The Horse that Could Do Complex Math
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The Horse that Could Do Complex Math

October 18, 2019


Move over Mr. Ed, Clever Hans was the original
horse who could communicate with humans in complex ways. Well, at least it seemed that way at the time. This phenomenon began in the late 19th century
with a German mathematics teacher by the name of Wilhelm Von Osten. He was a student of phrenology, which meant
that he adhered to the belief that a person’s intelligence, among other things, can be determined
by the size and shape of their head. In addition, he was interested in animal intelligence
and the idea that it was greatly underestimated by the human race. As a result of his beliefs, Von Osten decided
to attempt to teach three different animals – a cat, a bear and a horse named Hans. The first two didn’t turn out so well, but
at least he escaped being mauled by the bear. To his delight, the horse did seem to respond
to Von Osten’s mathematical tutelage. It began with Hans simply tapping out numbers
written on a blackboard. Any number under 10 he could count by tapping
one of his hooves. Von Osten was excited and encouraged by this
progress and thus decided to test the horse further. He began writing out basic mathematical problems
and attempted to train Hans to recognize simple symbols. This proved relatively easy for the animal
and before long he was able to provide correct answers to a myriad of problems, including
fractions, square roots and multiplication. Von Osten decided to take Hans on the road,
and in 1891 he was performing free shows all over Germany. By this stage, Hans was able to spell out
names with his taps, as well as tell the time and work out dates. Despite the fact that his accuracy wasn’t
100%, Hans’ abilities were impressive enough to draw large crowds, as well as attract the
attention of skeptics such as representatives from the New York Times (who ran a front page
story about the horse) as well as Germany’s board of education. The latter decided that they wanted to investigate
Hans’ abilities, which Von Osten readily agreed to. After all, he knew he was no fraudster and
there was no scandal to be exposed. The investigation team became known as the
Hans Commission and it was comprised of a variety men from differing professions. These included a psychologist, a few school
teachers, a circus manager, two zoologists, and a horse trainer. Despite thorough investigation and testing,
the commission concluded in 1904 that there was nothing fraudulent about Hans’ abilities
and that he really was a gifted horse. Despite their findings, a psychologist by
the name of Oskar Pfungst remained skeptical about Hans and his supposed abilities. With the permission of Von Osten, he picked
up where the Hans Commission left off and embarked on some thorough and unique investigation
techniques. Firstly, he had a tent erected in which the
experiments would take place. The primary purpose of this was to shield
the investigation, and Hans himself, from outside distraction and contamination. He then made a large list of questions to
ask Hans, as well as the variables that could affect the outcome. At first, Hans reacted to questioning as normal
as usual, at least when his owner asked them. However, things began change when Pfungst
began to change certain environmental factors during the questioning. For instance, he asked Von Osten to stand
further away when asking Hans questions. The horses’ accuracy diminished, though
nobody was sure why. As a result, the psychologist decided to try
some other variables. Von Osten was instructed to ask Hans questions
that he himself didn’t know the answer to, and immediately Han’ accuracy went from
being roughly 89% correct to almost 0%. The same results would also occur if Hans
was questioned from behind a concealing screen. It seemed that to answer questions, Hans needed
to have a clear view of his questioner who incidentally had to know the answer to the
question itself. The obvious conclusion would be that Von Osten
had trained Hans to respond to previously prepared questions, but why then would he
so readily agree to the investigation? To answer this question, Pfungst decided to
continue his studies, but to switch his focus to those who were questioning and interacting
with the horse. He almost instantaneously noticed certain
shifts in the posture, facial expressions and breathing of the questioners whenever
Hans tapped his hoof. With every tap, their tension seemed to increase
; when the correct answer had been reached, it would disappear. Pfungst thus concluded that Hans was taking
these subtle shifts in tension as his cue to stop. This tension didn’t exist when the questioner
was unaware of the answer to his own question, which explains why Hans had no idea what to
do in that circumstance. The most fascinating part of this was that
both Von Osten and any other questioner involved had absolutely no idea that they were giving
Hans cues. It was all completely unconsciously done. To further prove his point, Pfungst himself
took on the role of Hans and attempted to answer questions based purely off body language. By carefully watching his questioners, he
was successful in this test, even when they were aware of these cues. It seems that they weren’t able to stop
themselves from displaying them. Since then, displays of unintentional cues
have become known as the “Clever Hans Effect.” Despite the fact that Pfungst’s investigation
proved Clever Hans to be something of a hoax, he did inadvertently prove Von Osten’s own
hypotheses surrounding the intelligence of animals. Sure, Hans couldn’t really do semi-complex
math or tell you the time without a little help, but he was incredibly receptive to extremely
subtle human body language. It may not be the intellect that Von Osten
was going for, but it is nonetheless impressive. Bonus Fact:
Speaking of intelligent animals, none other than Dick Van Dyke was once saved by porpoises
when he found himself lost at sea on a surfboard. So what’s the story here? In his younger years, Van Dyke frequently
spent time surfing. In an appearance on The Late Late Show with
Craig Ferguson, Van Dyke briefly mentioned one such time he was surfing using a 10 foot
long-board. Said Dick:
“Went out once and fell asleep on the board… and woke up out of sight of land and I looked
around and started paddling with the swells and I start seeing fins swimming around me
and I thought, “well I’m dead.” They turned out to be porpoises and they pushed
me all the way to shore. I’m not kidding.” Bizarrely, Ferguson didn’t choose to have
Van Dyke elaborate on this remarkable tale and instead immediately after Van Dyke uttered
this proceeded to make a few slightly less than humorous jokes and then used the remaining
time in the segment to have Van Dyke play a harmonica (Dick Van Dyke does not actually
know how to play the harmonica). So we can give no further details like: when
did it happen (would we have missed out on is wonderful performances in Chitty Chitty
Bang Bang and Mary Poppins had the porpoises not helped him out, or was this after the
fact); how far out did he estimate he was after they pushed him back to shore; were
they really porpoises or was Van Dyke simply making the common slip of thinking dolphins
are porpoises and vice-verse; where exactly was he surfing at the time; did he fall asleep
on porpoise? (ba-dop-ting sound followed by awkward stare
for a few seconds with crickets sound in the background)
In any event, for those curious, you can tell the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin
on sight in a few different ways. First, porpoises have much shorter snouts
that also are fairly flat at the end and easily distinguished from dolphin snouts. Less obvious at first glance is that their
teeth have more of a spade shape than the conical shape dolphin teeth have. Porpoises also tend to be smaller than most
types of dolphins. • Going back to sealife rescues, a man,
Ronnie Dabal, was once saved by Dolphins after having his fishing boat capsized during a
storm. At the time, he was out of sight of land and
once his boat sunk, he grabbed onto some Styrofoam to stay afloat. Eventually, a group of about 30 dolphins came
along and took turns nudging him towards land for several hours until he finally ended up
exhausted on a beach about 24 hours after his boat sank. • In another instance, on October 30, 2004,
in New Zealand, a pod of 7 Bottlenose Dolphins rescued a group of young lifeguards, members
of the Whangarei Heads Surf Lifesaving Club, from a Great White Shark. The dolphins first began acting strange, tightly
circling and slapping the water next to the people, eventually herding them into a close
group. It was then that one of the older lifeguards,
Rob Howes, noticed the 9-10 foot Great White Shark swimming very close to them, being kept
at bay by the dolphins. This encounter lasted a full 40 minutes with
the dolphins successfully fending off the shark and no one getting hurt.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Those facts at the end are amazing and I'm not surprised, especially as I'm rewatching Blue Planet II on Netflix 🙂

  2. I was hoping he found an alternative demonstration to "Disjoint union of paracompact spaces is again a paracompact space"

  3. So Hans was basically a Mentalist? Pretty impressive!
    Craig Ferguson used to let his guests chose. Awkward pause or play the harmonica. It was his gag at the end of the interview. It was fun. Long before all these extreme sketches that late night hosts do now.

  4. It's especially impressive since there are plenty of humans who are less accomplished at understanding cues from others!

  5. and how do we reward dolphins and porpoises for their acts of kindness towards us?  we kidnap them from the wild, taking them away from their families, contain them in cages of glass and force them to perform for people for the peoples' amusement, essentially making them slaves.

  6. Dolphins are A$$ Holes. Really the last thing they said was before leaving earth was "So long and thanks for all the fish". They could not have given us a heads up about the End of the World. Mom always said "You can Never trust a dolphin". Boy was she right.

  7. If a pod of dolphins pushed a person away from land he would die and we would never hear about it. Thus we only hear about successful outcomes. It could be they were just pushing the surfboard around as a toy. ( But I prefer to think it was a benevolent act until more evidence.)

  8. One time snorkeling in the Indian Ocean, I saw three dolphins and swam towards them. I stopped about 20 yards away from them. They stopped swimming, turned to look at me and then slowly swam towards me. They swam under me and came to the surface behind me. They then swam three circles around me before they swam away. I don't think there were any sharks about. I think they were just curious and having fun swimming circles around me. ☺

  9. I’d like to see an episode dedicated to the stories of porpoises and or dolphins saving lives or helping people. And possibly one to the conclusions by scientists about communicating with them?

  10. This makes me really wonder. I mean this and how dogs read us really shows there can be a cross species understanding of body language since its a skill they could obviously use to survive especially with humans. But why we can do maths then? What makes us able todo it.

  11. could / would you give me the reference to the cat in glasses on book photo. Might be a good one for us, and would like to give credit.

  12. Another new channel . I already get 4 new videos from you a day and im only subbed to Top Tenz,Geographics,Biograpics, VisualPolitik, and TIFO

  13. In the 1960s TV series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Skippy could communicate to the humans by using various clicking noises. OMG how naive was we then?

  14. There is almost exactly 5 minutes of the actual subject matter in this almost 10 minute video. If your videos were 5min long and to the point I'd watch most of them.

  15. I wonder if these dolphins where cut from a fishing net or helped in some way by humans and they're like yeah man, paying it forward. Also, of course horses can see right into a human soul, their eyes freak me out. Huge black orbs of forbidden knowledge.

  16. Damn, you have alot of channels. I love them all. I'm subscribed to Top Tenz, Biographics, Geographics, and I'll subscribe to Blaze. Is there any more?

  17. Animals are smarter than we give them credit for, and often for reasons other than what we would consider as relevant.

  18. Animal intelligence is underestimated by the human race as a consequence of human intelligence being overestimated by the human race.

  19. i would think horse being good at reading body language is because they communicate with each other with their ears, i would imagine there is more 'signals' they give with their ear than we know, so subtle differences we dont even notice them.

  20. First minute? I actually fucking hate that. I'm not here to see you ripple with falsified mirth, and I dislike when you pepper your delivery with off-script would-be glee. It's shallow and unprofessional, and I will not subscribe to the new channel. I am about ready to unsubscribe from this one. If you lived on my continent, I would tell you these things in person.

  21. As a horseman, I could believe this. Horses are extremely attentive to body language. When we ride horses, we communicate what we want the horse to do with body language and pressure. Watch a liberty horse demonstration and you can see what you can ask a horse to do with nothing but body language. These people inadvertently taught the horse this.

    However horses are very intelligent. I university recently released a study where they were able to train the horse to communicate more receptively with humans. Using different buttons they trained the horses to tell them when they wanted their blankets taken off and when they wanted them put on. They even correlated it with body temperature to prove that it wasn’t random, the horses knew what they wanted, and knew what they were asking.

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