Schrödinger would’ve been proud: Cats, a team of Japanese scientists suggest, have a natural understanding of physics. Specifically, cats can reason that things that rattle around in a container are things that must exist, which seems intuitive to us but can’t be taken for granted in animals because animals, for the most part, are dumb. While the feline discovery, published by a team of researchers in the journal Animal Cognition may provide fodder for those who believe cats are a superior pet, it runs counter to everything YouTube videos have ever taught us about our furry friends.
The scientists have a lot of faith in their species of choice. After all, this study wasn’t the first one they’d published about cats. In their previous work, they concluded that cats can predict the presence of invisible objects based on what they hear. Building on their work, they were testing the felines’ ability to take a physics-based concept and use it to reason along the lines of cause and effect.
In a set of experiments involving 30 domestic “participants,” the researchers shook a container in front of the cats, and, occasionally, a rattling sound was played simultaneously. Then, the container was turned over. With one simple action, the scientists hoped to stir up a deeply philosophical reaction, forcing the cats to ask themselves: If a thing rattles in a container, does that thing exist?
Turns out that cats are pretty good at causal reasoning. The cats spent more time looking — pondering — the containers that “made noise,” leading the authors to infer that the cats had predicted the existence of the object. They were also pretty good at detecting physics BS: If an object fell out of a noiseless container, or no object fell out of a noisy container, the cats would pause and stare.
The cats, it seemed, are natural skeptics; that is, they have an innate sense of what constitutes “expectancy violation.” The authors suggest this favors their natural hunting style, which largely relies on the ability to infer the presence of prey on the basis of sound.
“Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects,” said lead researcher Saho Takagi in a press release.
In the release, Takagi did not acknowledge the dearth of physics comprehension that seems to plague YouTube’s feline stars, notorious for misjudging the trajectory of their leaps.