What is the Sound of One Paw Clapping?


Neuroskeptic over at Discover Magazine is one of my favorite neuroscience bloggers. Yesterday, he posted an interesting existential piece on why his cat spends so much of the day looking out the same window. Could the cat be looking for the neighbor’s cat that always trespasses into his territory?
He went on to question the efficacy of using neuroimaging to glean any information about the cat’s motives.

Suppose we could measure [the cat’s] neural activity when he’s confronted with the neighbour’s cat. And then suppose we observed that the same pattern of brain activity was present (perhaps less strongly) when he’s looking out of that window. Would that activity be evidence that he was, indeed, looking for that cat?
That’s a very interesting question, I feel. The skeptical position would be that, no, it doesn’t tell us anything about his ‘state of mind’: his brain activity wouldn’t enlighten us as to the contents of his consciousness, if indeed he’s conscious at all. After all, the skeptic could say, we have no idea how neural firing relates to consciousness in humans, let alone animals.