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The Logic of Cats

"I have an ambition," Gilbert the Kitten said one day to his best friend Jake the Dog while they were lying together in a patch of sunshine.

"What’s your ambition?" asked Jake. "Do tell."

"I want to eat an entire human being before I’m six months old," said Gilbert. "I’ve been practising on Robin and I’m getting really good at it. I’m sure I’ll be able to manage a whole person soon."

Jake looked shocked. He’d never considered eating the people he lived with, even though they did taste rather yummy when he licked them. He had always just contented himself with sniffs and kisses. Nibbling was quite out of the question. Then he spotted the obvious flaw in Gilbert’s logic. "That’s a bit short sighted of you," he said. "We are locked in the house and our regular food is shut away in the pantry. We can’t open any of the doors by ourselves. Our thumbs aren’t opposed to the idea, but our fingers can’t quite manage it. So the reality is that we’d be quite helpless if you eat the people."

"Well, I could keep starvation at bay by eating you once I’d finished with them," said Gilbert thoughtfully. "But you’re right. The inability to cope with doors could be a bit of a problem. Perhaps I should restrict myself to just eating their toes..."

"I’m really not at all comfortable with the idea of you biting lumps out of our people," said Jake. "After all, they are gods, in charge of everything. Omniscient, you know. Probably omnipotent as well."

"Rubbish," said Gilbert scornfully. "They are really, really dumb. I’m only a kitten and I know much more about how the world works than they do."

"I’m not sure I believe that," said Jake.

"OK," said Gilbert, "I’ll prove it to you. The other day I was round the back of the TV set chewing on a power cable, as one does..."

"I’ve never understood why you chew power cables," interrupted Jake. "Alan and Robin get really upset when we go anywhere near anything that plugs in to the mains. I ate a cellphone charger shortly after I moved in and they went ballistic! Mind you, it was worth it. There were some very tasty resistors in that charger, quite the best ones I’ve ever come across. But I digress. Tell me, why do you chew power cables?"

"I’m studying electromagnetic phenomena," explained Gilbert. "Just the other day I derived Maxwell’s field equations from first principles, based on measurements that I’d taken when I was behind the TV. It was an extremely elegant derivation, and I was very proud of myself until I discovered that Maxwell had done it first, more than 150 years ago, damn him."

"That’s a shame," said Jake sympathetically. "How did you find out that Maxwell got there before you?"

"I walked over the keyboard on Alan’s computer," said Gilbert, "and Google gave me the information straight away."

"That was clever of you," said Jake, impressed.

"I thought so," said Gilbert. "And while I was on the computer, I made Alan’s web browser go full screen. Then I took 23 screen shots of what I’d done."

"Alan must have enjoyed that," said Jake.

"I’m sure he did," said Gilbert. "And as a reward, he taught me a lot of interesting new words."

"That was very generous of him," said Jake. "But you were telling me why you think Robin and Alan are dumb."

"Oh yes," said Gilbert. "So I was. Well, they dragged me out from behind the TV. I spat and swore at them, but it did me no good. Then they started piling cushions around the TV to try and stop me from going back again. As if that’s going to have any effect! Don’t they know that kittens can teleport?

"That evening Robin and Alan settled down to watch the television. Alan pressed a button on the remote control but nothing happened. The TV just sat there refusing to turn on. Robin tried with the spare remote, but that didn’t work either. Alan changed the batteries in the remotes, but it didn’t make any difference. So all evening long they had to keep getting up to use the manual controls on the TV itself whenever they wanted the set to do anything. They really didn’t like doing that at all, and by the end of the evening they were seriously considering buying a new TV because this one was obviously broken. Silly buggers hadn’t realised that one of the barrier cushions was right in front of the infra-red sensor and it was blocking the signal from the remote control, so of course nothing was working. They really are very, very dumb people."

"I suppose you knew what the problem was straight away," said Jake.

"Of course I did," said Gilbert. "It’s an obvious lemma in the derivation of Maxwell’s equations. It should be apparent to the meanest intellect. But it never occurred to Alan and Robin."

"So what happened?" asked Jake. "Did they buy a new television set?"

"Of course not," said Gilbert. "I fixed the problem for them. I simply nudged the cushion out of the way a bit when they weren’t looking. That exposed the sensor and suddenly the remote control started working again as if by magic."

"How did you get Alan and Robin to try the remote control again?" asked Jake. "By that time they must have been certain that the system was irretrievably broken."

"I knocked the remote onto the floor," said Gilbert, "and then I jumped up and down on it until the television turned itself on. They found the demonstration quite persuasive."

"They must have been pleased that they didn’t have to go shopping for a new TV after all," said Jake.

"Not a bit of it," said Gilbert. "They just shouted at me for shredding the cushion. Ungrateful buggers..."

"You just can’t win when you’re a kitten," said Jake

"No," said Gilbert. "But I take consolation in the fact that kittens can do this." He batted a scrap of paper that was lying on the floor and then he stalked it as it skittered away. He leaped upon it when it wasn’t looking, killed it stone dead and then sent it bouncing across the carpet again. He hunkered down for another chase, wiggling his bottom so as to line himself up properly.

"Why do you keep doing that?" asked Jake.

"Doing what?"

"Chasing bits of paper and bits of plastic all over the house and then throwing them away and doing it all over again."

"It’s educational," said Gilbert. "I’m learning all about Newton’s Laws of Motion. It’s very important to understand Newton’s laws when you’re a cat. You can’t catch a bird or a mouse without a bit of Newton being involved. Vectors, you know. Vectors are vital."

Jake looked puzzled. "What’s a vector?"

"I’m not sure," said Gilbert. "I haven’t got to that page in the textbook yet. But there’s a whole chapter all about vectors in the table of contents, so they must be important."

"You’re a bit of a girly swot on the quiet, aren’t you?" said Jake.

"No!" Gilbert denied the accusation vehemently. "I’ll prove it to you. Let’s play a game."

"That’s a good idea," said Jake. "I like games. Shall we play chase?"

"OK," said Gilbert. He sat back on his haunches and clenched his fists. He took a left jab at Jake's nose and followed it up with a roundhouse right that made Jake go cross-eyed. Jake jumped about six feet backwards and shook his head. "That’s not chase," he complained. "Don’t you know the rules?"

"Of course not," said Gilbert. "I’m a kitten. I’m only fourteen weeks old. I don’t know anything. Come back and let me hit you again."

"No thanks," said Jake. "I think I’ll go and play tug'o'war with Alan. He’s really good at tug'o'war."

"That’s an excellent idea," said Gilbert. "He needs a bit of intellectual stimulation."

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