Study Says Cats Understand Physics & Law Of Cause and Effect
June 15, 2016 8:12 AM   Subscribe

...Takagi and colleagues observed that cats tend to stare longer at rattling boxes during the experiment, which suggest that they correctly anticipated the presence of an object based on the container's rattling sound. The felines also stared longer when a turned over box yielded unexpected results that defy the laws of physics. Takagi explained that these animals use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds when predicting the presence of invisible objects.
Cats Utilize Physics? Study Says Cats Understand Physics And Use Law Of Cause And Effect To Detect Hiding Prey
posted by y2karl (76 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whenever I turn over a 4x4 inch box and a tyrannosauruse falls out, my cat freaks out. He falls for that Every Time! LOL
posted by BlueHorse at 8:17 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


What does this mean for Schroedinger's Cat? I betcha the moment he notices that there's a radioactive isotope in the box, he's bolting out of there.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:19 AM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I really, really should have gone into cat research. If I had even known that I could get paid to rattle boxes at cats, I would have made very, very different life choices.
posted by Frowner at 8:20 AM on June 15, 2016 [79 favorites]


I can haz an opposite and equal reaction?
posted by briank at 8:22 AM on June 15, 2016 [18 favorites]


They also wanted to know if cats expect an object to fall from the box when the container is turned over so they conducted experiments involving 30 domestic cats.
Saho Takagi, from Kyoto University in Japan, and colleagues shook boxes in front of the cats


Calling bullshit on these scientists trying to "learn something", y'all just wanted to play with some kitties
posted by Greg Nog at 8:23 AM on June 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


Okay now science me why sometimes I can shift on the couch and my cat ignores me, and sometimes he jumps 3 feet into the air.
posted by graventy at 8:26 AM on June 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


> Calling bullshit on these scientists trying to "learn something", y'all just wanted to play with some kitties

It is well documented that play is the most fundamental method for learning!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:26 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yall are missing the most important point. They understand physics. How long before the cats have the atomic bomb?
posted by Splunge at 8:27 AM on June 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


I have often thought that all cats are empiricists. My cat is constantly checking to see whether gravity continues to work in our house.

"Does gravity work now?"
*shoves book off mantlepiece*
"OK, very well. But how about now?"
*shoves Blu-Ray case off of shelf*
"Very well. The investigation continues."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2016 [110 favorites]


I assume this involves facilitating an intermediate step between today's automobile technology and the self-driving cars of the future where our cats drive us around town, deftly anticipating and navigating around other cars falling out of boxes.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ha. I'm going to go further. This is my unqualified, unscientific opinion about the difference between cats and dogs:

Dogs are in the NAOW. They see ball: they think: Ball. Play. Me. NOW! Fun! Fun! Run! Ball! YAY! They're with you in the moment.

Cats? Cats live in a world of imagination and metaphor. You've seen them play "make believe" with "ghosts" and pretend that something that is clearly NOT alive, is something deadly. When I toss a toy mouse, my cats have to nonchalantly walk away from it, turn back, "discover" it, and only THEN attack. They're calculating, make-believing, imaginative creatures.

And they understand gifts, signs and signage.
For dog: ball = ball.
For Cat: mouse = stand-in (symbol) for real-food-I-caught-for-big-hairless-monkey.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2016 [32 favorites]


In related news, scientists have discovered that birds' brains are densely packed with neurons, which may explain their inherent superiority to both cats and dogs as pets. I kid, I kid
posted by cubby at 8:43 AM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Cats are hunters. Predicting where the invisible thing will show up is kind of a big part of that, right? I can hear the bird, the bird is moving, where will the bird be next? I can hear the mouse in the wall, where will it go, how can I catch it? I don't know, maybe I've lived with cats for so long that this seems kind of QED to me already.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:46 AM on June 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


> Cats? Cats live in a world of imagination and metaphor. You've seen them play "make believe" with "ghosts"

Monday night I had the TV on, sound on low, waiting for the news to start. Both cats were asleep against my legs. The last few minutes of So You Think You Can Dance was on, and when the music for the final contestant's audition began.... Both cats came out of a sound sleep and stared fixedly down the (long, dark) hallway. Not at the TV, but down the hall. I hit the mute button; cats continued to stare down the hall. I unmuted the TV, and they gave it not a flicker of attention. And then then both hopped off the chair and scuttled away. I actually got up and went down the hall and even looked down the stairs: Nothing. Nothing I could see...

THANKS A LOT, CATS.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on June 15, 2016 [23 favorites]



I really, really should have gone into cat research. If I had even known that I could get paid to rattle boxes at cats, I would have made very, very different life choices.


If you own live with a cat and you have a job, you are paid to rattle boxes at cats. You just don't know it - yet.
posted by lalochezia at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


While it's pretty self evident that cats understand and utilize gravity, I'm more interested in the instances where they operate entirely outside the rules of it (or any other branch of physics for that matter). Once you've seen a cat just floating in midair for a full minute simply because gravity has forgotten about them, it becomes clear that "cats are weird" applies at the level of a universal constant.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


what is a ghost but a coffin turned over that yields unexpected results?
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:54 AM on June 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


I assume this involves facilitating an intermediate step between today's automobile technology and the self-driving cars of the future where our cats drive us around town, deftly anticipating and navigating around other cars falling out of boxes.

i have spent an unhealthy amount of time contemplating what it would mean for cats to pilot cars, and concluded that it's probably unworkable — as soon as small animals or pedestrians are present, the prey instinct would kick in and all hell would break loose.
posted by indubitable at 8:58 AM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


This word "understand" is misleading, and I can't imagine the researchers used it. You can train a neural network to distinguish pictures of cats from pictures of dogs. This does not mean that the neural network "understands" the difference between cats and dogs.
posted by Slothrup at 8:59 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I once had a double-walled mug with liquid in between the walls. When you moved the mug, you could see the liquid inside move. My cat could spend hours watching this mug, knocking it over, and then freaking out when nothing spilled out of it. He would put his paw in it and check, walk around it in circles to investigate the situation, sniff it. He would look at me in confusion, stick his paw back in, mew. I would stand the cup upright again and he'd begin his investigation anew.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:05 AM on June 15, 2016 [50 favorites]


i have spent an unhealthy amount of time contemplating what it would mean for cats to pilot cars, and concluded that it's probably unworkable — as soon as small animals or pedestrians are present, the prey instinct would kick in and all hell would break loose.

it's a simple matter of letting go of the idea that a car's utility involves it going where you want it to go, a process cat owners will be familiar with.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I actually got up and went down the hall and even looked down the stairs: Nothing. Nothing I could see...

haints
posted by poffin boffin at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Cats Are Assholes? Study Says Cats Understand They're Being Dicks But Just Don't Care
posted by Sangermaine at 9:15 AM on June 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Study Says Cats Understand Physics & Law Of Cause and Effect

well I guess I can no longer comfort myself with the lie that destroying the venetian blinds was an accident
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:19 AM on June 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


In related news, scientists have discovered that birds' brains are densely packed with neurons, which may explain their inherent superiority to both cats and dogs as pets.


Sure, if you like living with a small, aggressive dinosaur that poops everywhere.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:24 AM on June 15, 2016 [20 favorites]


Ceiling Cat is watching you mass debate.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:33 AM on June 15, 2016 [17 favorites]


Meanwhile, cats still can't figure out that when you point at something, the indicated object of interest is not the tip of your finger.
posted by maryr at 9:36 AM on June 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


*boop*
posted by maryr at 9:38 AM on June 15, 2016 [17 favorites]




Study Says Cats Understand Physics & Law Of Cause and Effect

Sure, when you knock a glass of water over, it's physics!
When your owner loses his shit at you for knocking that glass of water on his laptop, it's cause and effect!
posted by xingcat at 9:47 AM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Meanwhile, cats still can't figure out that when you point at something, the indicated object of interest is not the tip of your finger."

Dogs often do. And when dogs watch us, they watch our faces and interpret our intentions that way. When you point with your finger to a cat, the cat is all, yeah, that's your finger, is something going to happen?

It's not that cats aren't as smart as dogs, it's that part of being a dog is being really good at recognizing what humans want. Cats are really good at doing what we've expected cats to do, which is to kill rodents. That's why a cat will look at your finger as if it were possibly some kind of rodent appendage. They're super-good at identifying possible rodent appendages and watching them intently. Possibly a little too good.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:58 AM on June 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Breaking Science News!

Cats understand physics, are bored with it immediately and decide to take a nap.
posted by Chuffy at 10:01 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Never mind rattling boxes; how is it that cats assume they will fit into any box, no matter the relative sizes?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:11 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I CAN HEIS ENBERGER?
posted by Shepherd at 10:14 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


heiz enburger dammit
posted by Shepherd at 10:20 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


What if the only way we can have warp drive or time travel is with kitties?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:23 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


i have spent an unhealthy amount of time contemplating what it would mean for cats to pilot cars, and concluded that it's probably unworkable . . .

Don't try to tell that to Mother Hitton.
posted by jamjam at 10:31 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


My cat is currently conducting research on water, specifically "where the fuck does it go?" Her research program involves a lot of staring into the plughole after baths, and poking her furry little face deep into the toilet, followed by eyeballing me until I flush it for her again.

I think she's developing a hypothesis, but is still collecting evidence until she's certain.
posted by lollusc at 10:31 AM on June 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


Proof.
posted by lollusc at 10:37 AM on June 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


"...what it would mean for cats to pilot cars, and concluded that it's probably unworkable..."

(driving carefully down the road, his catly reflexes moving the vehicle smoothly and safely through traffic)....then: OH! Look! A bug!!
posted by mule98J at 10:48 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't know how the original study is worded, but it looks like the article writer didn't hold back with overselling it. There's stuff like this:

The rattling boxes that did not yield a falling object and silent boxes that yielded an object defied the laws of physics.

Must be talking about Newton's Third Law of Rattling Boxes there.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:58 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Today in Underestimating Non-Human Species...
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:59 AM on June 15, 2016


I came home once to find all the stuff in the freezer unthawed, and one of my cats sitting on top of it, continuously pushing the door open.

We came to realize that this special cat, who is obsessed with pushing stuff off of tables/counters, couldn't see the hinge on the freezer door, and was mystified about why this *one thing* didn't fall, but instead rotated out, then came back in. So she kept pushing it, and staring, and pushing it, and staring.

The lesson learned was simple: attach child-proof locks to freezer.
posted by love in light at 11:14 AM on June 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


Feline's First Law of the Physics: Boxes that rattle have stuff in them. Boxes that don't rattle, don't have stuff in them. Feed me.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:19 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Eh, I think that at least some cats do understand that you're pointing. They just don't care.

Maybe get somebody to secretly open up a can of cat food while cats are begging you for food. Then you point at the direction where the food is visible and maybe see if the cats will take a look?
posted by I-baLL at 11:23 AM on June 15, 2016


Yall are missing the most important point. They understand physics. How long before the cats have the atomic bomb?

Don't worry, it's only Newtonian physics. They clearly don't get relativity or quantum mechanics, which is why Schroedinger put a cat in his box.
posted by TedW at 11:25 AM on June 15, 2016


The question people always forget to ask, though, is: Did Schrödinger's box rattle?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:30 AM on June 15, 2016


*boop* POOM!

Fixed that, for the cats.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:31 AM on June 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've been aware from a number of books that cats have object permanence. How's is this different?
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:41 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anyway, physics isn't so special; cats totally mastered chemistry ages ago. Why do you think they are called "cations?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:47 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


>How long before the cats have the atomic bomb?<

You assume they do not already.
posted by twidget at 11:50 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Worse: They have a catomic bomb! It won't kill you, unless you have allergies, but it will shred all fabric and cover absolutely everything for several miles in hairballs and cat piss.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:14 PM on June 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Yay! A thread where I can show you my favorite experiment which proves the thesis! (well in obvious addition to my dictation skills for the typist entering this comment)

Susu POUNCE

hee hee hee
posted by Susu pitchounette at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's kind of a silly way of framing it. Of cause animals use cause and effect. They use it a lot. Being able to repeat the fact that, say, leaping on a mouse after stalking it is more likely to lead to a catch than just walking straight up to it. That's cause and effect, learnt by the cat and observed by us in repeated behaviour. It's physics. A cat actually has to have a pretty good estimate of the curve it will take in leaping, which is intuitive modelling of a physical process. The example here of rattling boxes is not as general a result as "cats understand(use) physics", but has more to say about induction from sensory clues regarding otherwise hidden facts - or possibly simply adaptive learned strategies for hunting prey ("hang around when you see movement", not formalised as a rule but physically learnt from repeated experience.
posted by iotic at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


graventy: Okay now science me why sometimes I can shift on the couch and my cat ignores me, and sometimes he jumps 3 feet into the air.

Clearly you have a subconscious knack for mimicking the deadly wild cucumber.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


ZeusHumms: What if the only way we can have warp drive or time travel is with kitties?

Maybe scale this up for a power supply?
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 12:45 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Compilation Of Cats Being Jerks And Knocking Things Over

That compilation always leaves me mildly annoyed that they didn't include this classic of the genre.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:11 PM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I for one welcome our new feline overlords.
posted by AaronDaMommio at 1:56 PM on June 15, 2016


Yes, but what is or is not in Schroedinger's cat box ?
posted by y2karl at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2016


Poo?
posted by mudpuppie at 4:01 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Humans' intuitive understanding of physics is not Newtonian but what researchers call “naïve physics”; one key difference is that the idea of inertia is replaced with impetus (the innate force people thought moving objects had in pre-Newtonian times); it worked well enough for the average ancestral hunter-gatherer.

I'm guessing cats would implement some similar naïve model of physics that works well enough for the application for evolution to have created it. I wonder whether it differs from the human model, and if so, how.
posted by acb at 4:22 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Most humans aren't considering physical principles such as inertia or impetus when they throw a ball. They just throw a ball.
posted by iotic at 5:40 PM on June 15, 2016


There's a Persian saying that goes something like,

"Where did you learn such concentration? From a cat watching a mouse hole."

This has been on my mind for a few years. I really think they're exploring their own mystery, sort of like humans. Plus they're really good listeners.
posted by sneebler at 6:02 PM on June 15, 2016


My cat has developed a workable Unified Field Theory but only uses it for dismembering cockroaches.
posted by um at 7:42 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


My cat has developed a workable Unified Field Theory…

catGUT?
posted by TedW at 7:55 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


To be honest I don't really know her theory is sound - the math is way beyond me - but if she hasn't then I guess all that LHC time was just money down the drain.
posted by um at 7:57 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a Persian saying

They actually prefer the term "exotic longhair"
posted by Greg Nog at 8:00 PM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


My cats are serious little scientists, until I decide to vacuum the lab.
posted by zutalors! at 8:24 PM on June 15, 2016


Cats understand physics, are bored with it immediately and decide to take a nap.

Cats and college freshmen, amirite?
posted by maryr at 8:56 PM on June 15, 2016


It's not that cats aren't as smart as dogs

I love love love cats and I like other people's dogs but no, dogs are smarter than cats. They're just also giant doofs.
posted by maryr at 8:58 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


HAHAHA in your face !! The cat DID know what he was doing when he looked me in the eye and pushed my coffee mug into my lap with BOTH PAWS!!! SCIENCE SAYS SO!!!
posted by some loser at 10:28 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


All this time I thought Schrodinger was talking about the litter box, and how like there might be radioactive shit in there or something and basically he didn't want to be the guy to find out, and anyway he cleaned it last time.
posted by quinndexter at 3:19 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]




People are surprised cat's are physicists? I called this way back in 2007!

The concept occurred to me when I realized that the intentness with which a cat will watch a bouncing piece of string goes way beyond hunter instinct and moves squarely into attempted prediction of chaotic action. And the fact that sometimes they don't bet at it, but gently poke it with a paw really struck me as a "Hmm, interesting" kind of thing.

Plus their eyes glow in the dark, just like all human physicists.
posted by quin at 7:07 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh wow, I spelled it out even more explicitly here. Apparently I've been convinced cats are physicists for quite a long time now.

Which should tell you everything you need to know about my brain.
posted by quin at 12:32 PM on June 24, 2016


Cats' eyes *reflect* in the dark. Even when a whole cat glows, the eyes are a pit of darkness.
posted by maryr at 12:38 PM on June 24, 2016


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