Monday, July 21, 2008

Can animals think? What about my cat?

Picture of three cats with one kitten sticking out its tongue

(Darwin is the big sleepy-eyed one with the attitude)

I would often watch my cat Darwin strolling along or rubbing himself against me and ask myself, can animals think? I know with the certainty of experience and close observation that animals do feel pain and pleasure. There is no doubt about it, and Descartes was wrong to claim they were mere automata. But whether they have the ability to think is another matter.

Obviously, they would not have the interior monologue we do but might be able to think on a more instinctive wordless manner. I do believe, however, that they reason. They can relate two events to each other, distinguish cause from effect, and be capable of learning.

My cat Darwin knew that it was forbidden to bite my toes. And he usually wouldn’t do it unless he was upset with me for not letting him out. He would bite me and quickly run off and hide. Similarly, whenever he committed a misdeed, for example, when he broke our mirror, he would hide under the bed or under the sheets and not show himself for quite some time. This to me shows not only the awareness of a wrong deed but also an anticipation of punishment (although we rarely punished him and when we did, he would only find himself locked up in one of our rooms for a short amount of time).

Obviously, when you call their name, they respond. Darwin would almost always come, no matter where he was or what he was doing; sometimes sleepy-eyed and grumpy, he would give us the this-better-be-important look hoping he would gain something from it, either a caress or, even better, some savory paw-licking food bits.

What amazed me the most though was when my wife felt cramps in her legs, he came and gave her a paw massage at the afflicted spot. And he stayed with her for the rest of that day, not budging from her side. He would also pick up on mood swings; when my wife was depressed, our dear cat would feel the blues as well. Yet whatever one might say or think about animals, I am always astonished how intelligent these living sentient beings can be!

For a rap video including all my cats, please click here.

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