Object permanence

Understanding the interior life of cats

Featured in

  • Published 20231107
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-89-4
  • Extent: 207pp
  • Paperback, ePub, PDF, Kindle compatible

ONE FRIDAY NIGHT not too long ago, at the end of a long, stressful week, my boyfriend and I found a perfect deep-winter piece of nothing on TV, a documentary that was mostly footage of sprightly little kittens and ostensibly about the wonders and enigmas of cats’ minds. We set ourselves up to watch it on the couch with our fifteen-year-old cat, Tigger, having lifted him onto the couch and done the rounds of smoothing and scratching that show him it’s appropriate to tuck in and settle down.

In the documentary, two of the featured scientists modelled an experiment in which they showed the viewer that cats know objects like food bowls don’t vanish from the universe when they’re removed from view. I watched it uneasily – of course cats have object memory! If anything, I’m chilled to watch our ageing cat’s disturbing ability to accept new programs and compromises as if he deserves them, and accept the conditions of our house and his body as though they are permanent. But the point of the research was that cat science lags fifteen years behind the dog equivalent, so much of what we know about cats’ experience has yet to be experimentally proven.

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