Monday, August 31, 2009

The Utility of Cats

By now you all know that I love to read the New York Times and find the small gems buried in its pages.

Earlier this summer John Tierney reported on the findings of researchers, led by Stephen J. O’Brien of the National Cancer Institute, an expert on cat genetics.

The researchers (through diligent study, I'm sure), came to conclusions such as: “Cats do not perform directed tasks.”

Thank goodness Mr Tierney has both a sense of humor and a bully pulpit. As of earlier this week, 321 comments had been posted - mostly in defense of cats.

Further, the defense was pretty much - "Who cares if they are useful (which, the overwhelming majority of commenters agrees they are)? We like them. That in itself has utility."

Rex & Fritz - helping Phil pack for a road trip.

Fritz, Rex & Junior keeping the bed warm, just in case we decide to forego a workout and snuggle with them for a few extra minutes.

Rex - what a handsome kitty!

Fritz, posing cooperatively for a change.

Rex - helping Phil with his "work-life balance."
TierneyLab recently posted a Part 2 in the discussion (generating another 220 comments!).
"If I were a cat’s PR agent, I would say my client transcended utility and change the subject. Ailurophiles (cat lovers) should probably concede the scientists are right in doubting the general usefulness of cats. If scientists are to be challenged on the nature of cats, firmer ground might be the question of whether cats can read human minds.
People have an ability, called “theory of mind” by psychologists, to infer what is going on in the minds of other people. Psychologists doubt whether any other species possess this ability, at least to the same degree.

But a cat of my acquaintance seems to be very adept at reading minds, at least those belonging to people. When he needs to be let back into the house, he jumps up onto the ledge outside the kitchen window, waiting for people to notice him and open the door. If ignored, he will grab the mesh of the storm window in his claws and rattle it impatiently to gain attention, having clearly read people’s disinclination to get up and open the door for him yet again."

I don't know if Fritz, Rex and Junior can read our minds, and I guess I don't care.
They are boon companions, chasers of moths, warmers of laps and I can always count on them to raise my spirits - even at 3 am - because the yowling is closely followed by purrs.
If Phil didn't have kitties to squeeze l'm not sure he'd get through the day.
Useful? Indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Useful!! They lower blood pressure. They center attention. They instruct in proper care of one's body/mind connection. They amaze. They confuse. Yes, and they purr and cuddle. Would that more humans had the same effect. They also barf at 3 am. Go for a 5 week walkabout and come home starved and injured (Maude). Piddle in places that shouldn't be piddled in. Misplace watches, lip salve, dominos, Easter candy, Valentine hearts.... Shed fur on newly ironed clothes that are not immediately put away. In short, keep me jumping!! A home without a cat just isn't worth coming home to. Peggy