Of cat love–human love–and Dawkins.

by Captain Walker

Categories: Humanities, Psychology & Philosophy, CW

If you’re expecting or looking for thoughts on loving cats or the love of cats, kindly depart now.  I’ve been thinking about my cat and his relationship to me (and vice versa – if you please), over the last several weeks. This has led me to think about how humans interact and their relationships. I also completed Dawkins’: An Appetite for Wonder.  And whilst I was listening to Dawkins’ voice reading his book to me – an overview of his life and ‘philosophy’ for want of a better word – I couldn’t help but wonder about my own existence. Most importantly Dawkins summarises the concept of the ‘gene’.

To most people the gene is a string of chemicals – and that’s fine. But a thing is more than just it’s structure. It’s importance and relevance has a certain context. I’d struggle to find the right words – and could not encapsulate the concept as eloquently as Dawkins. But the gene is a fascinating piece of engineering, fashioned out of inanimate matter, which has it’s own agenda across millions of species and within single species – and that’s not about ‘survival of the species’ – as we had been taught in college. Dawkins explains this so well.

Genes need to get together to do their stuff – that’s a fundamental thing. You can’t have procreation and survival of anything without genes finding each other and doing their little dance. Well, it is as little as it is big – depending on whether you think of it over a small time scale or over billions of years. Genes work together, so they must come together. Howsoever they orchestrate the ‘coming together’, it is fair to conceptualise the basis of that as some sort of ‘attraction’ – from a molecular level to a macro-molecular level and then to the level of living organisms. Attraction and interaction are absolutely essential to genes evolving and species developing.

Us living beings – including my cat – therefore share a very similar thing i.e. we survive to be able to reproduce. Whether a single individual reproduces (or not) is irrelevant in the grand scheme of the gene over the billions of years. The gene is not pre-occupied with individuals but it creates reproductive potentials and activates organisms in various ways to reproduce. In order to reproduce – you have to live and survive first. I hope I don’t need to explain in detail that a dead organism or one that doesn’t survive to reproductive capacity is incapable of reproduction.

So whilst there is a need to reproduce there is also a need to sustain life in order to reproduce. But these needs are separate even if interdependent. If you’ve gotten this far you’re about to stamp your feet and go, “What about the bledy cat!!?” You should know better by now.

My cat seeks me out with some affection. Nothing fascinating about that – you might think. After all cats have been loving zillions of owners for thousands of years. Please – I’m talking about ‘the domestic cat’ in general. But what is this affection. What is it about? Do I really know it is affection? What is affection? Does my cat ‘love’ me? Does it care about me? How do I know for certain or with any degree of certainty? How does a human know if another human truly cares about them?  [Think about people who a paid to care]. ‘Truly’ is the operative word? How does one know if love from a human to another is genuine? What about ‘gold-digging’ women? The latter may know it’s not about the money, but the public knows something different from day one. Is the public entitled to a better perspective than the individual claiming to be ‘in love’.

My cat rubs on my leg, purrs and has these eyes that says ‘feed me, stroke me.. I care about you.. treat me nice…I am so grateful’. Well, immediately cat lovers will identify with this and probably want to add more. But how do I know what his eyes are saying? If I invoke Dawkins – as I do – the total behaviour and appearance of the cat is an evolutionary survival ‘trick’ orchestrated by the ‘unconscious’ gene. In any event I have no more access to a cat’s mind over the innermost thoughts  and feelings of another human being. I may infer based on human expressions of emotion and behaviour that they ‘care’ etc but one can never really know what is going on in the head or at a pre-conscious level. A gold-digging female can easily become hypnotised that she’s in love with the old codger – and that it’s not about money. The public can infer the exact opposite. However, there will remain a gap between what the public thinks and knows and what the accused gold-digger thinks and knows. That is the nature of our existence. So the gap between what I know about my cat’s love of me, and what my cat actually feels is even greater! Do I really need to explain that further? You see how difficult blogging is?

I’ve come to some conclusions about my cat  – that are bound to be unpopular:

  1. My cat is attracted to me primarily because he can get an easy meal and the comfort of some stroking of his fur now and then.
  2. He’s not conscious of the above – though he can be expected like any other animal to feel hunger and comfort.
  3. But since cats in the vast majority do nothing that inform us of an intelligence nearly equal to humans, I can safely assume that my cat doesn’t have the intellectual fortitude to work out a conspiratorial emotional trap to get food and affection from me.
  4. My cat may feel a loss if I suddenly failed to exist, but I doubt very much that sadness is an emotion he would feel for that loss. [This is where people want to beat me up now – how dare I violate such time honoured traditional beliefs?]
  5. Food is important to my cat’s survival – a particular type of food – as he is domesticated, and does not eat rats and other wild things that he catches.
  6. Though he’s neutered, he doesn’t ‘know’ that or what it means. His instincts keep him doing what he’s been programmed by his genes to do i.e. survive and keep alive the potential to reproduce – yes, the genes don’t know either that he’s been neutered.

About humans some softer conclusions but I extrapolate from some of the above:

  1. Humans demonstrate an intelligence (and I’m not going into that – but think of splitting atoms etc which no other animal on this earth has come close to doing).
  2. Humans display emotions and behaviour that suggest ‘love’ etc.
  3. Human love is a form of attraction – which is rather different to the sort of attractions in animals of lesser capacity. I’m speaking of love here as  a reproductive force, and not about ‘platonic’ relationships.
  4. I don’t think I need to explain too much  – unless someone reading this has a serious attack of autism – that when a human says ‘I love you’ – that it’s not just about holding hands. Get your head outta the clouds or your arse! That woke you up – innit? The words suggest a need for some form of intimacy that may activate at some stage a reproductive response, or a simulated or failed response (in order to cater for same sex attractions).

But get down to the level of the gene! The gene doesn’t live in the clouds. The gene is a device that has serious business to get done – that of increasing the entropy of the universe. A lot of people just cannot fathom how powerful a directive that is over their puny impulses to cuddle and exchange body fluids. [I am absolutely not being sarcastic about this.]The gene has unconscious mechanisms working through  us, to make us do it’s bidding on a grand temporal scale. It cares far less about me than my cat! The gene is the ultimate puppet master.

Now none of the above is to deny things such as human love. I too know and have experienced it in myself to another at various times in my life. I know the wonderful and sometimes painful obsession that it causes. And now with over 40 years of hindsight, I better understand how the gene has pulled my ‘strings’. At the time it was real as my hand in front of my face. Today, I see it all with a different lens – which says ‘that which you see is a grand orchestration, enjoy it for a while but don’t ever think it’s reality’. It’s like going to the movies – it looks all real but you know it’s not.

[This post is subject – as are all posts – to the Terms and Conditions. For the avoidance of doubt, speculation, automatic inferences and self-referent thinking – this article is not written with any particular human individual in mind. I may make amendments or additions over the next week.]

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