What Cats Can Teach Us About Emotions and Rationality

Withteeth and I got a second cat today. We’re going back to school soon and will be leaving our cats alone for a good portion of the day. Our first cat, Mazy, is very energetic and doesn’t like it when we leave her, so we were hoping that a second cat would make our absence more bearable. However, as far as she’s concerned, this is her territory, so she’s a bit concerned about the new cat.

Earlier today, Withteeth accidentally stepped on Mazy’s foot because she walked under him. At that time, she was intently watching our other cat, Benny. She was so focused on Benny that when the pain struck she associated it with him and struck out at him. Poor Benny didn’t know what to think.

This got me thinking: how often do we focus so hard on something that we associate everything bad with it, even when the bad is a completely separate issue? It seems to me that humans are quite good at doing this. We misassociate an effect with the wrong cause. But this isn’t really all that surprising: we have emotions and they play a large role in our lives. The best that we can hope to do is step back and look at things as rationally as possible. To try and find the right cause before we make assumptions. We can’t always do this. Sometimes we’re going to find it impossible to step back far enough. We’re always going to have our biases.

I don’t think that this is inherently a bad thing. Our emotions shouldn’t be viewed as something to be overcome, just as something that can’t always be trusted. I think that most people make the mistake of assuming that their emotions are infallible. They won’t step back and think about them critically. But there are other people who make the opposite mistake. They try to rationalize everything, and believe themselves capable of doing this very thing. They think that every conclusion that they come to is purely rational, causing them to not see their own biases and misassociations. This is as problematic as taking emotions as infallible. In the first case, one will act on emotion before they’ve really thought about the situation, which will lead to them making mistakes. In the second case, the person will act on emotion, call it rationality, and make mistakes.

So what is my point here? Acknowledge your emotions, acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, try to be rational when possible, but realize that you will react emotionally and that is not always a bad thing. Don’t punish yourself for being emotional and making mistakes. Don’t punish yourself from being human. And don’t hold others to higher standards than it is possible for them to achieve.


5 responses to “What Cats Can Teach Us About Emotions and Rationality

  • johnspenn

    “Don’t punish yourself for being emotional and making mistakes. Don’t punish yourself from being human.”

    I agree with the thought, but at the same time we should learn to gain better control of our emotions and attempt to minimize our mistakes-no?


  • chandlerklebs

    I consider that there must be some emotional reason that people want to be seen as rational. I don’t think the two can be separated.


  • heathervlittle

    Reblogged this on mynovelstory and commented:
    Good read. As I ver emotional person , I see a lot if myself in this.


  • khelwriter

    The catechistic dogma of our age is that feelings and emotions can, and should, completely replace thinking in human life, just as the catechistic dogma of college students back when I was in college in the mid-1980s was that theories of the origins of the universe and thinking about the existence of God can, and should, be completely replaced by pay equity and free access to abortion. We have the same people to thank for both, because they are the ones responsible for people blindly obeying their feelings and worshipping their own perspectives. Thank you for making a post that is a very mild and gentle corrective to that, compared to my own strong views on the subject.


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