In the book The 100th Monkey Ken Keyes, Jr. tells the story of a scientific research study on monkeys that supports the notion that quantum shifts can occur when a population reaches a “critical mass.” This phenomenon is often referred to when one is in need of evidence to support the belief that an optimistic future is possible for humankind. The 100th Monkey empowers us to have faith that if enough people will just think the right loving and compassionate thoughts —

When we reach the 100th human—or whatever number is the tipping point—then suddenly, almost magically, our world will shift.

In 1952, on the island of Koshima, Japan, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkeys liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant. One young monkey found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother as well as her playmates, who then taught their mothers too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys, and by 1958 all the young monkeys in the study group learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. However, only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes—the exact number is not known. Let us suppose 99. And later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.

THEN IT HAPPENED! By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

But note: These scientists later observed a most surprising thing. The habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea…Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama, Japan, began washing their sweet potatoes too.

Thus, when a certain critical number of people achieves an awareness, this new consciousness may be communicated from mind to mind. Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon marks the point at which if only one more person tunes in to a new awareness its field is strengthened to the point where the concept or knowledge, for example, is picked up by almost everyone!

A blending of biologists’ morphogenetic fields and Carl Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious, this story instills hope that as humans we will one day reach our own critical mass of positive thought on Earth. Today’s science shows us that patterns and fields that are without mass or energy do in fact shape the manifestations of form and energy in our world. The more widespread these fields are, the greater their influence on our physical reality.

Unfortunately, after researching the story of the monkeys I found that the way it was told here is not entirely true. The original research findings do not support the idea of an “ideological breakthrough” phenomenon. According to the researchers, the shift that occurred was not an unconscious, spontaneous transmission of information, but rather a shift in culture. There were no monkeys that all of a sudden began washing potatoes. Disappointed? Don’t be. After investigating the source of the 100th Monkey story, I found the truth even more inspiring!

The problem people often have with truth is that it requires us to change.

I went back to the original research and found that it did not tell a tale of mystical miracles and unexplainable phenomena. The original research findings instead offer a picture of a shift created by the cultural adaptation— a phenomenon that has hope of being duplicated by optimistic humans willing to take action instead of sitting idle waiting for the world to change.

In the original research there was no mention of the monkeys reaching a certain threshold that imparted the idea of potato washing onto the entire group or beyond. The research found that if monkeys had not started to wash sweet potatoes by the time they became adults, they were unlikely to learn it later. The true findings offer a good example of what Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions would refer to as a “paradigm shift,” rather than an example of a spontaneous transmission of ideas. As with human culture, older generations cling to the worldviews of their upbringing. Widespread change, paradigm shifts, and critical mass are reached only once an older generation withdraws from power and a younger generation matures within the new paradigm.
I have found no research that supports the idea that holding positive thoughts alone is sufficient in and of itself to change the world. I have to admit, though, that I like the idea of affecting the collective unconscious and our manifest world solely through positive thought—it seems so much easier than trying to change others directly. However, even though the 100th Monkey story does not provide concrete evidence of mind-to-mind universal consciousness shifts, I choose to believe that this phenomenon is happening to some degree behind the scenes.

What I like about the true story behind this research is it empowers us to affect the world in a real way.

It doesn’t take 100 “monkeys” changing a behavior and then waiting for the rest of their tribe to get a clue—it takes 100 “monkeys” innovating new ideas and behaviors, teaching them to their peers, and learning them from each other.

We are social, collective, interdependent beings! It’s not just our quantum fields interweaving in the beyond-the-physical dimensions of our universe that are responsible for quantum shifts and the possibility of “critical mass.” We are responsible, right here, on earth, where we are intricately connected and dependent on one another to support each other as we evolve! No large-scale paradigm shift—from the ending of slavery to freedom of religion—has ever occurred without a small group of people focusing their intents and actions on their visions for a better world.

Together we can create the shift:

Choose Your Thoughts: Continue to focus your attention on the positive—on peace, on love, on abundance, on freedom. You would never guess the number of people who are observing you and learning from you, just as the mother monkeys did from their young.

Choose Your Actions: Live it! Whatever it is you wish to see more of in the world, be it! Live as an example and walk in the light. Let your light be a beacon of hope for those whose paths you cross.

Teach Others: Actively teach others whatever it is that you want to see more of in the world. What was once new knowledge or inspiration to you is still new to someone else, so spread the light!

“You Must Be The Change You Wish to See in the World.” — Ghandi

In the end, the true story of the 100th Monkey tells a compelling story of a critical mass being reached through cultural transmission—when one person consciously imprints new thought patterns onto the unconscious of those within his or her reach. This shift is then spread like a positive mind virus as each infected person interacts with both the quantum field and the physical reality of countless other individuals.

I believe a critical mass will be reached in which a higher level of consciousness will no longer be the personal experiences of a few but the well-established alternative for all. Maybe it will be due to all of our positive thinking shifting the world through the collective unconscious, or maybe it will be because we communicate positively with others, take inspired action, and lead the way to a better world. Either way, I vote for action. You never know when or how your light will touch that 100th human!

Author's Bio: 

Natalie Amsden is a Transformation Coach, Author, Publisher, and Public Speaker who has worked with thousands of people seeking to live a life of purpose and genuine relationship with their true selves, others, and their world. Her background includes being the Director of the Adolescent Life Coaching Center, a counseling center for at risk teenagers and their parents. She is the Publisher of Transformation Magazine, an empowerment magazine that focuses on personal growth and spirituality. She is also a public speaker and leads workshops and retreats on Practical Spirituality, Finding Joy, Discovering Your Purpose, and Enlightened Relationships.