My cat lies to me. I find this interesting.
My cat – our cat, rather – generally eats tinned food, but occasionally we give him cat biscuits. Not very often, and certainly not often enough as far as he’s concerned. He knows where they’re kept; when hungry will often sit in front of the biscuit cupboard giving it meaningful looks, even if he’s got a bowl full of food.
That’s not the interesting thing, though. What’s interesting is that, on several occasions, he’s sat by the back door and mewed to be let out, only to turn back and head for the biscuit cupboard when I open the door for him. The thinking is fairly straightforward, if you think of it as thinking – it goes roughly like this:
This‘ll get his attention!
But there’s an awful lot going on under the surface, particularly when you think that we’re dealing with a cat. How do you get to that thought? Or, if ascribing thoughts to a cat is a step too far, how do you get to that action? It seems to me that any creature capable of doing the back-door feint would have to go through something like this series of steps:
- Move (instinctively, or at any rate unreflectively) towards the back door when wanting to go out
- Move (unreflectively) towards the biscuit cupboard when fancying a biscuit or two
- Observe that move 1 is usually successful
- Observe that move 2 is usually unsuccessful
- Analyse events involved in successful outcomes to strategies 1 and 2
- Identify common factor, viz. getting a human’s attention
- Reflect on goals of move 1 and move 2
- Identify common intermediate goal of getting human’s attention
- Redefine move 1 as move which achieves intermediate goal
- Plan to make move 2 more effective by preceding it with move 1, thus getting human’s attention before expressing interest in biscuit cupboard
I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as pretty sophisticated thinking, particularly if we assume (as I think we must) that none of these thought processes are conscious.
Cats: they’re brighter than they look. Or rather, they really are as bright as they look.