July 31, 2006

She Just Ain't That Smart

Category: General — Cranky @

Every morning when I take my shower I leave the tap in the sink running. It’s not going full stream, mind you… it’s only on a little. A dribble, if you will. I do this because my cat, Louise, has a never-ending fascination with the tap.

How she interacts with the running water has changed. She used to play with it. She’d drink a little, then she’d move her paw through it. She’d search the drain for any traces of toothpaste leftovers (she’s nuts about anything minty). I discourage that, mind you – I also shave using that sink, and I don’t know what shaving cream remnants do to kitty interiors.

If it was running a little too hard, she’d attack it, retreat, and attack it again. If it was running way too hard, she’d jump down and leave the room. The noise was too unsettling for her.

But lately she’s taken to just staring at it. She’s as eager as ever to get up there, but then she crouches down and stares at the water. And I wonder, what’s she thinking? Is she trying to puzzle it out? She seems so intent. She’s almost in hunter stance, which makes it seem like the water has her whole attention. Is she desperately trying to make some kitty breakthrough in understanding?

When someone tells you that their cat is intelligent enough to learn complex commands, but that it just doesn’t care, they’re placing a human behaviour on their pet. Disdain is a complex thought process – one that has roots in judgment, analysis, and social structure. No cat can feel disdain. The problem is, their mannerisms do a terrific imitation, and we get sucked in. We think that a cat swaggers with confidence, or remains aloof, but those behaviours are miles above the reality of the cat brain. But we see a behaviour and we interpret it the way we would if our pet were human.

Anthropomorphism is a fools game. One cannot apply human motives to animal behaviours without becoming that fool.

So when I sit there and wonder what Louise is thinking about the complex example of fluid dynamics that is a running tap, I should really scale my thoughts back. If I’m going to anthropomorphize my cats behaviour in such a manner, I should keep the relative intelligence of a cat in mind.

I’m pretty sure that the whole time she sits there watching, the highest level concept that enters her mind is…



July 30, 2006

My Walk

Category: Life — Cranky @

Last night at around 3:00 a.m. I took a walk to the corner all-night grocery store. This isn’t that unusual for me, as I’m a night owl by nature. I don’t live in a bad neighbourhood, and when a man wants a Diet Dr. Pepper, what else is he to do? I planned to study for another hour, and I was thirsty.

I’ve walked this four block walk at least a thousand times. That is no exaggeration. It’s the same way I walk twice every workday. I know every inch of that road, and I’ve taken all variations of the route. What happened last night was singularly unusual.

Last night as I walked along that road, I suddenly encountered a zone that I just don’t understand. It was as if somebody had looked at the great television that is my world, turned down the brightness, and turned up the “spooky”. I felt simultaneously like I was completely isolated… and yet being watched. Everything was unnaturally quiet, and somehow expectant. Heavy. Oppressive. Ominous. I felt like something was gently, yet firmly, weighing down my mood. It was extremely disquieting. I stopped for a moment, and then I hurried on.

Half a block later, everything suddenly felt fine. I stopped, and looked back, but could see nothing out of the ordinary. I considered the situation carefully, and started to walk back towards the store, curious as to what might happen. Within twenty feet I could feel everything getting heavy again, and that was enough for me. I turned back, and headed home.

I couldn’t get back into my studying, and I couldn’t sleep. I kept mentally rewinding and replaying the scene in my head, wondering what could possibly cause such a reaction in me. Finally, I got up, got dressed, and took another walk. Dawn was breaking. And what did I find?

Nothing. Everything was perfectly normal.

Strange things afoot!


July 26, 2006

The Moment

Category: Life — Cranky @

I remember Christmas Eve as a child. We opened our presents at late in the evening, rather than Christmas morning, which meant that during the day the time couldn’t possibly go fast enough. We were clock-watchers extraordinaire. The closer it came to the magic moment, the worse it got. Birthdays worked the same – the closer they got the more we agonized over how long it was taking.

As adults we still experience these wishes. When it’s 1:30 p.m. and your vacation starts at 5, the clock ticks slower. In fact, we spend a lot of time wishing we were in some other time, whether it be the future or the past. We wish we had a moment back to make a different decision. We wish we could be young again but with the knowledge we have now. We wish we didn’t have to wait for many things.

In fact, we often forget to enjoy that little sliver of time we call the present. The present is fleeting – it’s here and gone before you can detect it. There are some who believe that time is quantized – that it occurs in discrete little packets like energy does. The packet that is “now” is so small you’d never know it was here at all, save for the fact that another packet comes right along afterwards. Time is river. It has varying rates, thanks to relativity, but a single direction. For man it flows from cradle to grave, and it never stops.

I sometimes wonder if all of this thinking about the future and the past is counterproductive. Certainly we should learn the lessons of our past, and of course we should plan for the future… but when it comes to things like the obsessive anticipation of some wonderous event “coming soon” I think we might be losing out.

We allow the pending vacation to destroy our productivity for the days preceding it. We don’t enjoy the dinner during the date because we’re too busy thinking about the sex we might have later on. We don’t enjoy the company of somebody because we allow some marginal past events to cloud our perception of what is happening “now”.

I think as we get older, we realize that things will happen eventually, and we spend less time in fervent anticipation. I think this is rather beneficial. After all, when you don’t know exactly how much time remains, enjoying the events as they happen becomes more important. As a child time seems endless, so if we could fast-forward a week or two to get past the wait, we’d jump at the chance. But time is precious, and as we age we realize that for us as individuals, time is finite.