A Thought for the Ontologically Inclined

The other day I was watching Mighty Mouse (one of our foster kittens) playing with a little felt ball in the kitten room. She’d pick up the toy in her mouth, run around with it for a bit, drop it, bap at it, run after it, pick it up again, then run around like mad with it in her mouth again. It was incredibly silly, and very cute.

So I got to thinking about the toy itself and what it represented in Mouse’s brain. Cats are primarily predators (except possibly for Nutmeg, our 16-pound “potato cat”), so many of their play behaviors would be hunting behaviors in the wild. So what, to Mouse, did that little felt toy represent? A bug? A bird? A mouse? Some other small mammal? I mean, she clearly knew it wasn’t food, since she wasn’t eating it, but something about that toy was definitely triggering her latent hunting behavior.

From there, my brain, as it is wont to do, spun on to the same question but about human brains. What high-level behaviors of ours are actually representative of something else? I don’t mean simple symbology, such as looking at the Washington Memorial and thinking of — Well, you know. I mean those higher-level “noble” pursuits that we make so much of. Let’s say science, for example. We as a civilization1 pursue science pretty doggedly (cattedly?), and we’ve made great strides in our understanding of the cosmos and how it works.

So, my question to you is: are there yet higher-level orders of consciousness that could look down on us, view those ideals which we strive for, and wonder what they represent for us? We humans watch the cat play with a felt ball, and figure that the felt ball represents a bug; what would the aliens of Trafalmadore think we’re pursuing when we think we’re pursuing science?

Watching cats frequently makes me ponder the nature of human intelligence and the limits of our consciousness.

I know, this question is an easy one, one that should go up on Facebook or Twitter. I just want to save it here on my own blog.

Notes

  1. I use the word “civilization” to refer to the totality of human existence on Earth and our global pursuits, not just “western” civilization. Make of that what you will.

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