Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Writers Strike What?? A Ninja's Answer...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

anthropology and my cat's litter box

Last night I was slightly awakened by the sound of my cat scraping her box to cover her litter.

And I wondered to myself, in that creative sanctuary between sleep and wake, why does my cat cover her litter? I mean, how does she know to cover her litter, for whatever the reason she does it?

In anthropology 101 we learn that humans are not born with knowledge on how things should be done. How we should or should not eat, dress, talk, have sex, or use the bathroom is passed onto to the individual by culture. We showed my cat where the litter box was and she thankfully made the right association, but in a single pet home, neither we nor any other cat taught her to cover her litter. As far as I can tell, this is not the same as learned if-then behavior, like "If that crazy lady sees me on the couch, she will assault me with uproarious screaming, so I will jump off if I hear her coming" because there is no consequence that she could understand in her bean-sized brain if she does not bury her droppings.


  • Somehow my cat was "cultured" like every other cat to cover her litter.
  • There is some consequence I am missing that makes covering her litter in her better interest as she can understand it.
  • If a cat can inherit patterns for interactions with its environment, then likewise must humans.

Given the third case, what are those innate behaviors, established without cause by learning or culture, if they do indeed exist? If we could study a human being raised outside of human society (not that I advocate such an experiment), could they be distinguished from learned behavior? How do we distinguish cultural behavior in animals, like say perhaps, how a bird learns to fly, from innate "knowledge," like how a spider spins a web?

(Please excuse my ignorance of zoology.)

Needless to say, I am sure this has been investigated or pondered, and these are questions I have come to without reasearch, only inspired by my cat digging in her litter box. I would be fascinated to read what has been written on them.