Our Shared Primary Non-symbolic / Non-verbal world: Basha
June 27, 2017
We live in a shared physically real world. A world of objects, that includes ourselves as one of those objects, which we interact with on a non-verbal, non-symbolic immediate level. Actually, the primary level of reality and our interaction with reality is at the level of physical non-verbal, non-symbolic level. I can prove this by a series of examples of interactions that I have with a being who doesn’t know any human cultural concepts that are conveyed via human symbol systems such as the English language.
We share this world with not only other human beings but also a multitude of living and non-living objects. Amongst the category of what we can classify as living are animals, insects, plants, etc. Specifically, I live with my wife and our pet cat that we call Basha.
Basha is a member of that general mixed breed classified as ‘short haired domestic American mackerel tabby cat’. My wife, Cedar, and I adopted Basha from our local animal shelter when she was approximately 5 months old. She is now almost five years old at the time I am writing this.
Now, if I had the experience of being a father of a newborn baby, much of what I am about to describe concerning my interactions with Basha and that six year old infant would be very similar. Both would be able to interact with me almost in the exact same manner. Neither could interact on a verbal level, all of us would be interacting on a non-verbal strictly physical level.
Even a six-month-old infant would not have had the time to acquire language, let alone sophisticated cultural concepts. Such an infant therefore would not understand or even be capable of either 1) imagining a solipsistic world; or 2) the concept of the world as in the Idealistic hypothesis proposed by Bishop Berkeley, i.e., that the world is non-physical idea that is sustained, and suspended in the mind of God; or 3) know the Hindu concept of Maya, which states that the physical world is an illusion. All of these cultural constructs would have to be taught to that infant for her to have them and believe them. All those ideas, and any others that you can imagine and proposed that would describe the world as not being physically real, would have to be taught to her for her to believe and or consider them. Therefore, while as a six-year-old infant she would simply be blissfully ignorant of those symbolic sophisticated cultural concepts, and simply interact as described below on a strictly physical manner and thus demonstrate the reality of our shared physical world. Therefore demonstrating the fact of the primary and fundamental reality of our physical existence.
Basha is an indoor and outdoor cat. We all live in a one bedroom ‘In-law house’ that is situated behind the main duplex in the front of our shared lot, in the suburbs of Berkeley, California, USA.
In our shared world, we can communicate with each other on a physical non-linguistic level.
She knows that we can ‘hear’ sounds just as she can hear sounds. She knows that we make sounds to communicate with her and she can make sounds to communicate with us.
We call her by that name, she clearly doesn’t know that name in the same way that we do. We are humans and she is a feline, a cat. We don’t share the same biological systems to allow her to create and interact with symbol systems such as the English language not even on a verbal auditory level. However, she does react to the sound of us calling her name. She probably recognizes the tone of our voice more than the actual sound of those specific letters. Again, she is not a human and so she does not have the capacity of translating certain sounds and recognizing that they are the sounds of the letters in her name. She only recognizes the pure tonal qualities of the sound.
She knows the sound of a can being opened. She knows the sound of her crunchy treats rattling around in its plastic container. Both of those sounds will usually bring her to us. She ‘knows’ that this means she will get food. She associates those sounds with the experience of us giving her food.
She also ‘knows’ the sound of me snapping my fingers and of my wife whistling. Those are two of the ways we call her in at night. She knows that when we she hears those sounds and she comes to us she will get her evening meal. The other sound that we can use to get her to come inside at night is the sound of her treats rattling around inside the plastic container. We can shake that container and Basha knows that this sound means she will get some treats if she comes to us.
Basha has a sense of space and time. This ability to recognize certain aspects of spacial and temporal relationships would either make Immanuel Kant proud or completely confuse him. I’m not sure of Kant believed and/or recognized that creatures other than humans had to ability to work with some of his ‘A Priori’ constructs, such as time and space, that he described in his book the Critique of Pure Reason. Basha clearly has no ability to understand the words ‘A Prioir’, let alone the concepts as Kant meant them in his book. Then again, the experience of failing to understand that concepts of space and time as A Priori concepts that are part of Kant's doctrine of the transcendental ideality of space and time is something she has in common with a majority of people on this planet.
Basha knows the difference between ‘indoors’ and ‘outdoors’. As a kitten when we had just brought her to our place, we planned on having her as a indoor only cat. She would often climb up to the windows ledges in the bedroom and would look out, she would stare out at the back glass door. She would get frantic at night and tear around throughout the house, running back and forth through all the rooms, climbing up onto any object she could and then launching herself back down to zip around. It was hard to get her to settle down at nights because of this activity. Finally I suggested that she should be let outdoors to run around and burn off that energy in the hopes that when she came back in at night she wouldn’t do this and would settle down to sleep. My wife reluctantly agreed, wanting to keep her safe, but wanting to keep her sanity and get some sleep. That’s when we managed to keep the bathroom windows open enough for Basha to get out but put something to keep it locked and in place. We put an outdoor table and chair next to the window to enable Basha to jump out and land on something to help her get in and out.
Once we did this she was a changed cat. She would come in at night when we called and we would feed her the evening meal and she would contently settle down and sleep with us. The arrangement worked. Basha enjoyed the freedom of coming in and out of our house and would hence forth not frantically tear through the house at night. Her going in and out of the house, looking through windows and patio glass doors, going in and out of the front door all seem to demonstrate that she knows the shape, dimensions of our small house. She knows that she can go out the bathroom window, and come back into the same-shared space through the front door or vice a versa.
She knows where her litter box is located. She knows where her favorite chairs are that she likes to sit on and take naps on. When we move them she will sometimes go to that spot and take a nap there, as if to say, this is my area and you need to put that object back where it belongs. She knows where her food dish is located. She knows where her food and treats are kept. She knows where our beds are located and she knows that we spend time on those beds and understands that we sleep on those beds. She knows that she ‘sleeps’ and so does my wife and I.
Although, I am not sure she knows the difference between ‘awake’ and ‘asleep’. Her hearing is so attuned that certain sounds will get her attention even if she is what I think that she is sleeping at the time. The sound of a can opening or her treats rattling in the container will almost immediately bring her out of sleep to come running to where that sound is being made. Hence, I am not sure how different or how she experiences the difference between sleeping and being awake. I’m sure it is different than my experience. I don’t have that ability to react to sounds like Basha can when I am asleep. I have been told that it seems as if that nothing short of a loud explosion could wake me from a sound sleep.
She will share that activity of sleep with us, by getting on the bed, lying next to us, hence demonstrating she knows the concepts ‘near’ and far’, and then close her eyes and sleep with us.
She knows ‘up’, ‘down’ ‘high’ and ‘low’. She knows that she is usually lower than us, that the floor is beneath her and that she can climb up onto couches, chairs, bookshelves, tables, beds, and other objects to get ‘up’ and be level with us, interacts with us and look us in the eye. She knows she can easily get ‘under’/’below’ beds, chairs, couches, tables, and that we have more difficulties doing the same and that we can’t get underneath them completely. Hence, she knows the concept of ‘hiding’, ‘escaping’, ‘being hidden’, ‘being unreachable’, etc. when she wants to avoid interacting with us, or wants to play with us knowing we can’t as easily get to her when she is ‘lower’/ ‘down’/ ‘under’ certain objects in relationship to us.
Her sense of time is so attuned that she knows that I go away most days. Though she clearly does not know where I am going and why. She knows I come back at a certain time of the day each workday. Her sense of time is so strong that she will usually, about 80% of the time, come inside and be in the house waiting for me to arrive from work. She knows that I will come in and pick her up, hold her in my arms and make sounds at her while I scratch her. She purrs when I do this and she knows that I react to that purring sound and will scratch her some more. She also knows how to get me to stop petting and scratching her so that she can be let back down.
She has such an excellent sense of time that she is able to recognize the difference between my workdays and the weekends. She somehow has a sense of my workweek, and the weekend, because during the workdays she will come into the house waiting for me to arrive from work while she won’t do that on the weekends. She knows that I come home about the same time every day during the week and that I will pick her up, pet, and scratch her when I come home. Whereas on the weekends there is no set time that this occurs and so she does not show up at that time.
She knows that she will get wet cat food twice a day. Once during the morning and the other time at night. For a time when my wife and I would divide the feeding of Basha between us, my wife feeding her at night and me feeding her in the morning, Basha knew this. She would come to Cedar and try to communicate to her to get her evening wet food meal and Basha would ignore me. We ruined that sense routine, and now I feed Basha both in the morning and at night her wet food.
When she is hungry, which is more often than when we have agreed to be her two daily feeding times, she will go over to where her food dish is or where her food and treats are kept and she will make certain sounds to communicate with us. She will also get up on her hind legs and scratch at the side of the kitchen cabinet next to her food bowl to get our attention.
She knows that sometime when she makes noise, or scratches at the kitchen cabinet, or bats at us when we are sitting at the kitchen chairs, she may be able to convince us to give her some treats. She knows that it doesn’t always work but that behavior works enough of the time for her to remember it, and do it, and expect to often enough get fed some treats.
Basha can purposefully wander in our shared space, recognize aspects of time with remarkable accuracy. I hope I have convinced you that we share a common physical world and that our interactions that are foundational and primary are of the non-verbal kind. If we didn’t share a common physical world all that I have described would not be able to take place.