Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ninja and Shadows

This is not the run of the mill philosophy post. Actually, it is more an admonishment of guilt. If you'll permit me five paragraphs to tell you about my Ninja and her philosophical dispositions.

Ninja's Philosophical Dispositions

I have a cat. Her name is Ninja. She is a medium domestic hair. She is black with dark brown splotches which you can only see in the sunlight. She is frisky, secretive, meows at us for everything, and thus highly opinionated. True to form, she is also pretty smart. Long ago, we played the red dot laser game, and after three minutes of chasing around the ephemeral dot, she clawed at it curiously. Ninja stopped chasing the dot, and attempts to scoop it up. She found it strange that she could not scoop up light. She calculates that it is not worth her time, and eventually came to connect my picking up the small laser pointer as a sign to play. Ninja is an empiricist for this very reason.

Ninja has an immense ability to communicate and plan her desires. When I would sit in what was clearly "her chair", she would sneak behind the chair, poke me with her claw, and when I jumped out of the seat, she would then jump up into "her chair." Like a Ninja, she would hide behind the couch or from behind the bed and poke us. She knew we could not get to her, and she could attack in relative safety. On Sunday mornings, she will jump in between my wife and I while we sleep. She has all her food and water, and she yells at us so that we may play with her. In this way, she has adopted a desire-satisfaction account of the good.

Ninja is a bit too fearless for her own good. When we moved back to the United States from Canada with her, we had to stay at my mom's with five golden retrievers over the summer before I started my PhD. Needless to say, she simply stayed in my bedroom for the first few weeks. In truth, the apartment in Vancouver, BC wasn't that big and she was not in the habit of living in bigger spaces. Like all kitties, she got curious as to what existed beyond the bedroom door. One night she escaped downstairs with Ninja-like Stealth. At night, my mom takes four of the golden retrievers to sleep in my parents bedroom. My wife and I were downstairs with Mr. Bear. Bear is a sixty pound golden retriever with broad shoulders and an impressively large head. In truth, he is quite docile, but when he knows that animals are smaller than he, he can be quite fierce. Ninja snuck all the way into the kitchen where Mr. Bear was sleeping. When she saw us, she let out a little whimper to tell Ashley and I she was near. Not knowing what would happen, I quickly ran to intervene. Mr. Bear had woken up.

Mr. Bear was fully awake and stared up at Ninja from the floor. Above him, Ninja was leering at him from the kitchen counter. Ninja stared intensely into the huge 60 lb. golden retriever's eyes. Mr. Bear's lip curled silently growling under his breath. Ninja lowered her back and arched downward. I could hear the lower powerful whining of Ninja's furious high pitch threats. She hissed at Mr. Bear and he coiled back unsure about his current prey. Ninja's calculated movement made Mr. Bear lose eye contact while she never looked away from his eyes. In the animal world, I hear that is bragging rights. I digress. Ninja continued to arc forward, her claws extended and she looked like she was going to pounce him. At this time, I finally managed to enter the kitchen, grabbed her and took her upstairs. She screamed in absolute protest. She doesn't like when "her humans" mess in  her affairs or intrude upon her autonomy. In moral philosophy, my cat is either an egoist a la Nietzsche or a Kantian. I often can't tell.

The Paradox of the Shadow

In recent months, a problem has intensified. I am partly to blame. Originally, it started out innocent. Ninja would notice the early morning birds fly across the stream of sunlight hitting the wall in the second bedroom. She would chatter her teeth and lick her lips in anticipation of some kill, I speculate of course. With all intensity, she'd wait for the flicker of a bird's shadow to fly across the wall. So my wife and I started doing shadow puppets. This is where guilt enters into the equation. We did shadow puppets about two months ago. Now, she has made the connection: there are things like shadows on the wall that move. She waits for the sun to strike parts of the apartment in the morning and sits at night watching our silhouettes from the side wall light. She goes up to them like the laser dot, smells them and meows softly at us. She seems concerned about the shadows. She seemingly knows about their insubstantial nature, but she warns us often of their movement. It has become more obsessive than watching birds out of the actual window. It has consumed her life, and we are to blame.

We've tried to move our hand and have her notice the same movement on the wall. To no avail, we cannot get her to make that connection between the fact we are moving, and the shadow moves. From a distance, she will notice the flicker of her own tail's shadow and then not notice her own shadow as moving. Perhaps, she is indirectly demonstrating a Humean skepticism that one event necessarily follows another, or that I should read more Plato for my preliminary examination. Like an aspiring Platonist, she is investigating the shadows cast on the wall in the hopes of knowing more.

I feel really guilty about this. I have stressed my cat in a way I could never have anticipated and nothing I can do seems to stop Ninja from attacking shadows. Originally, I felt there would be no harm. She got the laser pointer fairly easy. I just hope she "grows out of it." I cannot stand to see my cat obsessed about some feature of the world. If anyone has any suggestions, I am all hears.

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