Clever Hans: the Horse that Scientists believed could Speak German and do Mathematics

For a short time in the early 1900s, scientists believed that a horse could speak German, recognize painters in their style, and perform complex mathematics. Sometimes knowledge is a curse. Today, we know that if you want to distinguish between a composition by Chapin and Techevsky, you probably better go to someone with some musical training than a horse. At the beginning of the twentieth century, perhaps it was or could be.

In 1900, mathematics teacher Wilhelm von Austen got tired of working exclusively with people – or got the challenge below him – and trained himself to train horses. For four years he kept the horse through advanced horse math classes before presenting the results to the world. The horse answers questions with hoof taps from his instructor; the horse goes beyond all classes.

For example, when the zodiac is asked to perform, the horse soon finds out its required number. Of course, this horse needed to know German, a language that was seen to be able to spell even Hans. Using its hooves to pull out the letters of the alphabet (A = 1, B = 2, etc.) the horse can visually spell the person’s name and communicate throughout the sentence. Since there is no classical art training he can be identified by the artists by their work. Needless to say, the horse was hit with the Beatles (somehow in the world of horse math) and a huge crowd came to see a horse communicate through the tap. It was not only tipi poles that were taken but also scientists and biologists.

Of course, there were violent words (yes, it’s a pang – you wouldn’t dare judge). People have been riding around them for hundreds of years, suddenly it should be said that you were riding on something with the intelligence of an accountant, and some were naturally skeptical. The first to examine the horse, and to test it rigorously, was the German Board of Education in 1904, which formed a commission to look into what was going on. In these experiments over a year and a half, Hans’s instructor was seen trying to run any strategy apart from the horse.