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Cats and String Theory

Updated on March 9, 2012

My Cat


I've never understood the cat/dog divide. I like cats and I like dogs and see no reason to push my loyalties to one side or the other. I've had a few dogs in my time and adored them all, however at the moment I don't have a dog...only a cat, so I'm feeling feline oriented. Meow!!


It's been a long time between cats - prior to this one I hadn't owned a cat since adolescence, so I've had to reacquaint myself with all their little pussy ways. My current cat, Roy, has been both an anxiety and a pleasure. A victim of the road toll, when he was six months old he ran under the wheel of my car as I was pulling into the driveway and crushed his pelvis. After some very expensive vet treatments and a few months of rehabilitation he recovered, though he'll never be the cat he would have been. Also, much to my initial, (shallow) dismay, his beauty was marred as he now has a permanent bald patch on his back because some of his hair follicles were destroyed in the accident. I briefly considered a fur transplant but dismissed the idea on the grounds of it being ludicrous. Strangers tend to look at him sideways, suspecting he has some kind of unsavoury mange but in truth, I no longer even notice it.


Despite this major setback, he has a good time and one positive from the disaster is that he now exhibits a very healthy respect for cars. When I drive up he hides around the corner of the house, tentatively poking his head out and wont make a full apppearance until the car has completely stopped. Roy can also climb, hunt (despite my attempts to stymie his prowess with bells), has catty friends and a full appetite, both for food and living. Did I mention that Roy is also extremely intelligent? In fact for a while there I almost thought he might be, well, yes...gifted.


The extremely handsome Roy
The extremely handsome Roy
Oscar the palliative care cat. Image from The New Scientist Blog
Oscar the palliative care cat. Image from The New Scientist Blog

An Emotional Connection

Any cat fancier will be familiar with the emotional connection a human can form with a cat. A relaxed, purring cat lying on it's back just asking for a stomach rub is a beautiful thing. They can be affectionate but usually on their terms - when they feel like it. Sometimes they are even spookily sensitive. Take the striking example of Oscar, the palliative care cat.


Oscar lived in the end-stage dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence (probably still does) after having been picked up as a stray kitten, wandering aimlessly in the streets. At the rehab centre he kept to himself and didn't take much notice of the residents, preferring his own company, as some cats do. Occasionally he could be bribed with a juicy titbit but basically he was anti-social - with one exception.


Somehow, by some mysterious, innate sense, Oscar knew when a patient was going to die and he would curl up on their bed and stay there, a few hours before they shook off their mortal coil. It seems incredible but it happened time and again. As David Dosa, assistant professor of medicine at Brown University in Providence said "If we hadn't been witnessing it over the course of the last year, I wouldn't believe it myself." Why or how this happened, no-one is quite sure, though some scientists have speculated that there may have been near death biochemical clues that Oscar picked up on. In any case, according to staff in the unit, he provided some comfort to many people who would otherwise have died alone.


There's no firm consensus among scientists as to whether cats experience real emotion. They know they feel emotional responses such as pain and fear etc but do they experience emotion as humans do...ie; dissapointment, regret, love? Well it's hard to tell how deep they go because of course, they can't tell us. One thing researchers have discovered is that cats are emotional manipulators - they've learnt to vocalize specifically for humans in a way that mimics human babies crying. That's pretty clever eh..? Which brings me to the title of this article - just how clever are cats really? Can they understand string theory for example?


A cat grappling with the complexities of string theory.  Image from The New Scientist website.
A cat grappling with the complexities of string theory. Image from The New Scientist website.

String theory...

Well, alas..it appears they can't. Even Roy, the cat with the big IQ, doesn't get it. Chimpanzees get it..and so do ravens, pigeons and certain monkeys. Ever wondered why cats enjoy fruitlessly playing with a piece of string? According to a 2009 article in The New Scientist - Why Cats Fail to Grasp String Theory, it 's because they don't really understand (or care) that it will lead nowhere:

Working with 15 shelter cats, Osthaus's team attached fish or biscuit treats to one end of a string. A plastic screen with a small gap at the bottom separated cats from their reward, requiring the felines to tug on the string to get the treat.

With a single string attached to the food, most cats learned to paw at the string to get a snack. But when Osthaus' team introduced a second piece of string, unconnected to any foods, cats tugged on the correct string less than half the time.

This suggests that the cats couldn't infer cause-and-effect relationships between two objects and could only learn an association from scratch each time.

New scientist


Dissappointing Result

Tch, tch...a failure to grasp even the fundamentals of string theory is very dissapointing for cat supporters.


But cat loathing dog lovers needn't get too smug about this, because - dogs don't get it either.


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    • Jane Bovary profile image
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      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks ubalildon

      Elena..they are very independent, which makes them easier as pets. Dogs are lovely, but require more attention.

    • profile image

      Elena 6 years ago

      I've had cats throughout my life. I feel that cats are notoutgoing as dogs, but that does not make them dumb. As a matter of fact they are smart creatures, but independent.

    • ubalildon profile image

      ubalildon 6 years ago

      what a nice hub, i really enjoyed it

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks Jenny and John!

      Hi Imoyihan - thanks and I agree... as far as animals go, there's more going on that meets the eye.

    • lmoynihan082 profile image

      lmoynihan082 6 years ago from ireland

      I really enjoyed this hub it was a lot of fun. I think cats are clever in a way that we humans will never understand but we gotta love em just the same.

    • profile image

      John Canady 6 years ago

      Great fun hub, Jane. For moment I was all 'physics'ed up and then chuckled at what you meant by string theory... endearing.

      http://www.urlvision.com

      URL Vision - Web Directory | Free Website Submission FREE Internet categorized Web Directory with SEO Tips & Tricks.

    • Jenny Calender profile image

      Jenny Calender 6 years ago

      Hey, string aside, we love our little beasts, doggies and kitties, one and all :)

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      prasetio..I agree with you about cats reducing stress. They really know how to relax...and some of that rubs off on us owners!

      Cheers

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I love cat very much. I have a cat and two kittens, they are so cute. I love to play with them. They can reduce my stress for a while. Thanks for writing this. I give my vote to you. Cheers..

      Love and peace,

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi kafsoa...thanks.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      alezafree, good point! and thanks for reading

      Feline fetish - I didn't know that, no. Thanks for drawing it to our attention..;)

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Feline Prophet...I've noticed that!

      Toknowinfo, thanks very much...it was fun to write.

    • kafsoa profile image

      kafsoa 6 years ago

      I like your theories, they explained many things

    • profile image

      feline fetish 6 years ago

      did you guys know cats are able to fly blind folded on an august evening in the spring?? wiki leaks told meh so

    • alezafree profile image

      Aleza Freeman 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I think it's a cats ability to NOT care that makes it a superior being. I care way too much about way too many things, and that is why I am usually strung along ... Nice article! :)

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      Such a cute hub, thanks for the entertainment. This is so much to like about this article. Thanks for not stringing me along. Voted up and awesome.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 6 years ago

      You're rights...cats don't care. We don't need to prove anything! :D

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi Davito...long time no see. You're absolutely right, it's all part of the cuteness factor.

      Good to see you

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks very much sellman!

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks Arisian for that lovely comment.

    • DavitosanX profile image

      DavitosanX 6 years ago

      There is a very good reason for cats to play with useless string for hours on end. The wouldn't be as cute if they didn't!

    • sellman333 profile image

      sellman333 6 years ago

      Good hub! I vote up

      +1

    • Artisina profile image

      Artisina 6 years ago from Sacramento

      Great hub! Voted up and happy. I also love both cats and dogs. I have 3 cats right now and they are all different in personality and thought. Thanks for sharing your love of animals. These kinds of hubs always make my day.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      That's one clever kitten you've got there Terry...although if he thinks writing hubs is lucrative, he still has some learning to do..;-)

    • Terry.Hirneisen profile image

      Terry.Hirneisen 6 years ago from Shenandoah Valley

      I have a gold and white kitten. I think he does understand String Theory as he lies on my right arm looking at the computer when I am reading Cosmology theories. He is also there whenever I try and write a hub.

      I suspect he wants in on the lucrative rewards.

      VOTED UP and funny. Thanks for a good read.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Haha...

    • tritrain profile image

      And Drewson 6 years ago from United States

      That cat tutored my in college, I think. He's smart.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks for visiting Puppyluv...much appreciated.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Brutus...cats can be fun, for sure. "in-home entertainment system" - I like that!

    • Puppyluv profile image

      Serena Zehlius 6 years ago from Hanover, PA

      Great hub! I've always wondered that myself. :) Dog and cat people can get along. I'm also in favor of both and could never really decide on one over the other. Rated up!

    • Brutus Orkney profile image

      Brutus Orkney 6 years ago from AZ

      Coincidently, I also know they won't find anything at the end of the string and I don't care. Cats are easily the best in-home entertainment system, period. They're around seemingly when you need them and well if they're not, I try to remember, it's their world....I'm just living in it...hehe. I do love dogs too though. Thanks for an amusing and enlightening hub Jane!

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks eudocladavis, Docmo and optimus grimlock (what a great name). I appreciate all the comments.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi Cheeky Girl..Oscar is great. I can understand how perhaps he could sense people nearing death becuase of smells or whatever but that still doesn't explain why he chose to offer that comfort..? It's a lovely story...thanks for reading.

    • optimus grimlock profile image

      optimus grimlock 6 years ago

      great little hub!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 6 years ago from UK

      Great fun hub, Jane. For moment I was all 'physics'ed up and then chuckled at what you meant by string theory... endearing.

    • profile image

      eudociadavis 6 years ago

      well Said,Great hub,it's true string theory.I also believe in it.

      thanks for sharing!

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 6 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      This is a great hub, but Oscar gets the prize (hey maybe the Oscar too) for being so knowledgeable about people dying. That is such a weird story. Just amazing. Glad I read this!

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thankyou LL Woodward...cats do make for a good yarn, I agree.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      K9..I agree, Oscar is fabulous! What a darling. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      De Greek...good!(and thanks)

      Rod,ha..yep the neighbours cat definitely is a different prosition. Animals seem to know that other species in the household hold special significance for us humans, so they make allowances. I have a cat and a goldfish(which I got lumbered with) that are best frineds...they practically rub noses.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Austin...sounds to me like they're more interested in the play than the treat. Maybe they weren't hungry?. There's more to animals than meets the eye.I'm sure of it.

    • Jane Bovary profile image
      Author

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks Eric..much appreciated.

      Pcunix..too true!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      One can never read too many good cat stories. Great job on this one.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      I just love Oscar the cat! What a sweet, intuitive creature. BTW, your title is a grabber. Good stuff here.

      Up and awesome.

      K9

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      A fun hub!

      Cats and dogs brought up in the same household do get along fine. I was there at the time. Dogs are very family oriented and see themselves as part of your family. If you have a cat then they have a cat chum. The neighbor's cat, however, is a different proposition and always will be.

      I am more of a dog person but once wrote a whole bunch of stories for an anthology titled Cats Do it Better.

      Not sure if cats are dumb when it comes to string or are just playing with us and testing us on string.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 6 years ago from UK

      What a title! You had me dangling on a string :-)

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      It's true! My cat, Max, will chase any string around. He could care less what it's attached to.

    • Pcunix profile image

      Tony Lawrence 6 years ago from SE MA

      Heck, I know people who don't get stuff just as obvious.

    • Eric Prado profile image

      Eric Prado 6 years ago from Webster, Texas

      Good hub! I vote up! =)