catalogue of a categorically cataclysmic concatenation...
The Infinite Cat Project
is about one cat watching another. A long line of
1785 cats so far. The very first Infinaut
seen at left admiring a flower. He is the
owner of Paul Hamilton.
If you'd like to add
your own fuzzy friend to the Infinite
Queue you can find all the details here. Or
just take a picture of your kitty watching the kitty below and email it
to me. It's just that easy.
Infinaut, Cat #1785: May-Lien
Dish O' Kute
Eartha Kitt's kittens.
April 24, 2014: "It is in the
nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming." -
Beware the ninja cat.
the mind of cats.
by David Grimm
We did one study on cats—and that was enough!” Those
words effectively ended my quest to understand the feline mind.
I was a few months into writing Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship
With Cats and Dogs, which explores how pets are blurring the line
between animal and person, and I was gearing up for a chapter on
pet intelligence. I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and
I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But
after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone—anyone—who
studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement,
laughed over the phone to me by one of the world’s top animal
cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám
We are living in a golden age of canine cognition. Nearly a dozen
laboratories around the world study the dog mind, and in the past
decade scientists have published hundreds of articles on the topic.
Researchers have shown that Fido can learn hundreds of words, may
be capable of abstract thought, and possesses a rudimentary ability
to intuit what others are thinking, a so-called theory of mind once
thought to be uniquely human. Miklósi himself has written
an entire textbook on the canine mind—and he’s a cat
I knew I was in trouble even before I got Miklósi on the
phone. After contacting nearly every animal cognition expert I could
find (people who had studied the minds of dogs, elephants, chimpanzees,
and other creatures), I was given the name of one man who might,
just might, have done a study on cats. His name was Christian Agrillo,
and he was a comparative psychologist at the University of Padova
in Italy. When I looked at his website, I thought I had the wrong
guy. A lot of his work was on fish. But when I talked to him he
confirmed that, yes, he had done a study on felines. Then he laughed. “I
can assure you that it’s easier to work with fish than cats,” he
said. “It’s incredible.”
Agrillo studies something called numerical competence. That’s
essentially the ability to distinguish a small quantity from a larger
one. The test his lab uses is fairly simple. Researchers place three
black dots over a desirable object (like a plate of food or a door
that leads to friends) and two dots over an undesirable object (like
an empty plate or a door that leads to nowhere interesting). Agrillo
and colleagues then look to see if, over multiple trials, the animals
can distinguish between the two quantities. Besides fish, his team
has worked with monkeys and birds—all of which have been fairly
cooperative. But when he tried the experiment with cats, he practically
To reduce the number of variables, Agrillo’s team always conducts
the studies in its laboratory. But when owners brought their cats
over, most of the felines freaked out. Even the docile ones displayed
little interest in the test. Ultimately, Agrillo wound up with just
four cats—and even they were a pain to work with. “Very
often, they didn’t participate in the experiment or they walked
in the wrong direction,” he told me. “It was really
difficult to have a good trial each day.” Still, he was able
to get some results. Unlike fish, which can distinguish three dots
from two, the cats paid more attention to the size of the dots than
to their number. That makes sense when you consider that, in the
wild, cats (unlike fish) live solitary lives and that when they
hunt prey, they’re more concerned about size than quantity.
Counting just isn’t that important to them.
Agrillo’s work didn’t break open the mystery of the
feline mind, but at least it was something. I hoped Ádám
Miklósi could provide me with a bit more. He’s half
the reason there has been so much work on the canine mind. In 1998,
he and Duke University biological anthropologist Brian Hare independently
showed that dogs can understand human pointing. Both labs conducted
experiments demonstrating that when a volunteer pointed at one of
two cups containing a treat, dogs almost always went for the correct
cup. Though it may seem a simple test, our closest relatives, chimpanzees,
fail miserably; they ignore the volunteer, pick cups at random,
and rarely score above chance. The ability to follow a pointed finger
isn’t just a neat trick; it shows that dogs may have a rudimentary “theory
of mind”—an ability to understand what another animal
is thinking (in this case, that the human volunteer was trying to
show them something). The skill is so important to our species that
without it, we would have trouble learning and interacting with
the world around us. That’s why so many labs have begun studying
the canine mind; dogs, the thinking goes, may provide clues to the
evolution of the human mind.
But what about cats? Miklósi, I was surprised to learn, had
also conducted the pointing test with felines. Like Agrillo, he
had a hard time getting cats to cooperate in his laboratory—so
he went to their homes instead. Even then, most of the animals weren’t
interested in advancing science; according to Miklósi’s
research paper, seven of the initial 26 test subjects “dropped
out.” But those that did participate performed nearly as well
as dogs had. Cats too, it appears, may have a rudimentary theory
But when Miklósi took the study a step further, he spotted
an intriguing difference between cats and dogs. This time, he and
his colleagues created two puzzles: one solvable, the other impossible.
In the solvable puzzle, the researchers placed food in a bowl and
stuck it under a stool. Dogs and cats had to find the bowl and pull
it out to eat. Both aced the test. Then the scientist rigged the
exam. They again placed the bowl under a stool, but this time they
tied it to the stool legs so that it could not be pulled out. The
dogs pawed at the bowl for a few seconds and then gave up, gazing
up at their owners as if asking for help. The cats, on the other
hand, rarely looked at their owners; they just kept trying to get
Now before you conclude that cats are dumber than dogs because they’re
not smart enough to realize when a task is impossible, consider
this: Dogs have lived with us for as many as 30,000 years—20,000
years longer than cats. More than any other animal on the planet,
dogs are tuned in to the “human radio frequency”—the
broadcast of our feelings and desires. Indeed, we may be the only
station dogs listen to. Cats, on the other hand, can tune us in
if they want to (that’s why they pass the pointing test as
well as dogs), but they don’t hang on our every word like
dogs do. They’re surfing other channels on the dial. And that’s
ultimately what makes them so hard to study. Cats, as any owner
knows, are highly intelligent beings. But to science, their minds
may forever be a black box.
Still, there may be hope. As scientists begin to experiment with
new ways to study animal intelligence—from eye-tracking technology
to fMRI machines—they may yet find a way to peek inside the
feline mind. Brian Hare, for one, is optimistic. Though he’s
one of the world’s foremost experts on canine cognition, he
says he wouldn’t be surprised if researchers start studying
cats next. “Before 1998, no one thought that dogs were worth
looking at, and now look at how much they’ve shown us,” he
tells me. “I think cats are going to be the next frontier.”
The feline mind may be a black box, but it’s a box worth exploring.
Kibble for Kitties
was alerted to a web site called freekibblekat.com by
Beloved Girlfriend. You go there, play a simple trivia game and the site
donates kibble to
needy animal shelters. It's free and you can play once a day, every day.
They obviously make a few bucks for themsleves but it's clear that the
majority of proceeds goes to the animals, so please stop in when you
PS, you can also totally
send some kitty vittles with just a click at theanimalrescuesite.com.
Just visit the site and press the big purple button. That's all there
is to it.
Oh, and if you're looking to save
some money on meds for your moggies how about a free 1800petmeds
Need a custom web
site that's attractive, fast-loading, Google-friendly and,
relatively-speaking, dirt cheap? Then see my friends at X-Site-D
Web Creation. Tell
'em Mike sent ya!
you're interested in placing a graphic link on your web site
back to the ICP, here's the very thing you're looking for.
link above and
help support the
"My Infinite Gratitude"
The following is
a relatively short yet very heartening list of those
who have contributed in
support of the Infinite Cat
of listing the names
in any intelligent way I decided to post them alphabetically.
It's not a perfect system, as those of you of Polish descent
get the shaft again <grin> but at least it helps me
keep the names straight.
In case you're wondering, names in white indicate donations
of $5 or less, while green notates donations
in excess of $10. The
lover who recently earned the prestigious "Quadruple Kittyhead"
for her generous and continuing support. (You know who you
are and I want to have your children.)
Adam, S. Adams, L. Aimone,
S. Almaguer, G. Ancell,
M. Axtell, A. Bachman,
D. Baker, O. Balaban, K. Berenson, H.
T. Blassingame, P. Blassingame,
A. Bolt, R. Bruner, J.
Bullas, A. Chiang, M. Cogen, D. Conlin, B. Coren,
M. Cracauer, D.Davis, M.
Dawson, J. Delton, T. Devrick, J. Diamond,
T. Dixon, C. Dofer, E. Dorfman,
B. Dutton, E. Fitzpatrick,
B. Fonteboa, E. Foss, B. Friesner, G. Garcia, M. Gordon,
A. Greeley, A. Gunn, J.
B. Harper, J. Hays, T.
D. Herbert, A. Hertz, M. Hester,
A. Hilbert, K. Hildebrandt, A.
Houser, V. Huston, , J.
Ikeda, B. Jones,
S. Jowett, P. Keachie, M. Knight, D.
W. Lee, M.
Lufkin, C. Lewis, K.
MacKenzie, M. Mcgann,
J. McGinnis, M. Mckercher,
S. Melhuish, T. Miles, D.
A. Neduha, A. Nelson, L. Nevins,
C. O'Brien, A. Ocean,
www.oldamericancentury.org, K. Orman, K.
Otto, Pinky & Bunny,
R. Owens, J. Pavlov, R. Perry, C. Phillips,
H. Pirani, C. Plant, R. Poletto, K. Pride, D.
Rakowski, R. Redman, R. Riitala, M. Ryan,
W. Ryngwelski, D. Sanders, M.
H. Sherwood-Taylor, J.
Sokel, S. Somero, M. Stabile, F. Street, J.P.
Thompson, D. Thoms, G. Toland, C. Ullrich,
J. van Luyt, A. Walls, J. Weisenfeld, K.
Welles, B. Wilkinson, J. Williams.
I thank you, the cats thank you, and my web host
The Infinite Cat Project
Presented by Mike Stanfill, Private Hand
©Mike Stanfill, 2014