All Natural Data Transfer

One of the things we collectively lament as humans is our inability to “meaningfully” correspond with any species other than ourselves. If we ever encounter aliens, I have to imagine that our barriers of communication will dwarf those compared to those between, say, a cat and a human. But when you think about it, the breadth of information that we can convey back and forth with a fellow mammal like a cat is pretty incredible. Let’s look at a hypothetical day of Pam and her cat, and imagine how much data — about the world and about our emotions — is transmitted without us even thinking about it:

-Fluffy wakes Pam up. He’s communicating “wake up” and implying “feed me,” while passively communicating trust, familiarity, and a reasonably calm state of mind. He is standing near Pam’s face, because that is where he instinctively knows to look for outgoing communications
-Pam wakes up. Fluffy tentatively looks at her until eye contact is established. Eye contact has ensured that the message has been transmitted, so Fluffy jumps off the bed in anticipation of breakfast being poured
-Fluffy raises his tail signaling happiness, confidence, etc.
-Fluffy purrs manipulatively yet earnestly; Pam pours him food
-Fluffy jumps on the kitchen counter. Pam yells “No!” and Fluffy jumps off
-Pam calls Fluffy’s name at noon. His ears move, but he doesn’t otherwise respond
-Pam calls Fluffy’s name at 2 p.m. He gets up, stretches, walks to the other room and jumps into Pam’s lap
-Pam knocks over a broom in the kitchen. Fluffy sprints outside…
-…where he encounters the neighbor’s dog! The dog growls. Fluffy puffs up, hisses, swipes the air then dashes up a tree
-An hour later, the can opener is heard. Fluffy is coaxed down
-In the evening while being stroked, Fluffy suddenly decides he’s had enough and gives Pat a mock bite
-…except whoops, too hard! He broke the skin, and Pam lashes back at him. He runs off a little ways, then begins to groom himself while facing slightly away from Pam
-Well, you get the idea. Their wants and needs are pretty effectively conducted back and forth

Granted, we humans pick up a lot of the slack when it comes to this sort of communication thanks to our empathy and sapience, but would an alien be able to tell us it was hungry? If it was threatened? Sick? Dead? Would we be able to scream, bite or dance in any manner that would matter to them?

Now tie this back around to cats, especially ones without much socialization: It’s not at all difficult to see why they act the way they do. If you were abducted by a 5-story tall alien that spoke a strange, rumbling language, stomped around, and could certifiably snap your neck at will — well, you’d certainly take a while to be won over, even if said alien was holding the only source of food in its hands and beckoning you over, saying “it’ll be okay!” If I were living amongst giants, you can be sure I’d be skittish whenever one made sudden movements or noises. As silly as it may sound on the surface, the best advice I may have for winning cats over may be to place yourself in their shoes.

So the morals of the story, I suppose, are 1) We take for granted an incredible amount of “invisible” communications, most of which are possible because of our one common tree of life 2) Spare a thought for skittish Fluffy before slamming the front door!

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