In Praise of Feline Brains


Every cat owner knows this: whenever something new is brought into the house, your cats have to examine it carefully. Give it a sniff. Jump on top of it. Circle around from all sides. It’s standard feline behavior. But check this out. I’m temporarily using a little clip-on speaker on my PC, and on Friday I got tired of looking at the wires so I moved it a couple of feet and stuck it on top of my external hard drive.

Thanks to the evil dex, I was sitting downstairs reading at 3 am when Hopper cruised in. She looked around a bit and then made a beeline for the speaker. She jumped up on the desk, got up on her hind legs and gave it a thorough sniffing. She circled around to the side to take another look. Then she went into the kitchen, hopped up on the counter and came up to it from behind to check it out some more. The whole operation took nearly five minutes.

That’s really pretty impressive. This is a small, gray plastic box. Hopper doesn’t interact with it or sleep on it. It has no odor. It had only been moved two feet. And yet, her mental image of this room was so precise that she immediately noticed the change and spent quite a bit of time checking it out. If cats don’t always seem very bright, maybe it’s just because they’re filling their brains with precision maps of the world.