Feline Generalization

My cat was lying next to me in bed in Pennsylvania. The phone rang. The cats ears perked up, she jumped off of the bed, ran into the hallway, and stared at the front door.

I realized she had made a generalization. In Brooklyn, where she spends almost all of her time, we have no land line. But we do have a "phone" of the same sort: it is part of the intercom system, and it rings whenever someone rings our bell from the building's foyer.

The cat clearly had a thought like, "Ah! That kind of sound: whenever you hear that sort of sound, someone shows up at the front door. Better go see who it is." (That is exactly what she does in Brooklyn: when the intercom phone rings, she races to the top of the stairs, from where she can watch the door.)

But how, exactly, does she have a thought similar to the one above without having words in which to formulate it? Good question! (Why, thank you, Gene, I thought so too.) My intuition is that she is thinking in sensory impressions: the ring of the telephone in Milford brings to her mind the ring of the telephone in Brooklyn, which brings to her mind the image of people coming in the door, and since that can mean either frightening strangers or familiar, missed friends, it is best to keep an eye on things, and see if the situation calls for hiding or begging for a treat.


  1. Good old associational logic! Patricia McConnell, I think it is, writes about barking at the mailman from the dog's perspective: "Every day this guy comes up to the stoop, but every day I bark and he goes away."


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