Cats are among the wisest animals because they’re spontaneous and playful and content with whatever life presents them. And they’re too immersed in the present to worry about what might happen in the future.
SEAN ILLING: Humans might be the smartest animal on this planet, but are we the wisest? Wisdom, after all, isn’t really about knowledge. Humans are the only creature on earth capable of building a rocket ship or developing a vaccine. That makes us intelligent, not wise.
To say that someone is wise is to say they understand something about how to live. For instance, I know I’m being an asshole when I wake up grumpy and act impatiently with my wife and son. But often I still behave like a grumpy asshole. My problem isn’t a lack of knowledge so much as a lack of wisdom. I simply can’t take my own advice.
A new book by the esteemed British philosopher John Gray, called Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, offers a somewhat provocative suggestion: If we’re looking for models of wisdom, we should look at cats. According to Gray, humans think too much. Indeed, we invented philosophy in order to divert ourselves from the anxieties created by our overactive minds.
Cats, on other hand, have nothing to learn from philosophy because they have no need for diversion. They’re among the wisest animals because they’re spontaneous and playful and content with whatever life presents them. And they’re too immersed in the present to worry about what might happen in the future. Cats aren’t exactly unique in this regard (a fact Gray happily admits), but they do seem to stand out.
I should say that Gray’s book is obviously not an empirical study, and it’s not presented that way. It’s self-consciously light, and Gray definitely projects some of his own beliefs onto cats. But the tongue-in-cheek tone makes the book all the more accessible.
If we accept the conceit of Gray’s book and just look at how cats live, then maybe we can learn a thing or two. In that spirit, I reached out to Gray to talk about why our feline friends are so much wiser than we are, and why all animals, especially cats, may not be able to teach us how to think, but they can absolutely teach us how to live. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. SOURCE…