June 25, 2012

About a year ago a stray cat started hanging around the garden. It was clearly quite young —my guess would be about 10 months, give or take 2— and incredibly scrawny. After I fed it some left over feta through the kitchen window it refused to leave those 4 square meters for the next two weeks. I kept feeding him and eventually took it to the vet to have him looked over, neutered, de-wormed, de-loused and generally de-parasited. Pragma —as we lovingly named him— has turned out to be a model pet cat. Does his dirty business outside. Can handle himself just fine for however long he’s left alone. Doesn’t scratch any furniture. Doesn’t spray. Doesn’t beg much. Doesn’t fight while being manhandled, for example when he needs to be washed after climbing up the inside of the fireplace. Again. He manages to keep the garden and house relatively cat-free and definitely rodent-free and is absolutely terrified of thunder.

I find it unbelievable that anyone looking at a sleeping cat could maintain the position that animals don’t dream. Of course it has long since been scientifically determined that animals (all mammals and birds and reptiles too) dream just like humans dream. In case you haven’t seen Bizkit the sleepwalking dog yet, that’s all the proof you’ll ever need. I’d venture that probably everything with a brain dreams, at whatever level that brain supports. It just seems to be the way brains work.

However a question to which I have not been able to find an answer is whether animals are aware that they dream. Particularly bad dreams can leave me feeling queasy for days but I’d imagine it would be a lot worse if I didn’t know that it wasn’t real. When my cat wakes up, does he realise that he’s been dreaming? Does he remember his dreams? Can he draw a meaningful distinction between his dream-life and his waking-life? Are his waking actions influenced by his dream memories? I doubt that animals have lucid dreams, it takes quite a lot of directed effort to train yourself to become lucid*.

If you have answers, let me know.

* I once spend a week achieving lucidity. My approach was to watch Waking Life by Richard Linklater every day before going to bed and train myself during the day to continually ask the question; “Am I dreaming now?”. As long as you can make yourself ask that while you’re asleep, it’s usually a piece of cake to become lucid. However I found that my sleep had become very shallow as a result of it and I would often wake up two or three times a night, so I gave up and lost the ability.

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