Snake Detection Theory

Site intervention document with woolly monkeys, prosthetic signs, 2014

Dr. Lynne Isbell's snake detection theory suggests that predation by snakes contributed to the evolution of our early hominid ancestor’s visual system, endowing us with forward-facing eyes and enlarged visual centers deep in our brains that are specialized for picking out specific features in the world around us, such as the general shape of a snake's body camouflaged among leaves. Predation by snakes may also have led to the evolution of human language by learning to point at snakes, a form of directed social attention and gestural language.

Snake Detection Theory was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to help monkeys to evolve by teaching them to point at snakes.The site-responsive intervention, carried out during a residency at the Tiputini Research Station in the Ecuadorian Amazon, consists of me demonstrating the nuances of pointing to howler monkeys in an enormous fig tree, using a range of "tools" and "signs": prosthetic hands, photographic aids, and popular cinema.
In consultation with Dr. Lynne Isbellbehavioral ecologist