Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cat and Mouse

Imagine what it must be like to be a cat, catching a mouse.

This is normal for cats. It's what they're designed for. I imagine that it must feel a bit like it does to a human to go to the fridge and get a pizza. Or to be a bit more ev. psych. about it, to pluck a fruit from a tree.

Perhaps it's a bit better than that, and has some of the joy that humans feel when hunting, or fishing, or doing sport.

Now imagine what it must be like to be a mouse, being caught by a cat.

Cats are the traditional predator. The thing that kills more mice than anything else. If you are a mouse, you are, although you do not know it, the descendant of an unbroken line of millions of ancestors all of whom managed to avoid being caught by cats long enough to breed. Probably by running very fast and hiding in deep holes.

Let's think about some things that killed our human ancestors. There aren't many. We are the top of all the food chains in which we're involved. The most successful killer there has ever been. The Death Ape. Even the animals that are potentially strong enough to kill and eat a lone human avoid us unless they're in a desperate situation because we're just too risky to attack. After all, even if they win nine times out of ten, that's not brilliant odds if you need to eat more than once or twice a lifetime.

Two of the very few animals that can be dangerous to humans are spiders and snakes, because of their poison. Very occasionally, an ancestral human being might have been killed by spider or snake venom. I suppose, very very occasionally, someone might have managed to get themselves killed by bees or wasps.

Probably as a result, most human beings find spiders and snakes loathsome, and many of us have a full blown phobia. Which is to say, irrational mind-destroying terror at the very sight. The buzzing of bees and wasps is a little disconcerting for most people too.

It has been pointed out that children in New York develop full blown spider and snake phobias even though the only real danger to New York children is the car.

I think that we can imagine with some degree of confidence that all mice have a full blown phobia of cats. In fact it's probably much worse than any human phobia can be.

You can keep mice out of a room by putting a picture of a cat in it.

So, anyway, if you're a mouse, being caught by a cat is almost certainly worse than the worst nightmare a human being can experience. The cat is a mythical demon out of nightmare. Except that it's not mythical.

Remember room 101? Where Winston, who has somehow managed to acquire a phobia of rats, has his head locked in a rat cage, where they can eat his eyes and cheeks and tongue.

The worst perversions of the Holy Inquisition probably inspired nothing like the terror felt by a mouse being eaten by a cat.

And let us not even think too hard about the cats' habit of 'playing' with their food. Christ knows what this is about. Having got the poor thing where they want it, instead of just eating it, they then torture it to death over a period of many minutes, even though this sometimes allows it to escape uneaten.

Presumably to the cat, this feels a bit like adding pepper to its pizza. Normal, natural, unremarkable.
To the mouse?

And yet, and this is my point, and why I have dwelt so on the magnitude of the horror, these are two consciousnesses experiencing exactly the same physical events.

Some people like mountains, and some people like lakes, and which you like is a matter of taste.
De gustibus non est disputandem.
There is no accounting for taste.
Chacun a son gout.

Every human culture has a phrase for this. It's one of the oldest truths that we know about ourselves. Different people have different reactions to the same things.

I've never really thought about it before. Is the colour blue the same for me as it is for you? What would that even mean?


This blog is part of the internet. Things on the internet need funny pictures of cats. Here is one:

By my arguments above, this should be massively more unlikely than a human being standing naked in front of a grizzly bear smearing herself in honey and threatening its cubs. Nevertheless, pictures on the internet do not lie. I conclude that my arguments are wrong.

No mice were harmed in the making of this blogpost. The pictures were stolen, without permission, from:


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