Friday, 13 February 2009

It's all a question of dignity

I am now convinced that even inanimate matter has a life of it’s own.

The Queen B herself told me so this morning.

There she was, sitting on the bathroom shelf amid the pots and potions as I went about my ablutions, when the shelf rose up and tipped her off.

I know this, because cats do not fall off things all by themselves.

And if they do have such ‘an accident’, then the Great Commandment applies: ‘thou shalt not laugh at the cat’. Because the cat gets very, very huffy indeed if she sees you laughing at her.

She stared accusingly at the shelf – so I know it was the shelf’s fault. I bit my tongue.

Then she turned and, tail in the air, strutted out of the room, determined to show every ounce of her feline dignity.

A couple of hours later, my attention was drawn to a 2006 report from Newsweek, which says that scientists studying the behaviour of non-human animals, in the search for signs of self-awareness, have discovered that the famous mirror test might not be a reliable indicator.

This is the test whereby a mark is put on an animal and then they’re placed in front of a mirror to see if they notice that something is different about their appearance – to see if, for instance, they attempt to remove the mark. Elephants can’t ‘pass’ the test, apparently – although we know they’re intelligent. Yet some animals that do ‘pass’ are not expected to, because they don’t have the ‘right’ sort of brain.

Boudicca, our little Queen B, has never shown any indication of interest in her reflection. None of her predecessors did either. But they have all shared that sense of dignity that particularly reveals itself when cats fall (or not).

And if you have a finely tuned sense of personal dignity, then it would seem fair to suggest that that reveals a certain self-awareness. So, on an anecdotal basis, I suspect that the scientists are right: the mirror test is flawed.

Of course, reading this article the day after Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, in the same year that also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, served as a useful reminder of just how anthropocentric we humans are, right down to the whole idea of our having dominion over the rest of life on this ball of rock we call home.

So it’s rather amusing to see that even the Vatican has finally got around to admitting that evolution happens. But that's so last century, boys.

Boudicca, who probably doesn’t realise this (although one can never be too sure with cats), is an everyday reminder to me that we are not the only sentient beings, and that we have a responsibility of care for the rest of the world around us, which we should never simply take for granted.

Although perhaps that’s just more anthropocentricity speaking? After all, I’m equally convinced that in any relationship with a cat, I’m not remotely the top dog, so to speak.

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