Friday, 29 January 2010

Misty outlook for Darwin

It’s time to look again at some of the underlying principles of Darwinian thought, particularly the concept of survival of the fittest. My cat, Misty, is challenging the fundamental principles of the theory by undertaking rapid evolution within a single lifetime, without the pressure of natural selection.

Cats are proverbially untrainable. Not for nothing when faced with the thankless task of trying to get a particularly obdurate group to do something – people who combine dogmatism with ignorance, like fourteen-year old boys or merchant bankers – we talk of it as ‘like herding cats.’

Now my cat is as untrainable as the best of them. His strength is in training others.

I’ve mentioned before his techniques for bending me to his will. To get my attention when I’m in bed, he starts by pushing my belongings off the bedside table, and if that doesn’t work, switches to biting my fingers, toes or, most recently, my nose. If he’s outside the house, he’s learned how to locate our dog Janka inside it, get as close to her as he can and then put up a plaintive mewing. That gets her barking, which is a highly effective way of persuading us to respond, particularly at 2:00 in the morning.

All this is ingenious and impressive. But recently he’s evolved a whole new dimension of skill. He’s learned that sometimes he has to move away from his goal in order to attain it more surely. That’s abstract thinking and it’s a quality I’ve not previously noticed in cats. Furthermore, he’s used it to widen the circle of trained resources he can call on to cater to his needs.

Because our neighbours Melanie, Darren, Jenny and George looked after him while we were away at Christmas, Misty now knows that they have a key to our house. So if he can’t get into our place, he goes round and mews miserably at the back door to theirs.

Not to be let into their place. To be let into ours. He knows that eventually, despite the cold, the rain or the snow they’ll go round to our house and open the door for him.

Now going to one place in order to be let into another is what tells me he’s evolved a capacity for abstract thought. That feels like a small pawprint for him, but a huge pounce forward for catkind.

And he's learned to influence not just me but a whole new family. Where does he go from here? All mankind? World domination? Will the next major conflict be over access to sardine-flavoured treats?

Even if we just assume that all he’s done is identify someone who’s as soft a touch for cats as I am, it’s still pretty remarkable. That’s targeted psychological profiling. Not something we generally associate with common or garden cats.

Forget Nietzsche and man evolving into superman. We are now in the presence of supercat.

Tremble and despair.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

"a small pawprint for him, but a huge pounce forward for catkind. "