Straight Dope Message Board

Straight Dope Message Board (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/index.php)
-   General Questions (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/forumdisplay.php?f=3)
-   -   Do cats understand gravity? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=788123)

TheSundial 03-23-2016 09:28 PM

Do cats understand gravity?
 
My neighbor three doors down in my apartment complex has five black cats and two whitish ones.

I have seen one of the whitish ones on the roof above the door and he/she has to leap a distance from a nearby tree to get on/off the roof. Today I saw the cat climb the tree and stand there on the limb for a few moments as if he/she is thinking about the situation.

http://s19.postimg.org/4mtie4uxv/DSCN0180.jpg

http://s19.postimg.org/pkzoc7usj/DSCN0183.jpg

I wonder if they understand that the higher they are up the faster they will hit the ground? and causing more pain than a short fall. Or curiosity killed the cat and that particular cat just doesn't care and only wants to be at the highest point to lay down?

Sage Rat 03-23-2016 09:34 PM

Cats get trapped in trees.
Cats don't get trapped on top of shoe boxes.

Ergo, cats recognize that higher distances are scarier/more dangerous.

TheSundial 03-23-2016 09:41 PM

I'm not sure how often that actually happens, this cat isn't scared at all of being in a tree and just runs up and down it.

spamforbrains 03-23-2016 10:10 PM

Most cats seem to be pretty good at judging distances and have some idea of their own physical capabilities so in way they must understand gravity. Even people who have never heard of the word "gravity" tend to quite reluctant to jump off cliffs. There must be something hard-wired into the brain.

TheSundial 03-23-2016 10:13 PM

If you use a laser pointer to play with a cat they probably think it's an insect or an animal and have no idea it's a laser or what a laser is.

When the cat is on the roof and looks down the ground is far away. Do they understand the dynamics of that though? or just that the ground is far away? I think all the cat understands is that it needs to be on a surface to go up and down and not that a higher height means more pain.

Senegoid 03-23-2016 10:18 PM

I've heard it speculated that squirrels are really really good at 3-D spatial understanding, which probably includes the effects of gravity.

Birds probably have a good understanding of gravity, which might be very different from our understanding. Fish probably don't know much about gravity.

Sage Rat 03-23-2016 10:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TheSundial (Post 19204608)
I'm not sure how often that actually happens, this cat isn't scared at all of being in a tree and just runs up and down it.

The distance at which falling is dangerous to a cat is much higher than a human. They have a terminal velocity that's low enough that they can survive from a fall of any height. Your expectation of what's dangerous for them might not match what they feel for themselves.

Mijin 03-23-2016 10:31 PM

A species heavy enough to fall and be seriously injured / die that had no appreciation of the danger of heights would not last very long.

But I doubt that they understand gravity in the sense of accelerating towards earth.

In humans for example our fear of heights is closely associated with our visual system. If the ground is far enough away that there is no noticeable parallax, or our body is rotated so that the ground is not seen by looking straight down, a lot of the fear response is diminished.
So even in humans, the instinct is not based on an awareness of gravity per se.

Gorsnak 03-23-2016 11:03 PM

We don't understand gravity. Are cats supposed to be some quantum physics geniuses? :p

Chronos 03-23-2016 11:08 PM

Cats and most humans alike are completely ignorant of any of the mathematical description of gravity, so in that regard, we're tied.

On the other hand, most cats are much better than most humans at jumping and landing precisely where they want to, and so in that sense have a better understanding than we do.

panache45 03-23-2016 11:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Gorsnak (Post 19204778)
We don't understand gravity. Are cats supposed to be some quantum physics geniuses? :p

They may have been aware of gravity waves long before us. ;)

mind the gap 03-23-2016 11:17 PM

Of course cats understand gravity. On a much deeper level than humans. It's just part of their unfathomable nature. Why do you think Schrodinger put a cat in the box and not a dog? Why would Dr. Seuss make his story the CAT and the hat, not the "Dog on a Log"? Cats are a mysterious race. ;)

MichaelEmouse 03-23-2016 11:39 PM

They must be aware of something like gravity because they take it into account when jumping. If they didn't factor in gravity, they would have far less accuracy.

These catronauts certainly seem to be at a loss in a near zero G environment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9XtK6R1QAk


They may not care as much about gravity as we do because they are less vulnerable to injuries from falling a few meters given the square-cube law, paw pads and four-leggedness.


Bonus slow-motion footage of cathletics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=705OzYq7cXU

Francis Vaughan 03-24-2016 01:08 AM

Animals seem to develop a fear of heights at a very specific developmental stage. Experiments with glass floors over a pit with kittens and babies seem to indicate that you can point to an age when the infant critter will cheerfully crawl/walk over the glass, and a later age when they will refuse to budge. Suggests that the innate fear of falling/heights is wired in and gets turned on at defined point in brain development.

Anyone who has tried to rescue a cat out of/off a tree/roof will know that they really really don't like heights unless they are firmly in control of things. Heavy gloves and a firm grip are prerequisites for completing a rescue unscathed.

Dr. Strangelove 03-24-2016 01:18 AM

Even at short ranges, cats are effective judges of heights. My cat will jump off short heights (couch, etc.) without hesitation; medium heights (bathroom counter) with a short pause; and for higher jumps, will make preparations (such as stretching her body down the side of the dresser to reduce the distance between her center of mass and the floor and give her more length to decelerate).

erysichthon 03-24-2016 01:33 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Senegoid (Post 19204670)
I've heard it speculated that squirrels are really really good at 3-D spatial understanding, which probably includes the effects of gravity.

I have my doubts about squirrels. They clearly don't understand fractions. I've noticed that if a squirrel is 2/3rds of the way across the street and spots a car heading toward it, it will invariably reverse course and run back the way it came instead of simply completing the remaining 1/3rd of the distance. Or maybe that's a depth-perception problem? :confused:

Jophiel 03-24-2016 01:33 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan (Post 19204956)
Animals seem to develop a fear of heights at a very specific developmental stage. Experiments with glass floors over a pit with kittens and babies seem to indicate that you can point to an age when the infant critter will cheerfully crawl/walk over the glass, and a later age when they will refuse to budge. Suggests that the innate fear of falling/heights is wired in and gets turned on at defined point in brain development.

I had a Time Life book on animal behavior once upon a time with an image of a kitten hesitant to cross such a "barrier". Apparently this experiment is called a "visual cliff" and has been tested on not just humans, kittens and rats but also cows and turtles. In case you ever wondered if turtles understand gravity.

txst16 03-24-2016 01:51 AM

...
 
If the age old truth about cats always landing not their feet I would say they have a better understanding then most.

Clark Cello 03-24-2016 08:07 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by erysichthon (Post 19204976)
I have my doubts about squirrels. They clearly don't understand fractions. I've noticed that if a squirrel is 2/3rds of the way across the street and spots a car heading toward it, it will invariably reverse course and run back the way it came instead of simply completing the remaining 1/3rd of the distance. Or maybe that's a depth-perception problem? :confused:

If a predator catches a squirrel a long away from a tree, one if its common escape techniques is to rapidly change directions with a speed and agility that animals like dogs, and even cats, can't duplicate.

Unfortunately for the squirrel, it is a less effective way of dealing with cars, but evolution hasn't quite caught up with the industrial revolution.

Chronos 03-24-2016 09:37 AM

The problem with squirrels crossing the street is that they don't understand the curbs as boundaries, and that cars are constrained within those boundaries. That, and not having a mental compartment for "big thing that's dangerous but which isn't actively trying to kill me".

watchwolf49 03-24-2016 09:45 AM

If the OP's neighbor is teaching their cats tensor calculus, maybe they can help me teach my cats to stop vomiting on my pillow?

Seriously, one hard fall within the kitten learning period teaches them all they need to know about gravity.

DrCube 03-24-2016 11:15 AM

My wife disagrees with me that cats are better at climbing up than climbing down. As evidence, I present the many cats who get stuck in trees (including one my cousin had in her back yard recently for a week, stuck 200 feet up in a tree growing out of a swamp, until she found the owner, who called a tree trimming place to help get it down).

As her evidence, she showed us our cat in our (much smaller) back yard tree, and he made it down. Our backs were turned though, so I'm not sure if he climbed down or just jumped.

Are cats especially poor at climbing downwards? Do they prefer to jump and just stay where they're at if they can't? What accounts for the trope of cats stuck in trees and firefighters saving them?

Flyer 03-24-2016 11:35 AM

It's ALWAYS harder to climb back down than to climb up. You've evidently never done any tree or rock climbing, or you would know that.

For one thing, on the way back down, your eyes are much farther away from the initial points of contact, so it's harder to judge distances. This is true for cats as well as humans. It seems that you've never really paid close attention to your cats.

Atamasama 03-24-2016 11:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DrCube (Post 19205734)
Are cats especially poor at climbing downwards? Do they prefer to jump and just stay where they're at if they can't? What accounts for the trope of cats stuck in trees and firefighters saving them?

I've witnessed 3 or 4 times in my life when a cat (generally a young cat/older kitten) has been stuck in a tree and had to be helped (or more like "encouraged") down. It's a trope because it happens.

Once I saw a fire truck called for a cat stuck in a tree across from my house because it was REALLY high up there and nobody had a ladder that tall. All the other times involved a cat not as high and therefore a regular ladder was enough.

Cats climbing down either have to do it head-down, or without being able to see where they're going. Either case is scarier than climbing up. It's the same with people, I'm always more nervous going down a tree or ladder than up.

Chronos 03-24-2016 11:55 AM

And yet, it's still really, really rare for cats to get stuck in trees. Most of the time when a cat stays in a tree, it's just because that's where the cat wants to be.

DrCube 03-24-2016 11:57 AM

Maybe I'm just good at climbing trees, but I have never had any trouble getting down from anywhere I've been able to get up to. It might be different if I climbed out of a window into the top of the tree, so I didn't have familiarity with the route down, but if I climbed up, I can always go back down the way I came. And the few times I've done rock climbing (in a gym only), I just rappelled down.

Atamasama 03-24-2016 12:08 PM

Here in Seattle it's people that have problems with trees.

Daylate 03-24-2016 12:49 PM

Here is the definitive answer regarding cats & gravity. Caution, may be NSFW if your coworkers are real prudes - contains bad word.


http://s564.photobucket.com/user/Try...t.jpg.html?o=4

Horatius 03-24-2016 12:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Flyer (Post 19205794)
It's ALWAYS harder to climb back down than to climb up. You've evidently never done any tree or rock climbing, or you would know that.

For one thing, on the way back down, your eyes are much farther away from the initial points of contact, so it's harder to judge distances. This is true for cats as well as humans. It seems that you've never really paid close attention to your cats.



Another point with cats is, their claws curve backwards, which makes for great purchase going up, but is exactly wrong for going down. Going down either head or tail first, they either actively resist the direction of travel, or are much less secure.

RickJay 03-24-2016 01:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TheSundial (Post 19204661)
If you use a laser pointer to play with a cat they probably think it's an insect or an animal and have no idea it's a laser or what a laser is.

When the cat is on the roof and looks down the ground is far away. Do they understand the dynamics of that though? or just that the ground is far away? I think all the cat understands is that it needs to be on a surface to go up and down and not that a higher height means more pain.

Well, they must have some understanding of it or they'd jump out of trees and off houses with the same casual indifference that they jump off off sofas and tables. They do not do so, however, or else they'd all be dead. So I'd have to presume that, like most terrestrial mammals, they understand long drops can hurt.

Chronos 03-24-2016 01:49 PM

All the cats I've lived with have, in fact, jumped out of trees and off of houses with nearly the same casual indifference as jumping off sofas and tables. And that includes the one that only had two functional legs. They never got injured from it.

jtur88 03-24-2016 02:43 PM

I would assume that all living creatures have a sense or up and down, which are a fundamental manifestation of gravity. Even plants typically grow upward, even ignoring the positioning of grow lights, and "aware" (in plant language) of their rigid structure which is designed to neutralize gravity.

Cats jump off beds all the time, but rarely from from high perches, so they must intuitively have a sense that falling from a great height is not in their best interests. This would suggest an inborn anticipation of acceleration and its downside potential. But they do not know much about square roots, so they are just making acceleration judgments from the seat of their pants.

Chihuahua 03-24-2016 03:25 PM

My cat routinely climbs on top of the house. It is very clear to us that she is not capable or confident of her ability to get down on her own. Instead, she cries for us to come and rescue her. When we attempt to reach up and grab her, it is very obvious that she wants to be down but has a great fear of being too close to the edge.

I don't know exactly what their thinking process is, but it is clear to me that she understands falling is a bad thing. The only real mystery is why she keeps going up there in the first place.

spamforbrains 03-24-2016 11:06 PM

Quote:

My cat routinely climbs on top of the house. It is very clear to us that she is not capable or confident of her ability to get down on her own. Instead, she cries for us to come and rescue her. When we attempt to reach up and grab her, it is very obvious that she wants to be down but has a great fear of being too close to the edge.

I don't know exactly what their thinking process is, but it is clear to me that she understands falling is a bad thing. The only real mystery is why she keeps going up there in the first place.
so she can make you come rescue her. Duh.

Senegoid 03-25-2016 01:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Gorsnak (Post 19204778)
We don't understand gravity. Are cats supposed to be some quantum physics geniuses? :p

They are. Prior thread on this.

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor 03-25-2016 06:26 AM

Cats are aware of Gravity, but they do not approve.

Muffin 03-25-2016 06:29 AM

Data point.

guitario 03-25-2016 08:20 AM

While I agree that cats do sometimes get stuck in trees and other tall places - but that doesn't necessarily mean they can't get down on their own. Cat's are clever animals, and have learnt how to gain attention of humans - they wait to be rescued because they are manipulative little bastards.

If we don't help.. eventually that cat will get very hungry/cold/tired and find a way to get back down on its own accord. Most animals have a built in survival instinct that will kick in when its needed. Stick a human being up on a 10th floor ledge, with no way back inside - and providing they are physically capable, there will come a point when they have no choice but to embrace their inner Spiderman and figure it out for themselves.. for better or worse..

Cats do understand gravity, and definitely have a built in fear of high places. You can test this out for yourself by picking up a 6 week old kitten, putting it on your shoulder, and walk around.

That pain you feel is their claws digging in to your skin for dear life..

salinqmind 03-25-2016 07:40 PM

My Himalayan has little short legs, he's more of a cat-like animal than an actual cat. He can jump wonderfully high but jumps down off of things and lands like a bag of hammers with a huge thud. I'm afraid he's going to get arthritis, so I help him down when I can.

Leo Bloom 03-26-2016 03:18 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 19206162)
All the cats I've lived with have, in fact, jumped out of trees and off of houses with nearly the same casual indifference as jumping off sofas and tables. And that includes the one that only had two functional legs. They never got injured from it.

Nice point, but unverifiable--"casual indifference" and "grim silent brief prayer to Cat Deity of future sacrifice if I can just make it through this jump" might look quite the same.

jasg 03-26-2016 04:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor (Post 19207876)
Cats are aware of Gravity, but they do not approve.

Perhaps but I view our cats as gravity skeptics. They are constantly testing gravity to see if it still works. Typically by pushing items off counters and desks.

Melbourne 03-27-2016 04:17 AM

The last time I saw tigers, the announcer was explaining that they had to be careful, because the big male in particular was willing and able to climb high enough to hurt himself coming down.

Tigers are much bigger, much heavier, much more volume/length compared to house cats

Chronos 03-27-2016 12:29 PM

Quote:

Nice point, but unverifiable--"casual indifference" and "grim silent brief prayer to Cat Deity of future sacrifice if I can just make it through this jump" might look quite the same.
There's still the matter that they chose to jump off the roof rather than going back in via the open window via which they got out onto the roof in the first place, and which window they do in fact routinely go in when they feel like it. At most, they're saving themselves the trouble of meowing at the door and waiting for an ambulatory pair of enslaved opposable thumbs to open it.

Leo Bloom 03-28-2016 11:55 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 19212999)
... an ambulatory pair of enslaved opposable thumbs to open it.

Just had this great image, worthy of Bosch (something like https://my3place.files.wordpress.com...__detail-3.jpg).

Leo Bloom 03-28-2016 12:14 PM

I recently have become aware of an extraordinary document, perhaps unique in all cat studies as a whole, and particularly to the OP: http://m.imgur.com/DpIggh0

Indeed, when considered with the well known anecdotes of Newton and his cat Diamond the answer seems clear.

Further inquiry continues among the OP analytical subcommittee here, beginning at post #14: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/...d.php?t=696794

Tapiotar 03-31-2016 11:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 19204784)
Cats and most humans alike are completely ignorant of any of the mathematical description of gravity, so in that regard, we're tied.

On the other hand, most cats are much better than most humans at jumping and landing precisely where they want to, and so in that sense have a better understanding than we do.

Yes, exactly.

carnivorousplant 03-31-2016 01:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TheSundial (Post 19204661)
If you use a laser pointer to play with a cat they probably think it's an insect or an animal and have no idea it's a laser or what a laser is.

Ours will turn and look at us expectantly when we turn the pointer off. They appear to realize that we are moving it about.

CalMeacham 03-31-2016 02:16 PM

Our Friend, artist Robin Wood, is convinced that Cats understand gravity perfectly, and has written a book about it, The Theory of Cat Gravity:

Quote:

The Theory of Cat Gravity, which is my Pet Theory, all written out for your enjoyment, with decorations by Diana Harlan Stein, who has been nominated for the Hugo Award several times. (I asked her to do it, because when I made the book, drawing was physically difficult for me.)

In it, I explain just what Cats are doing in those Window Ledges, and what that has to do with being immobilized by having a Cat on your Lap, and why things pile up under your bed and on your dining room table, and why it gets harder to move the older you get, and many other puzzling things. It's all part of the same Unified Pet Theory.
http://www.robinwood.com/Catalog/Boo...s/CGBBook.html

http://www.amazon.com/The-Theory-Gra.../dp/0965298426


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:40 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2017 Sun-Times Media, LLC.