The recent headlines about chimps who outperform college students at mental math are somewhat misleading. It's not that these were super chimps, or moronic freshmen. Boxer and Feinstein, two female chimps named for California's senators, played a memory game that asked them to compare numbers and choose the larger number of two sets of objects. Their human opponents-- here's what made the difference-- "were not allowed to count or verbalize as they worked, and they were told to answer as quickly as possible. Both chimps and humans typically answered within 1 second. And both groups fared about the same."
Comparing sets of numbers resembles a task primates might have to perform in nature: grabbing as much as you can before the hyenas chase you away, or the po-pos arrive, whichever comes first. Taking language away from the humans put us on a level playing field with the other primates. "I think of this more as using non-human primates as a tool for discovering where the sophisticated human mind comes from," explains Jessica Cantlon of Duke. "I don't think language is the only thing that differentiates humans from non-human primates, but in terms of math tasks, it is probably the big one," she said.
The snatch-and-grab-it instinct tells us a lot about why so many right wing cranks reject taxation, and vote against their own self interest to support the Republican party while the infrastructure turns to shit around them. Kim Stanley Robinson does the math in his novel Forty Signs of Rain:
“The average surplus value created by American workers is thirty-three dollars an hour.... Sixty four thousand three hundred and fifty dollars a year, generated by the average worker in surplus value.”
".... What's the average income?" Edgardo asked. "Thirty thousand?.... Call it thirty, and what's the average taxes paid?.... Call it ten. So let's see. You work every day of the year, except for three lousy weeks. You make around a hundred thousand dollars. Your boss takes two thirds, and gives you one third, and you give a third of that to the government. Your government uses what it takes to build all the roads and schools and police and pensions, and your boss takes his share and buys a mansion on an island somewhere. So naturally you complain about your bloated inefficient Big Brother of a government, and you always vote for the pro-owner party."
“.... It's a matter of what you can see," [Frank] suggested. "You see your boss, you see your paycheck, it's given to you. You have it. Then you're forced to give some of it to the government. You never know about the surplus value you've created, because it was disappeared in the first place. Cooked in the books.... The only things people understand are sensory. We’re hard-wired to understand life on the savannah. Someone gives you meat, they’re your friend. Someone takes your meat, they’re your enemy. Abstract concepts or statistics just aren’t as real as what you see and touch. People are only good at what they can think out in terms of their senses. That’s just the way we evolved.”