Friday, 20 January 2012

Do cats know that they are cats?

For my current research I am reading about mysterious things such as emotions, memory and consciousness. The latter seems especially controversial. There seems to be no way of saying what consciousness is, what it is for, where exactly it is, or how it interacts with the rest of the world.

What has always fascinated me is the question whether human beings are the only living creatures that have consciousness. The clever book that I am reading claims, with reference to another clever book, that a bat only has consciousness if it is conscious of what it is like to be a bat. Since bats eat cats and cats eat bats, I can modify the issue. Are cats conscious of being cats?

Another question I have contemplated a lot is whether we are conscious of being alive. In Ray Bradbury's wonderful book Dandelion Wine, the young protagonist Douglas suddenly becomes conscious of being alive. Not unexpectedly, this discovery very soon leads him to the conclusion of being mortal. We all know that we will die, but are we conscious of being mortal? And are we conscious of dying when it comes to that? I know that my grandfather wasn't, the evening before he died. I wasn't there when my father dies, but according to my mother the last thing he said before drifting into merciful unconsciousness was: “So that's what it's like”. I don't know which is preferable.

But if cats are conscious of being cats, and if they know that they are alive, are they conscious of dying? Or maybe they don't have consciousness, but still know that they are dying. Maybe they are scared. Maybe they are trying to tell us something. Maybe they are trying to say goodbye. I am positively sure that Miso was trying to say goodbye

Watching a cat slowly and peacefully dying for ten days brings up lots of big questions. Farewell, Miso. You stayed with us more than a year after we thought we had lost you.

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