Feline Consciousness

During my last semester in college, I took a seminar on Nietzsche to fulfill my philosophy degree requirement.  It was by far one of my favorite courses I ever took.  Halfway through the semester, we discussed consciousness and animals.  I was ecstatic to learn that Nietzsche believed that certain animals were not only conscious, but also self-aware.  His basic formula was this:  if any animal has the ability to deceive and use tools, that animal is conscious of his/her actions.  My professor, Dr. S., gave an example about squirrels hiding nuts and monkeys using sticks open certain fruit shells.  I can’t remember what Dr. S. said verbatim, but that was the gist of it.  I remember my eyes glazing over as I delved deep into thought.  When Dr. S. asked if I was okay, told him I had a story for him and I wanted to know what he and Nietzsche would say about it.

Thus my story began:

When Morpheus was diagnosed with cancer, we opted not to have the surgery.  We knew that the chance of him surviving wasn’t great and we didn’t want to put him through anymore suffering, knowing he was already uncomfortable.  Instead, we gave him a steroid that stimulated his appetite.  It also had a success rate of shrinking tumors.

After 24 hours, we saw a huge improvement in Morpheus’ behavior.  He ate dry food.   That was most important because he had stopped eating a day before.  Because he was eating, his energy levels were up.  He played with water drips in the bathtub.  He went after ribbon and mice.  Morpheus wasn’t 100%, but he was on the right path.  I never saw him eat with such gusto.

Ron and I knew Morpheus was a smart cat.  He was one of the smartest animals I ever met.  Morpheus’ face was alway filled with expression.  When he was angry with us, we knew.  When he was grateful or happy, we knew.  So, when we had to give him his steroid twice a day, we knew by the expression on his face he wasn’t happy with us.

After a few weeks on the steroid, the three of us were well-versed with the routine.  Each morning, Morpheus would receive a syringe of his steroid after he ate some breakfast.  In the evening, he would receive another syringe after his dinner.  Morpheus hated taking the steroid.  He tried everything to get out of taking it – hiding in the closet, hiding under the bed, hiding under the couch…

One morning, he ate a couple of bites of breakfast.  I had just finished washing dishes and was taking his medicine out of the refrigerator.  Ron was petting him and keeping him close to the bathroom.  Morpheus heard the refrigerator door close.  He beelined for the food bowl.

“Why don’t we let him eat a little bit more,” Ron said.

“Okay.  But lets wait around the corner so we can see when he’s finished eating.”

Ron and I hid around the corner and watched Morpheus from the bathroom.  Morpheus was moving food around in his bowl with his nose.  He didn’t crunch on a single morsel.  Then, he looked up to see if we were around.  When he saw that we weren’t in sight, Morpheus put his ear back and started to walk quickly toward the living room.  The little devil tricked us to avoid taking his medicine!

After I finished telling my professor this story, he burst out laughing.  I waited patiently for him to calm down.

“What’s so funny, Dr. S?”

Dr. S. said, “Your cat outsmarted you and your husband.”  He started to laugh again.

“And how would Nietzsche interpret the situation,” I asked, laughing a little because Morpheus had outsmarted us.

“Nietzsche would say that not only was Morpheus conscious of his actions, he was also self-aware.”

For the many years I searched for this answer.  I refused to believe that animals were philosophical zombies, alive solely relying on survival instinct. I also refused to believe that animals don’t have souls.  To hear that my favorite philosopher shared my views a century before my time… well, there just aren’t words to describe that feeling.  I always said that Morpheus was my feline soul mate.  I felt such a profound connection to him, like I’d met him before and that he would exit my life too soon (again).  I hope our paths cross once more.