back to article Cats understand the laws of physics, researchers claim

Using a plastic container, some magnets, three iron balls, two video cameras and 30 cats, researchers from Kyoto University have concluded that felines understand the laws of physics. The research paper titled There's no ball without noise: cats' prediction of an object from noise was published in Animal Cognition. Twenty-two …

  1. Dadmin
    Holmes

    I "proved" this back in 1974

    I was a skinny young lad then, and we had a lovely white tabby female that would put up with kids doing stuff to her. So, I crafted a parachute and flung kitty off a 6' wall to the grass below and, low and behold, she righted herself, landed safely and gave me a dirty look while simultaneously escaping from the makeshift parachute! In hindsight we lacked a control group or other such double blind study, nor did I have any lovely grant monies with which to craft additional funny studies of cats and other fun creatures who are mostly indifferent. Also, ants die in fire. It is known.

    1. Bob Vistakin
      Holmes

      Re: I "proved" this back in 1974

      What's the difference between "understanding" and "instinctively reacting due to evolutionary survival mutations"?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: What's the difference between "understanding" and ...

        none at all.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I "proved" this back in 1974

        That would be the same as the difference between strong AI and weak AI. You only posit that it matters if your world view requires humans to be innately special and fundamentally different from all other things (and you know you'd get laughed at if you tried to invoke a God or a soul for that purpose.)

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: I "proved" this back in 1974

      What would the control group be? Dogs?

  2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Alternative Explanations

    Did they account for cats have better hearing than humans? Also, cats are predators with very good vision and smell. Some prey animals may not be making much noise but moving.

    I think Ig-Noble prize is appropriate for this "research".

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Alternative Explanations

      No, this deserves to be forgotten.

      Ig-Nobels are for good, yet surprising science. This is just bad - the results do not support the conclusion.

      1. ian 22

        Re: Alternative Explanations

        Spot on. Anyone dropping a cat in a gravity field has noted their control of that gravity field. They *always* land on their paws! QED.

        Unless the cat is dead (or is it alive?) or both. Dammed cats.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge
    WTF?

    So they really just proved that cats are curious then?

    Then there's the bit about "cat café". Is this were cat's eat or are they eaten?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Then there's the bit about "cat café". Is this were cat's eat or are they eaten?

      Cat café.

    2. muddysteve

      No, because curiosity killed the cat, and no cats were harmed in this experiment.

      Seriously, you are right - they proved that cats look at something you show them.

      1. strum

        >they proved that cats look at something you show them.

        ....because there might be food in there.

  4. cd

    Some human beings, who as a species routinely fail to land on their feet, suggest that an animal who nearly always lands on its feet is possibly able to comprehend a human concept called gravity. A human entity paid for this conclusion to be reached, and other people duly took that assignment and worked on proving it by using magnets and rattling cups and video cameras.

    Meanwhile I'm unemployable because I'm not qualified and/or certified at anything.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      a human concept called gravity.

      It's a physical property, one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, and the one that works over the greatest distance.

      The human concept is calling it "gravity", "Mass times other mass times capital G over distance squared" would be more precise, but rather cumbersome.

      This research also reveals that the researchers involved have had no fundamental interactions with cats before.

    2. Anonymous Blowhard

      "Meanwhile I'm unemployable because I'm not qualified and/or certified at anything"

      Just to be sure, you're not a cat are you?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        "Meanwhile I'm unemployable because I'm not qualified and/or certified at anything"

        Just to be sure, you're not a cat are you?

        Sounds like a typical standard issue fatcat to me.

  5. Blofeld's Cat
    Holmes

    Hmm...

    I am not surprised by these findings.

    We used to house, feed and entertain* a cat that could determine the contents of a tin while either sleeping or stalking the local wildlife in the far reaches of the garden.

    If the tin contained something it liked**, then the creature would be rubbing round your legs before the opener could dent the lid.

    * Nobody ever really owns a cat.

    ** i.e. not cat food or peaches.

    1. Kane Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Hmm...

      "If the tin contained something it liked**, then the creature would be rubbing round your legs before the opener could dent the lid."

      Obligatory Pratchett quote:

      "Cats will amusingly tolerate humans only until someone comes up with a tin opener that can be operated with a paw."

    2. JassMan Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Hmm...

      I think the real answer where food in tins and cats are concerned, is that cats are telepathic and this is what they should have been testing, rather than whether gravity is affected by electromagnets. Our cat can be sound asleep in the most distant part of the house, and you only have to have the passing thought of "should I open the beef terrine or the fish in jelly for his next meal" and you find he has instantly teleported himself to his bowl and is making the special meow that means "give me my food now, and don't make those puny excuses about having to open the tin first"

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Hmm...

        'I think the real answer where food in tins and cats are concerned, is that cats are telepathic and this is what they should have been testing, rather than whether gravity is affected by electromagnets. Our cat can be sound asleep in the most distant part of the house, and you only have to have the passing thought of "should I open the beef terrine or the fish in jelly for his next meal" and you find he has instantly teleported himself to his bowl and is making the special meow that means "give me my food now, and don't make those puny excuses about having to open the tin first"'

        Alternatively, this is a quantum effect (all cats are Schrödinger cats, after all), and the cat tunnels to a convenient location, often right under your feet (convenient as in convenient for the cat), once the wave-function describing its brain has picked up the wave-function of the contents of the tin/whatever container the food is in. Maybe I could get some ERC funding for that

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Not really understanding.

      Similarly, I've been told that a sportsman like David Beckham can take advantage of some damned tricky physics and kick a ball so that it curves in mid flight. Its never been suggested to me that he understands that laws of physics that govern the flight of the ball, only that he has a damned good feel for it.

  7. veti Silver badge

    By "rudimentary understanding of gravity"...

    ... I gather they mean, "things fall down".

    A more reasonable way of putting it would be that cats understand the concept of "containers". But I don't think that's news to anyone who's ever shared a home with a cat.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: By "rudimentary understanding of gravity"...

      cats understand the concept of "containers"

      Ah, but do they also understand DevOps and Agile?

      1. GrumpyWorld
        Linux

        Re: By "rudimentary understanding of gravity"...

        ..almost certainly better than anyone else.

      2. Anonymous Blowhard

        Re: By "rudimentary understanding of gravity"...

        "Ah, but do they also understand DevOps and Agile?"

        They may not understand "Agile" but they're certainly more agile...

      3. LDS Silver badge

        Re: By "rudimentary understanding of gravity"...

        Cats are very Agile in their Devious Operations.

  8. DougS Silver badge

    This is all well and good

    But the really important question I have is this: what the heck is a "Japanese cat cafe"?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is all well and good

      It's like a starbucks except you get cat hair in your latte.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is all well and good

        "It's like a starbucks except you get cat hair in your latte."

        Yes, but it is the extra protean that really matters.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Joke

          Re: This is all well and good

          I say, that really does sound like a drink obtainable in such an establishment:

          "Hello, I'll have an "Extra Protean" please..."

    2. IsJustabloke
      Meh

      Re: This is all well and good

      Not just Japanese....

      http://ladydinahs.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Lady-Dinah-Sample-Menu-Standard-Bookings.pdf

      I understand from a friend there's quite a waiting list....

      I go to a cafe to eat/drink in peace, if I want cat in my coffee I'll stay at home.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    Pheline Physics

    Quantum cats go beyond mere Newtonian physics when they're fully entangled.

    1. TitterYeNot
      Coat

      Re: Pheline Physics

      "Quantum cats go beyond mere Newtonian physics when they're fully entangled"

      That's because quantum cats also understand ball of string theory...

      1. CanadianMacFan

        Re: Pheline Physics

        Well they must understand higher order dimensions because I can't think of any other way they can fit in some of the places they get into.

      2. MarkSitkowski

        Re: Pheline Physics

        I think this was proved ages ago by Schrodinger - although he was never sure whether it was dead or alive...

    2. Nixinkome

      Re: Pheline Physics

      Birds have more densely interconnected brains meaning that these are more compact than those of land-dwellers. This helps with flight.

      Cats catch birds.

      Q.E.D.

      [It's a nice miaouw that Quantum Cats make on projection. :) ]

  10. Andy Mac

    Straight out of Monty Python

    "Tell me sir, have you confused your cat recently?"

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Schrodinger was right !

    This "experiment" is conducted daily in millions of homes and is the direct proof that cats are quantic beings who can tunnel through walls and doors when in the mood.

    Experimental set up: One cat, One human, One (not empty) box of dry cat food, One empty box

    Process1: Human shakes box of cat food while cat is securely locked outside the house

    Result1: Cat tunnels, often destructively through all matter separating it from the food box.

    Process2: Human shakes empty box in front of cat.

    Result2: Cat barely tunrns head and gives human "stare of death" which means "Don't waste my time slave, Get your fat ass off the couch and go buy another box of kitteh food*" (*approximate translation)

    Conclusion: Japanese scientists never had cats !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Schrodinger was right !

      In this case you have also "proven" that cats understand commerce.

  12. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "This study may be viewed as evidence for cats having a rudimentary understanding of gravity."

    No, it may not.

    1. Esme

      Agreed. Any sentient creature that doesn't learn that event type B tends to follow event type A isn't going to survive long enough to procreate. As much as I love both science and cats, this doesn't sound like great science to me, and the conclusion is rather over-stretching it IMO.. Interesting first attempt, go back and think of a better experiment with a larger sample of test subjects!

  13. Alister Silver badge

    Sometimes, you really wish that researchers could be punished by having to pay back all their grant money.

    This is such a "No shit, Sherlock" result. I suggest that most mammals have sufficient reasoning power to work out that one thing leads to another, and that a box which makes a noise might be of interest. Any animal will be curious about a silly human waving something around - after all, instinct tells them it may contain food!

    You could repeat the same experiment with new-born babies, and would probably see similar results, but I doubt anyone would try to extrapolate from that that the infants have a deep understanding of physics.

  14. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    "This study may be viewed as evidence for cats having a rudimentary understanding of gravity."

    One of our cats has a perfect understanding of gravity. She has even figured ways to thumb* her nose at it.

    * Non-opposable, which she probably regrets, but which in the long run is quite likely better for all involved.

  15. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Cats know about the laws of gravity...

    ...they don't think that the laws apply to them: https://pics.onsizzle.com/Facebook-409338.png

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Re: Cats know about the laws of gravity...

      Cat's remember that we worshipped them as gods, no laws apply to them.

      1. Vinyl-Junkie
        Headmaster

        Re: Cats know about the laws of gravity...

        "Cat's remember that we worshipped them as gods, no laws apply to them."

        Including, it appears, the rules regarding the use of the apostrophe...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Rol Silver badge

    You don't want to it like that, you want to do it like this.

    Get one see-saw and lead access tunnels from the points the see-saw would touch the ground, if unbalanced, to a central space where a cat can see both ends no matter how the see-saw is balanced.

    The point at which the cat can enter the routes has a door which closes once the see-saw starts to move.

    The cat has to anticipate which side of the see-saw is going to drop to ground level and thus be accessible via the tunnel.

    After acclimatising the cat to the scenario place a mouse on one side and a baby rabbit on the other.

    If the cat understands gravity, then the baby rabbit will get Elmer Fudded.

    This assumes cats have no preference to mice over baby rabbits, which from real world observations, seems to be the case.

    can I have my £50,000 grant paid in beer tokens for simplicities sake.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The other day I was observing small children playing pinball for the first time.

    They seemed to have a poorer grasp of physics than these cats.

  18. Seajay#

    What this really shows

    is that cats don't have an understanding of electromagnetism. Idiots.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are you sure?

    Cats are a superior species (at least to trick cyclists) and were quite obviously testing the researchers behaviour, not demonstrating the "ability to understand the laws of gravity".

    ((Where's the Cat Icon when you need it?))

  20. Chris G Silver badge

    Understand

    No, are aware of cause and effect at an instinctive level? Yes.

    Cats appear to have stereoscopic hearing, watching a cat hunt, they will zero in on an interesting sound from several metres away. If the producer of the sound is prey under thick grass the cat will jump into the air and come down with its paws directly over it's target, then extract the tidbit. Sounds and movement attract cats attention , they are hunters, it's what they do.

    As for quantum tunneling and inter/ multidimensional travel, well they are our alien overlords after all!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Understand

      Remember: Dogs have owners; Cats have slaves.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Darryl

        Re: Understand

        I prefer "Cats have staff."

  21. IsJustabloke
    Facepalm

    hmmmm

    "This study may be viewed as evidence for cats having a rudimentary understanding of gravity."

    It *may* be viewed that way but only by idiots.

    Each time I read about a "scientist" devising an experiment involving cats, its clear to me that the scientist involved has never actually spent any time with a cat

  22. TheMole

    Just like Amoebas understand electromagnetic radiation

    Well they will change direction when lights are shined at them, so presumably they must understand the principles involved.

  23. Dave 126 Silver badge

    From a science fiction author:

    “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”

    - Robert A. Heinlein

  24. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Happy

    E=mc^2

    Of course they do

    http://www.britannica.com/science/E-mc2-equation

  25. Shady

    Thirty cats participated in the experiment and none were harmed

    But several researchers received hospital treatment for wounds inflicted by the cats for absolutely no fucking reason.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Thirty cats participated in the experiment and none were harmed

      I HAZ UNDERSTANDING OF IRON BALLZ. I PREFER TO DIG MY CLAWS INTO MEAT ONES.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thirty cats participated in the experiment and none were harmed

      "wounds inflicted by the cats for absolutely no fucking reason"

      The cats had a reason. Entertainment value probably.

  26. LDS Silver badge

    Cats usually defy gravity

    I understood that when my young cat jumped from the first floor window in the garden below, thinking it was probably a funny thing to try - quite shocking my cat loving sister.

    And there are many other situation when cats believe gravity doesn't apply to them. Just, when a human show them something, they are polite, and look at it to please the human that also feeds them.

  27. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I for one

    hope the follow up experiment qualifies for a Darwin award.

    Idiot scientist gets ripped to shreds by moggy-swarm following stoopid experiment of dubious utility.

    Cats are like helicopters except they dice finer.

  28. vir
    Coat

    They're doing it wrong...

    They should check to see if the cats roll their eyes when shown a box with a radioactive source and a vial of poison.

  29. This post has been deleted by its author

  30. Kubla Cant Silver badge
    Headmaster

    A cute accent

    I'd never heard of a cat café, so when I read "Twenty-two cats from Japanese cat cafes" [sic], I thought I'd post a short WTF. I didn't want to appear ignorant, so I copied "cat cafes" from the article and did a quick search of the 45 comments already in place. Nothing found, so I went ahead.

    When I came to read through the posts, I found there was quite a bit about "cat cafés", with the accent, so I had to withdraw my post. Serves me right for under-estimating the literacy of Reg commentards.

  31. Mutton Jeff

    Those Jappanese

    And their weird game shows.

  32. Steve I

    Cat's just love to f*ck with peoples' minds.

    3,000 years ago they were worshiped as gods - they have not forgotten this.

  33. Toltec

    Missing variant

    They should have added a case where the electromagnet was turned off with a delay after the box was inverted.

    Even so it proves little, very few humans that can ride a bike understand the physics, I doubt many are even aware that they use countersteer.

    Alternate experiment.

    A treat/toy is is dropped in sight of the cat. If the cat gets the timing wrong the treat/toy drops through a hole into a catch box.

    A treat/toy is is dropped in sight of the cat, it then disappears behind an opaque barrier before re-appearing in front of the cat. If the cat gets the timing wrong the treat/toy drops through a hole into a catch box.

    A treat/toy is is dropped in sight of the cat, it then disappears behind an opaque barrier behind which is a device to delay re-appearence in front of the cat. If the cat gets the timing wrong the treat/toy drops through a hole into a catch box.

    A treat/toy is is dropped in sight of the cat, it then disappears behind an opaque barrier behind which is a device to catch the original treat/toy but release another that will appear in front of the cat at the right time, but the wrong speed. If the cat gets the timing wrong the treat/toy drops through a hole into a catch box.

    If cats understand physics the last two will really mess with their heads.

    1. TRT Silver badge
  34. Brian Souder 1

    Required?

    Forget their experiments on gravity - how did they train the cat to readily do what they wanted.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It was only a matter of time until a scienctist finds out a way how to get paid for watching cat videos

  36. Cerberus666
    WTF?

    Incomplete testing!!!

    They need to see if an increase in mass increases the understanding of gravity.

    I recommend they try the same experiment with members of the genus Panthera! If anyone survives and they find it true then they deserve an Ignoble award. If they don't survive there is always a Darwin Award as a consolation prize.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It must be really annoying

    ........to be a scientist, and to come home and find the equation on your whiteboard has been corrected by mr fuzzyboots :)

  38. Sherrie Ludwig
    Headmaster

    cats taught Galileo

    All of my cats have done Galileo's experiments with dropping objects of different weights off heights and watching to see the results. Most of the have preferred the fragile and expensive objects the best, for the loud noises they and the large non-furry food dispensers make upon impact.

  39. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Facepalm

    So someone paid money for this group to make and study cat videos.

    "No honest, this is work!"

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Control Group

    Clearly this experiment is meaningless unless they repeat it with a control group made up of quantum gravity physicist. I predict they will ignore the plastic container completely demonstrating cats know more about gravity then they do.

  41. ma1010 Silver badge
    Joke

    Of course it's total bollocks

    If cats understood physics, Schrödinger would never have gotten the cat to go into the box in the first place!

  42. dmacleo

    cats know everything

    and the day they decide to let humanity know we are all screwed.

  43. 4ecks

    The real story -

    Several scientists participated in an experiment conducted by 30 cats.

  44. Dagg
    Boffin

    Perpetual motion

    Dropped cat with piece of buttered toast tied to its back.

  45. RLParent

    I hope to save our scientific community hundreds of millions of dollars by publicizing my insights into Felineeseology (the study of cat languages).

    m eow = that was not a very good nap.

    me ow= that was an outstanding nap.

    MEow= you just disturbed a great nap.

    meow= its about time for a nap.

    MEOw= relax,dude,... take a nap. (NOTE: if there is a umlaut above the O it indicates the feminine "dudette" rather than the masculine "dude").

    Wheeeerrr= Dude...your stepping on my tail. (NOTE: there doesnt seem to be a feminine form here. Apparently only men step on cats tails).

    Tssst= Dude... Schrodinger's cat's great grandfather understood quantum physics waaaay before you even had an inkling. (NOTE: no apparent feminine form here either.... maybe its just men who dont get it).

  46. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Holmes

    Wake me up when the researchers have proved the cats understand that gravity follows the inverse-square law

  47. Kiwi Silver badge
    Holmes

    Just watch them for a while.

    I've been a cat-lover most of my life (for as long as I can recall anyway) and have spent a great amount of time serving and entertaining our moggy-overlords.

    I've noticed things like when I'd rattle one of a couple of items, the cat would first glance at me - if the item was the laser pointer she'd then look at the nearest bit of ground or wall to her for the coming red dot, but if it was another item that had the same sound when rattled then she'd go to " normal mode" (ie completely ignore all humans unless providing treat or threat).

    If you watch you'll see them judge distances before jumping, judge where moving objects are going to go (except those that don't act normally, like poorly made paper planes (honestly moggy, it was a mistake and not intended to confuse you!). I've even had one who would put her paw on the "hang up" button on the old school landline when I was paying more attention to the call than to her (fixed by turning the phone upside down) - watched her feel around for the button, look at the phone, realise it was out of reach so go back to sleep - I don't know how she learned that pushing that item ended the call but she did it several times each day from when she learned till I started turning the phone over - and she never put her paw near the area of the button when I didn't have the receiver in my hand) . I've watched them work out how to open a cupboard with a certain type of latch, and then use that knowledge to open a different cupboard with a similar-functioning catch..

    But I don't agree that this necessarily means that they understand gravity, but more a sort of "cause and effect", which would be quite useful when hunting or stalking.

    Certainly a functional understanding of some laws of physics, but maybe little more than "if I touch something hot I get hurt". They can, however, do a certain level of calculating velocity, trajectory, bounce, some levels of hardness and bendiness (see how they jump and land on cushions vs concrete vs small branch), and have effective knowledge of anatomy - like how to kill a smaller animal or just where to land on their owner to cause greatest pain/annoyance.

    And they have an interesting level of logic as well. Much greater than politicians even.

  48. Steven Jones

    Feline geodisics

    I'd be more impressed if it could be shown that cats understand Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which has superseded the Newtonian theory of gravity. I leave the details of how to demonstrate this experimentally to others.

    I realise that cats are better employed demonstrating the collapse of wave functions in quantum mechanics than the principles of curved space, but they are flexible creatures.

  49. cortland

    So -- for a given value of understand - do ball-flinging children understand physics.

  50. weegie38

    The follow-up experiment will be testing whether pieces of buttered toast understand gravity.

    It's all leading up to Japan replacing all their maglev train equipment with armies of cats wearing slippers made of toast buttered on one side - the side attached to the cat's paws.

    Such a combination could never, ever, touch the ground. It would be the perfect anti-gravity device.

    1. Nixinkome

      Revolutionary ?? if they are quantum cats and quantum pieces of buttered toast!

      Cats wearing slippers indeed.

      Harumph.

    2. harmjschoonhoven
      Happy

      Re: pieces of buttered toast

      There is no need to experiment with buttered toast. If the toast would land on the buttered side, it confirms Murphy's Law. However if the toast would land with the buttered side up, that only confirms that Murphy's Law holds for this kind of experiment. QED.

      It is left to the reader to proof that this is a fallacy.

  51. Tom 35 Silver badge

    My cat likes to perfom it's own experiments with gravity

    Every time I leave a USB stick, pen, or other small object on my desk.

  52. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
    Boffin

    The only thing proven

    That I can see is cats like boxes

  53. Seekermeister

    Is that why they keep pushing things off tables? To test their understanding?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020