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Animals and abstraction: A curiosity of cats

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At “Animals and abstraction: Reflections on Vincent Torley’s thoughts,” commenter Charles

Do cats explore for the sake of exploring (curioisity)? Or are they just reconnoitering for food, danger, shelter, sex, and if so, is that a form of learning? asks.

Good questions. My impression is that cats are not generally lifelong learners. They are very curious when young, and learn almost everything they need to know in the first year or two. Once they have learned a way of life, they stick to it.

There can be a comical aspect to that. A vet once told me that it is wise to neuter a tomcat as young as he can safely sustain the operation. If one waits a few years and he learns how to mate, he may continue the famously tiresome tomcat behaviour patterns anyway.

As that vet put it, “No. Nothing happens, of course. But he doesn’t know that.”

Cats also do not usually learn much from each other. Or anyway, they don’t try to. Apparently, neither do the famously intelligent ravens and crows. This points to a different style of learning from the usual human style.

Probably, very little abstraction is involved, rather the acquisition of a systematic pattern of behaviour that produces a reward or some kind of relief. It can be a complex pattern, to be sure. But it is not a pattern that is acquired in the same way that a human would learn to solve math problems or study the classics.

For one thing, all the problems the cat is trying to solve are concrete anyway. He just isn’t interested in ideas. Hope this is any help.

See also: Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

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3 Replies to “Animals and abstraction: A curiosity of cats

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    A few related notes:

    The world that humans live in:

    photos – Skylines of the world
    https://www.google.com/search?q=skyline+displays&biw=1360&bih=586&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjYk6HWg5bOAhVD94MKHbP5B7UQ_AUICCgD#tbm=isch&q=skyline

    The world that gorillas live in

    photos – gorilla nests
    https://www.google.com/search?q=gorilla+nest&biw=1360&bih=586&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjj7oKGhJbOAhXKpYMKHUdGDXMQsAQIGw

    The one thing that allows us to build such impressive ‘nests’ compared to other animals is our unique ability to understand and create information:

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Ian Tattersall, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, May 2009
    Excerpt: “Unusual though Homo sapiens may be morphologically, it is undoubtedly our remarkable cognitive qualities that most strikingly demarcate us from all other extant species. They are certainly what give us our strong subjective sense of being qualitatively different. And they are all ultimately traceable to our symbolic capacity. Human beings alone, it seems, mentally dissect the world into a multitude of discrete symbols, and combine and recombine those symbols in their minds to produce hypotheses of alternative possibilities. When exactly Homo sapiens acquired this unusual ability is the subject of debate.”
    http://www.annualreviews.org/d.....208.100202

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    Casey Luskin added: “It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....92141.html

    “A number of hominid crania are known from sites in eastern and southern Africa in the 400- to 200-thousand-year range, but none of them looks like a close antecedent of the anatomically distinctive Homo sapiens…Even allowing for the poor record we have of our close extinct kin, Homo sapiens appears as distinctive and unprecedented…there is certainly no evidence to support the notion that we gradually became who we inherently are over an extended period, in either the physical or the intellectual sense.”
    Dr. Ian Tattersall: – paleoanthropologist – emeritus curator of the American Museum of Natural History – (Masters of the Planet, 2012)

    Moreover, this information creation and processing, i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic, that is found to be unique to man, is also found to be foundational to life:

    Information Enigma (Where did the information in life come from?) – – Stephen Meyer – Doug Axe – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA-FcnLsF1g

    Complex grammar of the genomic language – November 9, 2015
    Excerpt: The ‘grammar’ of the human genetic code is more complex than that of even the most intricately constructed spoken languages in the world. The findings explain why the human genome is so difficult to decipher –,,,
    ,,, in their recent study in Nature, the Taipale team examines the binding preferences of pairs of transcription factors, and systematically maps the compound DNA words they bind to.
    Their analysis reveals that the grammar of the genetic code is much more complex than that of even the most complex human languages. Instead of simply joining two words together by deleting a space, the individual words that are joined together in compound DNA words are altered, leading to a large number of completely new words.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....140252.htm

    As well, information, not material, is found to be foundational to physical reality itself:

    “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”
    – Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum mechanics:

    48:24 mark: “It is operationally impossible to separate Reality and Information”
    49:45 mark: “In the Beginning was the Word” John 1:1
    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

    “The most fundamental definition of reality is not matter or energy, but information–and it is the processing of information that lies at the root of all physical, biological, economic, and social phenomena.”
    Vlatko Vedral – Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, and CQT (Centre for Quantum Technologies) at the National University of Singapore, and a Fellow of Wolfson College – a recognized leader in the field of quantum mechanics.

    It is hard to imagine a more convincing proof that we are made ‘in the image of God’, than finding that both the universe and life itself are ‘information theoretic’ in their foundational basis, and that we, of all the creatures on earth, uniquely possess an ability to understand and create information.

    I guess a more convincing evidence could be if God Himself became a man, defeated death on a cross, and then rose from the dead to prove that He was God.
    But who has ever heard of such overwhelming evidence as that?

    Shroud of Turin: From discovery of Photographic Negative, to 3D Information, to Quantum Hologram – video
    https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/1119619634717635/?pnref=story

    Verses and Music:

    Genesis 1:26
    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

    Who Am I – Casting Crowns (w/ lyrics)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBcqria2wmg

  2. 2
    Charles says:

    News:

    My impression is that cats are not generally lifelong learners. They are very curious when young, and learn almost everything they need to know in the first year or two. Once they have learned a way of life, they stick to it.

    Age would certainly be a factor, but I would expect the amount of “stimulation” presented by the environment is also a factor. When families move, the cat seems to revert to “exploration mode”, even house cats.

    And outdoor cats, especially rural cats, explore over a surprisingly wide range. The following GPS tracking experiments were very short-term (only several days). One wonders what a year would show.

    http://mashable.com/2016/05/26/cat-roam-maps/

    “You always get the comment from owners that their cat doesn’t roam … but we thought it was a great visual to show owners where cats go when they don’t know where they are, because generally a lot of cats are unrestrained.”

    There is no information on the age of the above cats.

    The following cats, based on appearance, all seem to be adult cats, older than 2 years.

    http://www.discoverycircle.org.....t-tracker/
    http://www.discoverycircle.org.....er/tracks/

    [These particular rural cats seemed to roam further than urban cats, though I didn’t exhaustively look at all tracks]
    http://www.discoverycircle.org.....io/diesel/
    http://www.discoverycircle.org.au/portfolio/jinx/
    http://www.discoverycircle.org.....io/albert/
    http://www.discoverycircle.org.au/portfolio/jedda/

    [This cat lived on an urban/rural boundary and seems to roam the furthest of those I looked at]
    http://www.discoverycircle.org.....io/monmon/

    I know of rural farmers who have periodically seen their neighbor’s cat roaming from 1/4 – 1/2 mile away.

  3. 3
    News says:

    Good point, Charles at 2. If a healthy cat must move, he must get used to a whole new environment, which can take weeks. That said, he seems to learn a series of types of information that are functionally equivalent to the previous information and then quits.

    He just needs to replace that information. He doesn’t decide to read a book or something.

    Occasionally, cats decide to just return to the old information and are found to have returned from hundreds of kilometres away.

    See this story, for example.

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