanded to countries? If we do not see a person on the other side of the road as a human being, it is extremely unlikely we would register a foreigner as one. This explains why racism and stereotyping is so common in human societies. Although liberal-minded people would like to believe that we should treat every human being like we treat our mothers, our brain is incapable of it. In fact, it is much more likely we would see those people as acting against our interests by “stealing jobs” and so forth. Thus, racism is a hard-wired behaviour to protect the best interest of our Monkeysphere.

We have established that it is impossible to worry about the seven billion strangers in this world. This brings us to an important point: it is just as impossible to make “them” interested in “you”. It is a cold, hard fact that if you are outside of their Monkeysphere, people will not care about you. Ergo, they treat you badly, put you down, steal from you and downright ignore you. In fact, cognitive dissonance means you are even less likely to care for people outside the Monkeysphere as your brain actively rejects people from getting closer to your Monkeysphere, exceeding the preset limit of 150 people. This is why propaganda always focusses on dehumanising the enemy and why people seeking votes and attention pull at sympathy strings – to try get as close to your Monkeysphere as possible.


Many people will lament how we are not monkeys and the Monkeysphere does not apply to us. We have laws, ethics and “humanity”. However, we cannot escape our primitive psychological behaviours and this is reflected in societies filled with crime, unhappiness and a general disinterest in people not related to yourself. This is why city-dwellers tend to be less friendly than villagers, as there are too many people to fit in one, happy Monkeysphere. In fact, monkeys may have more functional societies than us because they hardly ever exceed their own Monkeyspheres (which may also explain why they rarely have wars). The same can be said of tribes and villages of the past.

Ironically, the development of society has been based around working around the limitations of the Monkeysphere – a theoretically ideal society. By living in larger groups, humans can achieve greater feats such as industries and large-scale economies. Although we suffer the consequences of racism and crime, we have become very effective in survival.

Economics is based on the Monkeysphere too. As we only care about our Monkeysphere, there is no reason for us to be concerned about the needs of others. So when a system such as communism forces us to share our bananas, we become infuriated that we have to give up our bananas to people we do not know. But in capitalism, every individual can pick bananas for just ourselves and those we care about. The system thrives as each Monkeysphere acts dynamically and everyone is happy. This is the concept of the invisible hand that is the foundation of modern economics.

But still, the concept of countries means that we have to share the burden of millions of people we do not care about in the form of taxes and civil duties. This makes us unhappy. So what can we do?


Firstly, realise that you are to others what others are to you. If you find a certain person on television as annoying and irrational, chances are that someone else sees you in that light. You are limited to your Monkeysphere of 150 people and people outside of it are in their own Monkeyspheres.

Secondly, understand that no one is special. There are no heroes or perfect beings. Everyone is a human being and prone to making mistakes and acting “human”. Therefore, we cannot idolise people and be disappointed by their actions. This also means that you cannot judge another person and consider their words and actions as insignificant, as they are just as human as you.

Lastly, never simplify things. The world is not simple. It cannot be generalised as one happy village with everyone living happily in harmony. It is a composite of a massive number of different Monkeyspheres, all concerned with their own well-being and not caring about anything else.

Remember the words that Charles Darwin spoke to his assistant, Jeje Santiago: “Jeje, we are the monkeys”. As much as we would like to think that we are higher-order beings, we are simple creatures of habit and behaviour limited by our Monkeysphere.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


In 1967, a group of scientists designed an experiment where five monkeys were put in one cage with a ladder in the middle and a banana suspended over it. When a monkey tried to climb the ladder to reach the banana, it was hosed down with ice cold water to discourage it. However, at the same time the four other monkeys were sprayed as well. This was repeated until the monkeys were conditioned not to climb the ladder as it meant being blasted by cold water. Interestingly, even when the reward was tempting enough for a monkey to brace the cold water and climb the ladder, the monkey was swiftly taken down by the other monkeys – fearing the cold water – and was punished by a beating. This further discouraged the monkeys from climbing the ladder even when the researchers stopped spraying the monkeys with water.

The researchers then substituted one of the original monkeys with a new monkey who had not been in the cage before. This new monkey immediately noticed the banana and started to climb the ladder. The other monkeys saw this and responded with rage, enforcing their unspoken “rule” of never climbing the ladder. The new monkey quickly learned that climbing the ladder was a bad thing.
The researchers substituted another original monkey for a new monkey and the same thing happened. They repeated this until all monkeys were replaced.

When they substituted the last monkey in (number 10), the cage was already filled with “new” monkeys who had never been hosed before, but nonetheless knew not to climb the ladder. When the monkey was punished for climbing the ladder, it gave an expression that seemed to question why he was being punished. The other monkeys did not know why; none of them had been punished with cold water and only knew that the other monkeys would beat him up. Even though none of them knew why the punishment was required, they dished it out regardless. The rule had been engrained into the mob, with each monkey following it without any logical reason.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Money is without a doubt a human invention. There are no recorded cases of any animal using an inanimate object to standardise the value of items and establish a non-bartering economy. Since childhood we learn of the value of money and how it can be used to purchase goods and services. In fact, money can be considered one of the fundamental pillars of human society that makes the world go round.

However, scientists have discovered that a currency system may not be such a novel system after all. In an experiment, a group of capuchin monkeys were given silver disks and were shown how they could use the disks as payment for a treat. Within a few months time, the monkeys realised that the disks had inherent value and began acting just like humans with money.

For example, they did not act in the standard way of operant conditioning (i.e. performing an action results in a reward), but responded to market forces in an accurate manner. If the “price” rose, their demand for treats would fall (i.e. buy less) and vice versa – following the law of demand that modern economics is based on. They even learnt to save the “money” to afford treats.
In a similar experiment with chimpanzees, it was found that chimps were even quicker in learning the concept of money and even learnt how to use smaller denominations of currency. 

Things started to get interesting when a certain monkey sneaked into the chamber storing the “coins” and threw it into the communal cage, quickly escaping before the researchers came back. This was the first recorded case of a monkey bank robbery
While this was happening, it was also observed that one male monkey was giving a female monkey a coin. The researchers wondered if this was an act of altruism or wooing, but soon discovered that the female monkey would receive the coin then have sex with the male, then later use the coin to buy food. The introduction of money immediately led to the invention of prostitution.