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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Can cats comprehend infinity?

Once upon a time, one too many years ago, I was told the story of the cat and the TV by a particularly special person. He was young of age but terribly old of heart and soul. I do not know him and never will, but I can imagine he has gone through quite a lot on his own.

Anywho, while I may not be capable of giving justice to his story, it went something like this:

A man and his cat were sitting on the couch, both watching TV. It was the season finale of one of the man’s favorite shows. He was on the edge of his seat with his eyes peeled as he eagerly absorbed every piece of information the device emitted. As character arcs came to fruition in an explosive and climatic battle scene, the music crescendoed into an ultimate harmony and the man’s heart beat so hard, it nearly blew out of his chest. He cheered. He cried. He laughed. Before he knew it, it was over. He then sat in awe, watching the credits roll across the black screen, reflecting on what he had witnessed. The man contemplated how this was one of the best fictional stories ever told.

On the other hand, the cat, simply sitting on the corner of the couch, stared forward. One could only wonder what the cat saw. What did the cat think? To the cat, what was the TV? Surely, the cat had eyes and ears. The cat could register the flashy lights and strange sounds that the funny box generated, but the cat’s eyes and ears could never give the story its shape. A cat, even the smartest of them, could not possibly begin to understand the intricacies of storytelling, editing theory or set design. The cat could not feel the gravity of emotion portrayed by the protagonist like the cry at the death of the love interest. Even the meticulously constructed orchestration was just noise. The cat had no conception of anything at all. It was simply flashy lights and strange sounds. 

At first, I thought this story was a bit sad. No matter how hard the cat attempted to comprehend the answers before them, they would never grasp them. Worse yet, sometimes the cat would assume the nonsensical string of sensory information to be the answer itself and give up on the search for deeper meaning. Even if the man were to intervene and sit down with the cat, seeking to explain every small detail step-by-step, the cat could not begin to discern the man’s words. Their brain was not developed enough to see what was apparent to the man. How could they hope to attain knowledge, when comprehension was struck down by biological limitations? 

“What a dumb cat!” one may say.

But we are the cat.

We stare into the abyss of the cosmos, the infinity of the quantum realm, the entanglement of forces beyond our understanding and all we can see are flashing lights and strange sounds. Any proper scientist will tell you how little we actually are aware of. We have but scratched the surface. The more we discover in our tiny journey that we call the human race, the more questions we encounter. The more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. And what about the things you don’t know that you don’t know about? Even the thought of the magnitude of it all becomes a tongue twister. At our door lies an eternal sea, brimming with luminescence we perceive but how are we ever to recognize it for whatever it may be?

It was until much later that I realized this story was one of hope. It was an incomplete ode to the human spirit. Certainly, we may be the cat, but in our confusion, we have still managed to create empires out of dust. We have developed tools and systems to approach the flashing lights, sensors and programs to register strange sounds. Professions and industries have sprung with the sole purpose of diving as profoundly as one could into the fundamental aspects of the universe we inhabit. Little by little, step by step, we begin to uncover the mysteries of the TV. With every passing generation, we get closer to them. It is as if it is in our very nature to be drawn to the incomprehensible.

Is that not exciting? Our lack of awareness is not a source of despair but of fascination. We are conscious of only a speck of humanity's potential and there’s only more room to learn, so much more we cannot begin to imagine.

I would like to believe that is what the author meant. Ultimately, we get to decide how it ends.

Maybe, just maybe, someday we’ll begin to understand the story and the song the universe has laid out before us. 

Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at cbasurto@nd.edu (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.