Hundredth Monkey
Crucial to the New Age movement was the positing of a
means or agent to bring it into existence. Some saw the New
Age as due to astrological forces released by the changing
movement of the stars or due to energy coming from the spiritual
hierarchy. The concept of the Hundredth Monkey was an
alternative to both astrological and spiritualist concepts. It suggested
that when a certain number of people gave their consent
and commitment to a new idea, it would spread through the
population somewhat mysteriously. Thus as the number of people
attuned to the New Age grew, at some point New Age consciousness
would spontaneously sweep through the general
population, and the New Age would arrive.
The basis for this idea was derived from a story in the 1979
book Lifetide A Biology of the Unconscious by Lyall Watson. He reported
on research conducted by several anthropologists on
the macaques (a species of monkey) in the islands off Japan. According
to the story, in 1953 one of the anthropologists observed
an aged macaque female wash a potato to get the sand
and grit off of it before eating. She, in turn, taught another to
do the same thing. The pair taught others, and soon a number
of the adult macaques were washing their potatoes. In the fall
of 1958, almost every macaque was doing it. Then macaques
who had had no contact with the potato-washing monkeys
began to wash their food. It appeared, concluded Watson, that
as the practice spread through the monkey communities, a critical
mass was approached when 98 and then 99 monkeys
washed their food. Then, when the hundredth monkey adopted
the practice, critical mass was reached, and the practice exploded
through the monkey population.
Watson’s story was seized upon by New Age spokesperson
Ken Keyes, founder of the Living Love Seminars. In 1982 he
published the book The Hundredth Monkey and within a year
had distributed 300,000 copies. His subject was peace, and he
argued that peace consciousness could spread throughout the
human race only if a sufficient number of people adopted a
commitment to peace. Once a critical mass was reached, love
of peace would suddenly move quickly through the race. As the
idea became a well-known concept within the New Age community,
other writers, such as Rupert Sheldrake, Peter Russell, and
Stanislav Grof, picked up the discussion.
However, the idea of the hundredth monkey did not go unchallenged
within the New Age community. As early as 1983,
psychologist Maureen O’Hara confronted it in the Journal of
Humanistic Psychology. Her article was followed two years later
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Hundredth Monkey
by another writer protesting Watson’s claims, arguing that all
the monkeys who washed their food had learned it from another.
There was no evidence of a magical mysterious spread of the
practice. Watson accepted Amundson’s analysis of the situation
and admitted that he had developed the hundredth monkey
concept as a metaphor based on slim evidence and a great deal
of hearsay. While the concept retained some supporters
through the 1980s, it slowly disappeared from New Age thinking.
Keyes, Ken, Jr., The Hundredth Monkey. Coos Bay, Ore. Vision
Books, 1982.
Watson, Lyall. Lifetide A Biology of the Unconscious. New York
Simon & Schuster, 1979

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