The Smartest Horse That Ever Lived

Ocean

Jedi Council Member
There was another famous horse who was known as Clever Hans the Math Horse. This was in Germany in the late 1800's. Though scientific experiments determined that it was the human bond, combined with unconscious subtle body movements from the questioner that made Hans'clever'

It has been found that many animals are sensitive to such cues from their human owners. Today, the term “Clever Hans Effect” is used to describe the influence of a questioner’s subtle and unintentional cues upon their subjects, in both humans and in animals. To prevent prejudices and foreknowledge from contaminating experimental results, modern science employs the double-blind method where researchers and subjects are unaware of many details of the experiment until after the results are recorded. For instance, when drug-sniffing dogs undergo training, none of the people present know which containers have drugs in them; otherwise their body language might betray the location and render the exercise useless.


Clever Hans the Math Horse

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In the late 1800s, a German high school mathematics instructor named Wilhelm Von Osten was pushing a few scientific envelopes from his home in Berlin. Among other things, he was a student of phrenology, the now discredited theory that one’s intelligence, character, and personality traits can be derived based of the shape of one’s head. But it was his keen interest in animal intelligence that would ultimately win him fame.

Von Osten firmly believed that humanity had greatly underestimated the reasoning skills and intelligence of animals. To test his hypothesis, he took it upon himself to tutor a cat, a horse, and a bear in the ways of mathematics. The cat was indifferent to his efforts, and the bear seemed outright hostile, but the arab stallion named Hans showed some real promise. With further tutelage, Hans the horse learned to use his hoof to tap out numbers written on a blackboard. Much to Von Osten’s delight, jotting a “3” on the blackboard would prompt a tap-tap-tap from his pupil, a feat which Hans could repeat for any number under ten.

Encouraged by this success, Von Osten pressed his student further. The scientist drew out some basic arithmetic problems on his chalkboard, and attempted to train the horse in the symbols’ meanings. Hans had no problem keeping up with the curriculum, and soon he was providing the correct responses to a variety of math problems including basic square roots and fractions. Hans was proving to be a clever horse indeed.

Starting in 1891, Von Osten began parading “Clever Hans” all over Germany to show off the horse’s mathematical proficiency. As word of the spectacle spread, Hans’ free exhibitions began drawing larger and larger crowds of curious onlookers. They were seldom disappointed.

“If the first day of the month is a Wednesday,” Von Osten would ask Hans, who had learned to respond to verbal questions, “what is the date of the following Monday?” Six hoof-taps would follow. “What is the square root of sixteen?” Four taps. Von Osten also explained to the astonished crowds that Hans could spell out words with taps, where one tap is an “A”, two taps a “B”, and so on. Hans would then demonstrate this talent by spelling out the names of people he knew, and responding to simple questions. He could also tap out the time of day. Though he made mistakes occasionally, his accuracy was found to be roughly 89%. By some estimates, Hans’ grasp of mathematics was equivalent to a fourteen-year-old’s.



Naturally there were many skeptics, particularly after the New York Times featured the crafty horse in a front-page story. Germany’s board of education asked to conduct an independent investigation into Hans’ abilities, and Von Osten agreed. He was a man of science, after all, and he knew that there was no fraud to expose. The board members assembled a number of scientific minds to join the Hans Commission, including two zoologists, a psychologist, a horse trainer, several school teachers, and a circus manager. Following extensive independent testing, the commission concluded in 1904 that there was no trickery involved in Hans’ responses; as far as they could tell, the horse’s talents were genuine.

The Hans Commission then passed the investigation on to Oskar Pfungst, a psychologist with some novel ideas on how to best unravel the mystery. Pfungst erected a large tent to house his experiments, thereby removing the contaminating effects of outside visual stimuli. In order to produce a sufficient data set, the scientist compiled a very large list of questions, and carefully outlined the different variables that were to be considered. Thus Pfungst began his interrogation of Hans.

As expected, Hans performed very well when questions were posed by his owner, Von Osten. He also received very high marks for accuracy with other questioners under normal conditions. But when the experiment called for the questioner to stand farther away, something interesting happened: the horse’s accuracy diminished somewhat, though it wasn’t immediately clear why.

It was the final two variables which proved to be the most revealing. In instances where the questioner didn’t know the answer to a question in advance, the accuracy of Hans’ responses plummeted to nearly zero. Likewise when the questioner was completely concealed from him. It seemed that Hans’ cleverness hinged on his ability to have an up-close, unobstructed view of the person who knew the correct answer. The researchers also found evidence that hounding a horse with questions he can’t answer leads to painful horse-bites.

Pfungst continued his experiments, but with a new emphasis on observing the humans interacting with Hans. The psychologist immediately noticed that each questioner’s breathing, posture, and facial expression involuntarily changed each time the hoof tapped, showing ever-so-slight increases in tension. Once the “correct” tap was made, that subtle underlying tension suddenly disappeared from the person’s face, which Hans apparently took as the cue to stop tapping. Pfungst also noticed that this tension was not present when the questioner was unaware of the correct answer, which left Hans without the necessary feedback.

Though the experiment strongly indicated that the horse probably had no real grasp of math, it did uncover an extraordinary insight. Hans wasn’t dipping into a reservoir of intellect to work out the answers, he was merely being receptive to the subtle, unconscious cues which were universally present in his human questioners. There is evidence to indicate that horses may possess an enhanced sensitivity to inconspicuous body language, perhaps as a key part of their social interactions with other horses.

Once he became aware of these cues, Pfungst was able to rival Hans’ accuracy by placing himself in the “horse” role, tapping out his answers to researchers’ questions and keeping a sharp eye on their body language. Even more interestingly, he discovered that questioners seemed unable to suppress these subtle cues, even when made aware of them.



In the intervening years, it has been found that many animals are sensitive to such cues from their human masters. Today, the term “Clever Hans Effect” is used to describe the influence of a questioner’s subtle and unintentional cues upon their subjects, in both humans and in animals. To prevent prejudices and foreknowledge from contaminating experimental results, modern science employs the double-blind method where researchers and subjects are unaware of many details of the experiment until after the results are recorded. For instance, when drug-sniffing dogs undergo training, none of the people present know which containers have drugs in them; otherwise their body language might betray the location and render the exercise useless.

Wilhelm Von Osten never really accepted the Clever Hans explanation, so he and his horse continued to put on their math-and-body-language show throughout Germany for some time. Throughout their career, the pair continued to draw large and enthusiastic crowds. Though Hans the horse knew nothing of math and had a flimsy grasp of German at best, his ability to fool so many people for so long clearly gives him a legitimate claim to cleverness. Considering his gifts in reading humans’ unconscious tells, there’s also little doubt that with some opposable thumbs and a stack of high society, Hans would have made one hell of a card player.
 

Ursus Minor

Jedi Master
It was the final two variables which proved to be the most revealing. In instances where the questioner didn’t know the answer to a question in advance, the accuracy of Hans’ responses plummeted to nearly zero. Likewise when the questioner was completely concealed from him. It seemed that Hans’ cleverness hinged on his ability to have an up-close, unobstructed view of the person who knew the correct answer.
The researchers also found evidence that hounding a horse with questions he can’t answer leads to painful horse-bites. :-D

I'm very much reminded of the C's remarks about animals communicating telepathically.
So when the questioner doesn't know the answer himself the horse can't tap into his mind for the answer.

Likewise when the questioner was completely concealed from him.

Could it be that the horse only tries to communicate with his human if it can see him? 🐴❔
Maybe it wasn't aware that he was still around...

It might be that humans need to have a stronger telepathic source themselves to call other beings to attention, not knowing about this form of communication they wouldn't even try.

Animal communicators are able to make contact with 2-D over long distances though.

Q: (L) Is there some way to communicate with whales or dolphins and can one find a way to translate the differences and have a reasonable, intelligent exchange with a whale or a dolphin or even an elephant?

A: You don't need conversation "with" when a higher telepathic level.

Q: (L) Dolphins and whales communicate telepathically?


A: Yes. So do dogs and cats and snakes etc. etc. only humans have learned the "superior" art of verbal communication.
 

SevenFeathers

Jedi Master
The book, “Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World” was on the shelf at my local, small town library. What a wonderful surprise that was!

The author, Mim Eichler Rivas, did a really good job of fleshing out the story. She got information from multiple sources, including newspapers, scrap books, oral histories, as well as multiple pamphlets created by Albert Rogers (promoter of the shows) such as the one discovered by David Hoffman, the filmmaker who did the original video discussed here. The author was born and raised about 100 miles from Shelbyville, Tennessee, but had never heard this story. I was born and raised about 60 miles from there and I had never heard the story. But I am certainly glad the story was brought to my attention by the short video with which I started this thread. Mr. Hoffman has multiple videos on his channel and I have watched a few others which have been uplifting and interesting. The video about Jim Key has over 1 million views since Mr. Hoffman posted it on October 24!

Bill Key (Doc) was an amazing human being. He was born into slavery. When asked about his attitude toward towards the Key family, he just said, “I was one of those fortunate men who had a kind master.” The family treated him well. He was taught to read and write (an illegal act). Jim became useful in many ways, including working with the animals. He seemed to have a gift with teaching animals of all kinds. He became a self studied veterinarian and was widely recognized in his area by both blacks and whites.

Jim Key was a special horse which was born NOT so special. He was sickly for most of his first year, but since he was fortunate to have been in Doc Key's family, he was brought to health by Doc's attention. Jim Key started showing his intelligence by imitating a dog which he had seen play fetch with a stick! Jim brought the stick to Doc, wanting to play, and when the stick was thrown, Jim ran and fetched it just as the dog had done. After that day of play with Doc, Jim refused to go back into the stables, but instead followed Doc to the door of the house, wanting to be with Doc. Doc told Albert Rogers, “He just lived in my house and followed me around like a dog. Pretty soon, he began to pick at me, trying to imitate me. He wanted to know what everything was, and I commenced to teach him simple things.” Jim learned to identify everyday items. In return for rewards of stroking, praise, and pieces of apple – which became his favorite treat – he would fetch anything Doc might request.

By the way, Jim was house trained. He had watched the dogs and humans go outside to do their business, and he became fastidious about this as well! Jim stayed in the house with the family until he grew so much that he was breaking the floor. When they tried to move him to the stable, he became so upset that Doc started sleeping on a cot beside Jim in the stable. This continued the rest of their lives.

Doc then continued teaching Jim many things, including all the unbelievable things such as counting and spelling. He said he was able to do it with patience and kindness, not a whip.

The road shows were not an immediate success, but through the promotional efforts of Albert, the crowds started to grow. Jim Key was a great actor and smart horse, and loved to perform. A stray dog came into the picture, and became Jim's constant companion (Monk).

Many who came to the shows as skeptics left as believers and fans. Doc and Jim traveled together for many years, and only “retired” when Jim's rheumatism made it hard on him. When Doc Key died, Jim fell into a depression, but the family saw him through it with kindness and Jim recovered. Jim died about a year later at age 23. Dr. Stanley Davis (who had taken over the vet business) wrote to Albert: “He just passed out with all ease. There was no struggle, rather a surrender. He was buried where he lay, in the front yard, in a grave raised about a foot high, over which Maggie Davis Key planted a bed flowers.”

I don't know exactly how Jim Key did all he did. He was definitely smart and was able to learn and memorize things. But the counting and spelling? How did he do that? Since he and Doc had such a special bond, is it possible he was reading Doc's mind to get the answers? Possibly, but even when he was tested by Harvard scholars, he did well. He was an amazing horse, who lived with an amazing human. I recommend reading the book to see all the details of how man and horse lived. It is an uplifting and inspiring story.
 

SevenFeathers

Jedi Master
The whole scenario reminded me of the film “Horse Whisper”
Doc was definitely a horse whisperer and more, but "Albert Rogers was clearly ambivalent about portraying Dr. Key as a horse whisperer -- generally considered at the time to be suspect". He was trying to promote the show to people who might not appreciate this aspect of Dr. Key, so didn't use that term in his promotions.
 
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