Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Phenomenology of a cat

Let’s finally return to the main theme of this blog – cats! Everyone knows that the sole purpose of a house cat is to be an apartment decoration. How does the cat perceive its own existence though?

‘Machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of a beast’. That’s the phrase from a famous story by Jorge Louis Borges, «Inferno, I, 32». The story is about Dante writing his Divine Comedy. One day Dante goes to the city center of Florence and sees a leopard brought to the city by a local circus. He’s impressed by the leopard and later mentions him in the first part of the Divine Comedy, the Inferno. That day, the leopard has a dream – in the dream he is being told that he was created for one sole purpose – so that Dante could see him and later put him into his legendary poem. But then the leopard wakes up and cannot comprehend anything from the dream. Who’s Dante? What are poems? What is inferno? (Then a very similar dream about the purpose of his life is revealed to Dante, but that’s a whole different story…).

In overall, that’s a good metaphor about truth and tools accessible to our cognition in order to interpret it. Whether these are cognitive tools imbedded in us, humans, or in the felines. So let’s proceed to the original topic – how does a feline perceive its own existence, just this time – not a leopard, but a house cat.

The cat is smart, no doubt. However, the cat is alien to any concepts that structure the human cognition. Space, time, cause and effect (more about the application of Kant’s philosophy to cats here). The cat lacks reason (otherwise it wouldn’t be fiercely blocking the bowl before I even finish dispensing milk into it). No words, no linguistically-structured thoughts, just pure perception and actions determined by impulses. Can the cat even explain to itself why it gets a sudden idea to attack a human leg or to chirp at a bird?

Essentially, every cat starts to cognize this world from scratch. With no civilization, there’s essentially no difference in knowledge of the world accessible to a cat as of now, and a cat from 3,000 years ago. No language to pass knowledge to other generations, no tools to build something that can preserve the same information. What’s even the worth of having a generation change frequency of 2-3 years then? All this inefficiency just because the cat lacks movable hands with opposable thumbs, and the language abilities. Just these two things – and you’re not able to build civilization, anything that lasts.

Therefore, a cat is a perfect example of a creature living in the current moment, in a forever here and now. And is this really the goal of all currently trending mindfulness courses – to make human perception of the world more similar to the one of small animals?

So, with having no rational reason, no sound logical skills, no culture or civilization, how come the cat still acts so self-confident and arrogant?

The explanation must be the following. Imagine: you’re a small predator, that finds itself in a closed space with a few representatives of another species: much bigger and clumsier. You’re alone and you realize your difference. Can you however conclude that your existence is inferior? Not at all. Cognition of a cat is alien to anything that can signify human superiority: what is culture? What is science and art? The cat judges humans by the same standard as other animals: by their size and speed of movement. To a cat, humans must seem dumb.

How does it feel however to lack tools to even realize the real hierarchy order – and your own inferiority within it? Sometimes I envy this sense of self-importance stemming out of ignorance.

So I’m sitting here studying Delta neutral option hedging strategies, while the cat lies next to me. Does the cat understand the idea of option hedging? Is the cat aware of existence of financial markets?  Both markets and money mostly exist in the human imagination, so the cat is obviously not suspecting of their existence. Indeed, that’s the famous thought of Noah Harari that humans had to come up with all sorts of imaginary concepts just in order to organize efficient cooperation between large social groups. But cats are solitary, they don’t live in large groups, so there’s no need for self-organization based on such creative techniques.

So in the end that’s an interesting trade-off: you either have to withstand coexistence with hundreds of other annoying individuals, but within a sophisticated cultural context, or – the existence on your own, but with no access to many interesting imaginary concepts or cultural things whatsoever. An unexpected thing from a sociophobic person to say – but perhaps the benefits of society may outweigh its flaws after all.

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