A Mind for Madness

Musings on art, philosophy, mathematics, and physics

Cat’s Eyes

3 Comments


I’ve been running a very unscientific experiment for awhile now. It has produced some very interesting results that I can’t seem to explain. So every time my cat comes up to me and wants to jump on my lap (several times a day for at least a month I’ve been running this), I try something new. I either look near her, or don’t look at her at all, or look at her eyes, or some variation. The point was that I noticed she seemed to only make the jump when after we made eye contact.

Recently I’ve tried to be very specific about the different between looking near or at a different part of her body vs making eye contact. It may be my imagination as hardcore scientists would probably tell me, but I’m am quite convinced that she understands the difference between eye contact and non-eye contact.

Here is why I don’t understand this. Even if we make a huge leap and grant full out consciousness to cats (probably an overkill assumption), I still can’t explain it. Humans understand eye contact because they are aware that that is where sight comes from. I can see of no scenario in which a cat can come to the realization that eyes are where sight and recognition come from.

The only explanation I can come up with is that she is getting up there in cat years, and so has developed a conditioned response through years of experience that eye contact means that I am paying attention to her. As a good Pavlovian, we could say that she doesn’t have to have any idea what the cause is or why it works, it is merely a conditioned reaction.

Anyone else that might know something about animal behavior want to take a crack at this one?

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Author: hilbertthm90

I write about math, philosophy, literature, music, science, computer science, gaming or whatever strikes my fancy that day.

3 thoughts on “Cat’s Eyes

  1. Why do you think that there has to be a specific belief about eyes in order for a creature to seek eye contact? Newborn babies seek eye contact, and surely they don’t know that “eyes are where sight and recognition come from.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/nov/08/health.society)

  2. Ah, but this is precisely why I wanted to post this. I know that beings seek eye contact without knowing that. My question should have been clearer. I want theories on why it happens not support that it does.

    That article you posted does kill one of my theories, though, that it has to do with the fact that eyes basically never stop moving and your eyes are always drawn to moving things. The experiment was done with pictures, so that theory doesn’t work. Babies are also too new for it to be a conditioned response, so I’m definitely more stumped than before now.

  3. Just call it basic communication. Body language is fairly universal in the animal world. I like to start off my animal stories by asking the audience how often they talk to plants and animals in their environment. Most people say never, because they are thinking of verbal communication, but your body language never shuts up. All of the plants and animals in one’s immediate environment are listening and watching everything that the humans do.

    In basic body language, eye contact means that you are going into personal communications mode. Most body language is broadcast for everyone to share, but eye contact signals shared attention and opens the door for more.

    I’ve been communicating with plants and animals most of my life. A guy named J. Allen Boone, author of “Kinship with all Life”, came to our sunday school. He told us his stories about communicating with animals. That was all i needed.

    Here’s an example of cat eye contact… I used to have my desk up against a back window. The cats would come to the window to be let in. Eye contact was all that was needed. I would get up and let them in. One day Alley showed up at the window with a lizard in her mouth. We made eye contact and i shook my head. She immediately put the lizard down on the ground and came back to the window. Renewed eye contact and i let her in. She never even looked at the lizard.

    That was the first time that i realized that a headshake was understood by any cat, let alone this one. It was communication, simple as that. Her eye contact with me, with the lizard in her mouth, was a request to bring it into the house. My negative response was understood and her plan altered on the fly, so to speak.

    I’ve got several stories about Alley and our interactions. Don’t sell critters short. Science and religion both make their living off the environment. They really don’t want to give them any respect. And of course, that’s the key. Once you show critters some respect, communication becomes a possibility.

    cheers,
    jim

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