Peyton, the Philosophical Cat, ca. 2006-2020

July 31, 2020 • 10:00 am

by Greg Mayer

Peyton, the Philosophical (or Philosophickal) Cat died Wednesday. She was 14-15 years old. Peyton was familiar to WEIT readers, making her first appearance early in WEIT’s history, and her last (save this one) was last Christmas.

Peyton by Jerry
Peyton, taken by Jerry in September, 2009. A copy of this picture hung in Jerry’s lab (I’m not sure if it’s still there).

Peyton had been ill for about a year. The first sign was a behavioral issue—urinating outside her litter box, on carpets and the like. As part of dealing with this, a trip to the veterinarian to check for underlying kidney issues revealed that she had had substantial weight loss, for no evident reason. Various behavioral interventions got her back to the litter box, but the weight loss continued, and eventually became visible. A checkup this spring showed very high white cell counts, and over the last month, her decline in health accelerated, with behavioral changes, lethargy, and a return of urination and defecation issues. She began ignoring her previous favorite foods (except for chicken; our pet shop suggested a food which was able to stimulate her appetite). We adapted, putting in fences in the house and closing doors to keep her on cleanable surfaces, carrying her up and down the stairs at her request, and bringing food and water to her.  After a final consultation with the vet late Wednesday afternoon, we concurred that it was time, and Peyton was euthanized.

Peyton, July 27, 2020. This was taken at a “good” moment, when she was lying a bit upright, with her head up.

I learned a lot from Peyton over the years, and I shared some of this with readers here, from her instantiation of Steve Pinker’s rudimentary moral sentiments (see here for video of her morals; videos of Peyton are gathered here), to her realist stance on the external world. One of the most fascinating, and rewarding, things about living closely with an animal is getting (or at least trying) to understand the sensory and cognitive world of another species.

There was much about that world that differed from ours, and many ways in which our human cognition was superior—I have a vague recollection of Darwin once making a remark to the effect that dogs could not develop the calculus (although they might intuit it). I think it no accident that Darwin, who lived most of his life in the country, raised pigeons, and always had dogs—and children—which he studied carefully (see especially The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals), was able to see that there is a continuity and development of the social, cognitive, and moral worlds within the animal kingdom. I also think it no accident that the animals whose worlds we as humans come closest to sharing are small predators, as we share sensory modalities and “outlook” with them. (One reason I think that anoles are so often studied among lizards is that their world, like ours, is so evidently visual.)  Peyton helped me to see her world, and I’m eternally grateful to her for sharing it with me.

(I’ve always been puzzled by biologists, like Francisco Ayala and Francis Collins, who think there is some unbridgeable gulf between animals and humans. Haven’t they ever had a few pets, or even just a dog? As Darwin wrote in Descent of Man (vol. 1, p. 77): “I have myself seen a dog, who never passed a great friend of his, a cat which lay sick in a basket, with-out giving her a few licks with his tongue, the surest sign of kind feeling in a dog.”)

Peyton preparing to teach me.

Peyton’s final resting place is under a dogwood in our yard, marked with three stones. Her head lies beneath the rounded stone.

Peyton’s final resting place, under a dogwood in our yard, marked with three stones. Her head lies beneath the rounded stone.

Christmas kitties

December 25, 2019 • 12:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

Peyton, the Philosophical Cat, is not much moved by the holidays, except that, with someone at home during the day more frequently, she’ll be able to have her midday treat more often—her choice between salmon snacks or a paté.

Unusually, she’s not taken to sleeping under the tree this year, but she has found a spot on the dining room table amongst the accoutrements of the holidays. Her eyes are very bright, which I attributed to the flash, but another viewer of the photo thought it was because Peyton can stare into your soul.

I’m cat-sitting over Christmas, so I can also share a second cat, Delilah, a longhair, who has both the hair and the cranial structure typical of the breed.

Delilah gave me a present, which she disdainfully glanced at in order to bring it to my attention, preferring for herself canned cat food to fine Belgian chocolates.

And even though he’s a d-g, here’s Peyton’s nephew, Q-Tip, taking more advantage of the under-tree space at his house. (And, yes, obviously, he’s her nephew by adoption.)

Caturday felid– for now

November 9, 2019 • 10:15 am

by Greg Mayer

Since Jerry’s Southern Ocean sojourn has hampered his posting ability, and may lead to a delay in the Caturday felid, here’s a felid to tide you over till he’s able to make a full post.

Peyton in her winter bed, December 2018.

This is the Philosophickal Cat, Peyton, in her winter bed, placed near a heating duct. This picture is from December of last year. This year, winter has come early to the southern end of Lake Michigan, and we’ve already brought out her winter bed.

Peyton on Futuyma

February 4, 2015 • 5:30 pm

by Greg Mayer

Today was the first day of class for Biological Sciences 314 Evolutionary Biology, and already last night Peyton, the Philosophickal Cat, was well into her reading of Doug Futuyma‘s Evolution.

Peyton reading Futuyma

Here, she’s boning up on the evolutionary developmental biology of wing and bristle morphology in insects. To her right is a list of historically prominent evolutionary biologists, along with some notes on the lecture sequence.

Peyton’s Christmas

December 25, 2014 • 12:12 pm

by Greg Mayer

For Christmas, Peyton got a laser tower– a device that shines a randomly moving laser off a mirror. Peyton has long enjoyed playing with a laser mouse (hand held device, in the shape of a mouse). In fact, she seeks us out to play with it at about 8 PM each day, which is our regular time to play with the mouse. She let’s us know it’s time to play by assuming a crouched, hunting, stance in the living room, waiting like that till we get the laser mouse. Here’s her first reaction to the new laser tower.

She seems to be interested not just in the light, but in the device itself. She also notices that the device produces more than a single reflection, and she pays attention to the fainter reflection as well.

Here she is playing laser mouse.

Peyton’s holiday message to the world: “Meow.”

Peyton’s National Cat Day

October 30, 2014 • 8:35 pm

by Greg Mayer

I had not realized that yesterday was National Cat Day, but, alerted to the fact by Jerry, and following his advice that “treats and catnip are even better”, I was able to arrange an impromptu celebration with Peyton, the Philosophical Cat. Fortunately, we had just harvested the catnip crop a week earlier, and while most of it was hung to dry in the basement, I had reserved a few fresh sprigs in the refrigerator, and was able to bring them out for Peyton’s enjoyment.

Peyton nomming catnip on National Cat Day, 2014.
Peyton nomming catnip on National Cat Day, 2014.

After ingesting a few leaves, she seemed to have achieved a heightened state of being.

Peyton after catnip, National Cat Day 2014.
Peyton after catnip, National Cat Day 2014.

You can follow more of the celebratory activities in the following video.

Internet Cat Video Film Festival

July 11, 2012 • 10:52 pm

by Greg Mayer

From the BBC’s Technology [?] section, comes news of the Internet Cat Video Film Festival at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center. The festival will be held August 30, 2012, from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM. (An hour seems a bit brief, but most cat videos are really short.)

If you can’t go, you can participate by nominating a cat video for screening at the festival. I hope some nearby WEIT reader will be able to attend and send us a report. (If it were a squid film festival, I think we know someone in Minnesota who could be relied upon.)

The cat video is the 21st century’s signature artistic form, transcending barriers of language and culture to produce an enduring record of humanity’s attempt to inaugurate an era of truly global connectivity based on the immanent, universal, and yet wholly locally-contextualized presence of the feline in all of our lives. With that in mind, here’s 43 seconds of my cat rolling around on the floor.

Best kitteh ever

November 26, 2010 • 12:27 am

by Greg Mayer

The best kitteh ever is, of course, Peyton, the philosophical cat, who has previously contributed to our discussions here at WEIT on morality, ethics, and epistemology. But, as a semi-regular contributor, she is ineligible for the Kitteh Contest, so readers should submit their nominees to Jerry by 5 PM December 1.  Here again is Jerry’s picture of her

Peyton, the philosophical cat.

and some new video.

If she had not, once again, been displaying some of Pinker’s rudimentary moral sentiments, my foot would have been a bloody mess.

Caturday felid: the philosophical cat

November 7, 2009 • 8:11 am

by Greg Mayer

Peyton is a WEIT blog regular, who last appeared here in a post by Jerry. This is a picture of her taken by Jerry while visiting me in September. I put up a copy of this photo recently in Jerry’s lab, joining an illustrious group of cats that grace the wall outside his fly room.

Peyton by Jerry
Peyton, the philosophical cat.

Caturday felid: kittehs and epistemology

September 19, 2009 • 6:43 am

When I visited Greg Mayer last week, he explained that his cat Peyton was a “philosophical cat.” I naturally asked why, and Greg explained:

Cats are realists

One of the oldest philosophical debates is between realism and idealism. Both come in several flavors, but the basic difference is between their views of the external world: according to realists there is an external world, while according to idealists, there really isn’t an external world beyond our minds. If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one around to see it or hear it or smell it, does the tree fall? To a realist, obviously yes: just because an event or object is outside my (or anyone’s) perception has no bearing on whether or not the event occurred or the object exists. Scientists are almost invariably realists of one sort or another. But a much more important question is: what about cats?

My cat, Peyton is a realist. She unambiguously continues to believe in the existence of objects even when she cannot perceive them. I might have inferred this from her ability to get around the house, and to find places and things that are outside her immediate perceptual purrview. (For example, at night, she knows the beds are upstairs, even when she’s downstairs, and thus goes upstairs to sleep.)

But the most striking demonstration of her belief in the continued existence of objects that she can no longer perceive comes when playing catch and chase with her. She will run after, catch in the air, and/or bat around some toy (whether a store-bought toy mouse or a crumpled piece of paper). If I hold the toy out in front of her, she will follow the movement of the object in my hand. If I make a sweeping motion behind my back with the toy, as though I am going to throw the object from my right to my left, say, she will not follow the hand/object around my right side. Rather she darts to the left, anticipating the trajectory of the object, even though she can no longer see the object (or my hand) once it passes behind my back. She does this even if I do not complete the motion and release the object. She clearly continues to believe in the existence of the now-unperceived object; and even more, she is able to estimate where it will end up if it continues the motion it had when last seen. This is clearly an adaptive way to view the world, especially if you depend for food on catching small animals in the underbrush that are trying to run away from you. It’s pretty adaptive for idealist philosophers, too. Here’s an incident from Boswell’s Life of Johnson:

“After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — ‘I refute it thus.'”

And a video clearly demonstrating feline epistemology:

And don’t forget that there’s a golden cat below the fold!