Where Gray makes a bit of a leap, of course, is in his confident assertion that cats think, or rather don’t, in the way he supposes. In truth, we have no idea what goes on in a cat’s furry little head, and that alterity is what makes them so attractive. When my cat sat on the end of the bed, perfectly still, staring at nothing, how am I to know that she wasn’t wondering intently about whether existence precedes essence? Indeed, in insisting that it’s vain of philosophers to see humans as different from the rest of the animal world, and at the same time insisting that we are uniquely cursed with self-consciousness, Gray seems to me slightly to be having his Whiskas and eating it.
I’ll read the book, of course, but maybe I should also read Thomas Nagel’s What Is It Like to Be a Bat? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to even temporarily inhabit the perspective of other creatures? What does go on in their heads? It’s true, Gray sometimes seems too invested in proving that humanity is nothing special after all. Wallace Kaufman, on the contrary, suggested that maybe our desire to share the company of other animals, to understand them on their own terms for the sake of knowledge, should be a small point in our favor. I tend to agree.