By Jared Diprose

Having a cage mentality

caged monkey

A zoologist by the name of Gordon R. Stephenson presented a research paper to the University of Wisconsin titled, "Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys", describing an experiment where he put a group of monkeys in a large cage. What he found was quite interesting.

Inside the cage was a ladder, and at the top of the ladder were some bananas. When a monkey tried to climb the ladder to get the bananas all of the monkeys got blasted with water. After a while the monkeys learned that if they tried to climb the ladder they all got blasted with water, and so they stopped trying to climb the ladder.

Stephenson then introduced a new monkey into the cage. When this monkey attempted to climb the ladder all the other monkeys would stop it and beat it up. Then Stephenson replaced all the monkeys, one by one, with new ones.

Even though none of the monkeys now in the cage had ever been blasted by water, they still would beat up any monkey that attempted to climb up the ladder to get the bananas. None of them had any idea of why, it simply wasn't the done thing.

The reason I find this study so interesting is because it speaks deeply to our human condition, that we are conditioned by 'the culture of our cage'. We do not necessarily know the reason why we do some of the things we do, we probably don't even think about half of the things we are accustomed to doing, but we know to do 'the done thing'.


Let's talk about light for a minute. We understand light to be a wave and a particle that travels at 1080 million kilometres per hour. It comes from the sun and from other stars, and from anything with energy.

Without light everything would be cold and dark. Basically light is vital and it is everywhere.

We could also give some less concrete attributes to light, such as being morally 'good', or to 'know', that is, to learn something can be referred to as 'shedding light' on that subject. We may even describe light as being 'heavenly', 'angelic', or even 'godly'.


In the Bible Jesus is described as being 'the light of the world' (John 1).

John is saying that Jesus is not only 'good' but is the source of that good, not only knowledgeable but the source of that knowledge, and not only godlike but in fact God. Jesus is light, and the light shines in the darkness. But the darkness has not understood it.

The main way we actually know something to be real is from light being reflected, or radiated from it. Darkness has no light. Just as we cannot know what is in a black hole in outer space, we cannot know our own darkness without light from outside us shining in on it.

Jesus Monkey

If a 'Jesus monkey' were to enter into the cage of Gordon R. Stephenson, and were to shed some light on the situation for the monkeys, either one of two things would happen. They would either: beat him up and say, "No! This is the way we have always done it "; or they would listen to the 'Jesus monkey', and get bananas!

But what we learn from the experiment, and also from the Bible, is that monkeys (and people) love to hold on to the way they do things, even though they may have no idea why they are doing them.

The point is this: when we fail to understand the light, when we fail to grasp the new, the difficult and the wonderful, we struggle to understand how, in a violent world, with violent hearts, forgiveness and love could be the only way. We struggle to understand how, in a world of seeming scarcity, generosity is the only answer.

And so may we, in our inability to understand the light, not say "No! This is the way we have always done it" and beat up the monkeys climbing the ladder. But may we draw closer, even though we do not understand, to the God that is light.?

This article first appeared on the site Christian Today.

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