Can a Cat Think?

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Can a cat think?

I apologize for changing the words of New York University philosophy professor Thomas Nagel who asked if you could think like a bat.  His answer was probably not, because a bat’s way of thinking is so different from ours we could not place ourselves in its frame of reference (he called this “subjective knowledge”).

  

When it comes to cats, I have no idea what they are thinking, though I suspect they are the sneaky thinkers of the animal world.  They give off the appearance of thinking a great deal, one sitting in the window now, looking out at the world as if contemplating its next move.  But can I really know what’s going on in their deepest mental states, or must I simply accept that like most relationships, it’s nearly impossible to know what the other person (or feline)is really thinking.   All I can judge are the behaviors of people or cats; I have no idea what ideas lurked before those actions.  I can evaluate a simple stimulus response.  I know if I put catnip on the floor, my cat will go for it.   But what is she thinking beforehand?    Or is she not thinking at all, a trait that seems almost human like when it comes to food, sex, or alcohol.

We have four cats.  Each one is alike and each one is different, like snowflakes that are about to descend in this part of the world.  But each cat is curious, something I admire about them since I think curiosity is what makes life interesting (and dangerous).  That’s why when it comes time for me to leave this planet and someone who doesn’t know me is supposed to give a short talk about who I am, I’d like a poem by Alastair Reid read–a poem that contains these words about cats (and some humans):

…Face it. Curiosity
will not cause us to die–
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probable hell)
would kill us all.
Only the curious
have, if they live, a tale
worth telling at all.

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Filed under John C. Morgan

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