I’m going to have to put my own spin on it but I’m referring to an article in The Times newspaper by the philosopher John Gray who is, I guess, promoting his new book Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life published next Thursday by Penguin at a price of £20 (£16 on Amazon).
What he is saying, and I completely agree with him, is that cats do not have an awareness of their mortality as humans do. This distinguishes humans from other animals. The general consensus of scientists is that other animals do not foresee their death and therefore a limited lifespan. This is a benefit to animals and is a distinct advantage over the human-animal.
The argument is that because humans can see an end to their life, and therefore a fixed period during which they are allowed to live, they put pressure on themselves with expectations of achieving something or doing something during their lifetime. People look to the future as a marker for their achievements and “try and make the most of our time”. And of course it rarely unfolds as one desires or hopes. Life brings unexpected events to all of us. Our dreams are often shattered, unfulfilled or partly fulfilled.
It is rare for a person’s dreams to be fully realised. This can perhaps inevitably bring disappointment. It is therefore better to live more in the moment and as John Gray says “saviour the pleasures of being alive”.
He refers to his cat who died at the age of 23 (a great age) just before the coronavirus lockdown. He would roll over on his back and expose his “white-furred belly”. A gesture of trust in him and he says that “it signalled his delight in the sensation of life itself”.
Cats are more serene in their mentality because they “don’t live for the sake of an imaginary future”.
It is one of the major objectives of philosophers; how to live life and be content. All versions have as their objective, “ataraxia”. This is a state of imperturbable equanimity (ataraxy: a state of serene calmness). The Sceptics thought that you could achieve this goal by “suspending judgement about what was good and bad in their lives”. The Stoics sought “inward quietude” through accepting their place in the universe. A third group, the Epicureans, decided that if you reduced your desires to the bare minimum you would be more content and serene.
John Gray believes that the domestic cat can tell us how to become more serene in mind. Look into your cat’s eyes and see “another world in which everything is in the present tense. What we can learn from cats is how to shed the burden of passing time”.