A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thoughts While Waiting for the Toast to Pop Up

Do cats count?

I mean, yes, they matter. (At least in our household.) But do they, you know, enumerate?

It occurred to me to wonder this morning which was the primary human achievement: mathematics or language? As a word person I of course give the top spot to language. But then it occurred to me that both numbers and words are abstractions from experience. The capability to do that -- to turn what we see and do into words or numbers -- was a great evolutionary leap forward.

But cats speak. They use sounds to say I'm hungry, or Get away, or That's mine, or Keep rubbing that spot, 'k? Thanks. They express themselves on issues of the quality of life. But do they concern themselves with matters of quantity?

It does occur to me that cats do some pretty sophisticated calculations -- distance, trajectory, momentum -- to enable them to leap from the back of the chair to the top of the china cabinet. (I once had a cross-eyed cat who would make those calculations and then miss the mark, often with disastrous results to the curtains but never to the cat himself. But even he eventually learned the flaws in the data and adjusted the variables accordingly.) But are there other examples of feline numeracy?

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