Monkey tale

I tried to engage a couple of colleagues in a metaphysical discussion last week. Actually, it was more of a metabiological thought experiment:

"Stand still," I said, "and imagine that you have suddenly sprouted a tail like a monkey's."

My colleagues looked at me sceptically.

"No, go on, I'm being serious. Imagine you've got a monkey's tail. Now here's my question: would you instinctively know how to move it about? Do you think your brain would be capable of sending a message via your nervous system to your new limb to tell it to move? Go on, try it now: try to move your imaginary tail. Can you do it?"

The sceptical looks turned to blank ones.

"Well I can!" I said. "I instinctively know how to move my imaginary tail around. In fact, I'm doing it right now!"

My colleagues told me I was weird.

I think about this sort of thing a lot.

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.


  1. Once upon a time I happened across Gruts, I think whilst trying to find something by Ivor Cutler (thank you Phil Jupitus for introducing him to me) and for some reason something you wrote amused me and I "tagged it" in

    Unfortunately that very same day I installed a Firefox plugin for the afore mentioned which included a handy toolbar showing my most visited tags next to the address bar. As I had just tagged Gruts it decided it was one of my all time favourite sites so there it sits, next to my back button, and I don't know how to shift it.

    So I check back periodically and wonder why on Earth I am wasting my precious time reading about some odd chap and his apparently sexually charged relationships with a collection of oddly named friends, and pledge to delete it from my toolbar forthwith.

    Except you are right, if I had a monkey's tale I would be able to move it too, in fact to prove it I'm doing it right now.

    And I too created an homage to Banksy, in the same way you did, although mine didn't turn out as well as yours. Partly because I am impatient, partly because I used water colours and a sponge to apply the paint and partly because my partner in crime in this art project was M (who is my partner in all arty projects) and M is only 3.

  2. Addendum.

    I explained the "Monkey Tale" story to Mrs Intentionally Blank who is presently emptying cupboards prior to us, perhaps prematurely, demolishing the kitchen tomorrow. She was up a ladder and giving off an aura that suggested she didn't want to waste her time with my puerile musings, especially when they were based on stuff I had read online when I had claimed to be going to bed.

    You will be happy to hear that her only reply to the question "would you be able to move it [the tail] with your current central nervous system?" was to briefly look at me, not entirely annoyed, and reply

    "I'm moving it right now."

    She then got on with filling boxes.

  3. I know exactly what you mean. When I imagine just swishing it around, as though making a threat display, I feel my current nervous system is adequate...that is, I feel I do have instinctive control of the BASE of the tail...but if I imagine it to be prehensile, and try to curl the TIP of my tail around a branch, that doesn't feel as natural, and I suspect nervous system training, if not modifications, would be in order.

    I can also wiggle ears on the top of my head without much ado, and that's not even a primate thing.

  4. Yes, it had occurred to me too that I couldn't use my imaginary monkey tail in a prehensile manner. Interestingly, prehensile tails are only found in New World monkeys (which presumably evolved them after they spread to the New World). Old World monkeys do not have prehensile tails. Their close relatives, the great apes (including humans) also evolved in the Old World. So maybe that's why we can't imagine a prehensile tail.

    Just listen to me: I'm starting to sound like a bleedin' sociobiologist!

  5. The only one of my friends with a even vaguely odd name is Irish Mick (who isn't Irish). Just for the record, I should like to make it perfectly clear that my relationship with him is most definitely not sexually charged.

    Obviously, I can't speak for Irish Mick.

  6. Hmm, interesting. I am however, currently living in the New World. Since apes do not have tails, we must assume we are imagining ourselves to be monkeys. I am therefore a New World monkey, and so should be able to move the tip of my prehensile tail. I know! Let's see if I float!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *