A Look At Sentience
A while ago I asked a group of people about their memories from before the age of four or so. I got a series of answers that ranged from very few to rather a lot. Only, well, you know me… the question wasn’t about the memories we had as infants.
The question was really about the bits we’d forgotten. After all, without a memory, there’s a kind of black space where everything else is. Isn’t? It’s not like the subconscious where there is literally no awareness whatsoever; the experience of no memory is quite different. After all, we did learn to do up our shoelaces, eat with knives and forks, sit to table even! All of which has been forgotten. More to the point, as infants we could express ourselves linguistically in a way that Mina – ahem! – cannot even begin to approach.
You see, I’ve been watching Mina in the last few days. Which isn’t that taxing because a cat doesn’t actually do that much. After all, a cat is… a cat.
Now you’ll have heard me make the occasional mention of what it’s like to be a cat. That is to say, what sentience is when compared to consciousness.
Imagine having paws instead of hands! Pretty as Mina’s paws are, they are not practical in human terms. But then a cat wouldn’t know what to do with hands, would it? When I feel Mina’s paws and tell her how pretty they are, all Mina wants to do is stand on them.
I mean, it’s not as if Mina even knows her name, and even if she did respond to her name, to a cat it would simply be another noise – only one that was recognizable in some way. Were a cat able to comprehend the nature of a name, a cat would be possessed of the concurrent ability to speak it. That a cat can only make cat noises such as miaouw implies that the animal’s ability to perceive noises exists at this level. Being constrained to this level would be hell on earth for a being possessed of consciousness, that is to say, self-awareness.
Could we as humans bear to eat in the way a cat does, every day? Find ourselves compressed into the space of a small animal that can only miaouw in various ways? We’d be so bored that we’d be forced to twiddle our paws, what with the absence of opposable thumbs. A conscious being needs a far better ‘vehicle’ than the physical body of a cat.
Animals are animals after all. Cats are hierarchical beings as all animals are: the stronger animal wins the day. Humans have the ability to think and imagine situations, animals do not.
An animal is simply reliant on its instincts to determine what it will do, we are not. That is to say, an animal cannot be pro-active in the way we can be – and an animal can only react to circumstances as they arise in its present environment. With this you can appreciate that when the environment of an orangutan is destroyed, there’s absolutely nothing the orangutan can do about it. Either it moves on or it doesn’t get to eat. Being an animal around humans is not always very pleasant.
Unless of course, you’re a pet.
The point of this ramble is to look at what a cat needs in order to live and breathe as a cat. What is certain is that a cat doesn’t need anything more than to be a cat: no super-hero cats, no Walter Mitty cats. In this respect the instinctive side meets the physical being pretty well. She knows how to keep herself fed and clean. She can stand up, sit down, roll over. She is aware of what is going on around her to the degree to which a cat needs to be aware. That is to say, she’s aware of being hungry and aware of the presence of food in the form of a blackbird or an opened tin of food. Sealed ones are well beyond her ability to comprehend. An opened tin of food smells of food, a sealed tin does not and so falls outside her experience. After alll, sealed tins of food don’t occur in nature.With everything pre-programmed in her instincts, every likelihood a cat will meet is dealt with.
What she doesn’t need is to be conscious of it.
The day to day life of a cat is like the space where our forgotten memories lie.