Of Cats, Time, and Ebola

How does a cat perceive time? Simple question.

I think I can be certain that they don’t perceive days and nights, weeks and months and years. Or hours, minutes, and seconds. I suspect they perceive the passage of light and dark, one into the other, but they attach no artificial construct to such passages.

How do they know to be at a certain place at a certain time of day to get food? Kitty wristwatches? The quality of light in the sky – dawn, pre-dawn, dusk, late afternoon, high noon? Are they as accurate when the sky is darkly clouded? How accurate are they? Do they hit an approximate window and then wait for the food? I think Sammy, the outside cat, may do that.

Time, as we parse it, doesn’t exist for cats. Everything is now. They don’t worry about or get anxious about or think about the food delivery that will occur seven or eight hours from now. When the time is right they’ll go to the food spot. In the meantime they’ll lie in the sun, snooze in the shade, chase insects and butterflies, terrify mice and chipmunks, and nap.

Humans on the other hand have broken time. Shattered it. Hammered it into little pieces. Milliseconds. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Decades. What time is it? That’s the cry heard across the universe, the cry emanating from this little planet where humans may have run out the clock on themselves. Time is just another falsehood we use to prove to ourselves that we are in control of the world, of our lives.

Time may be running out for humans. Ebola is a deadly viral epidemic in West Africa now. From a killer of little villages, it has gained the potential to be a civilization killer. Ebola has entered the human population now in a big way, in crowded cities where the infrastructure needed to contain it is weak or non-existent, where ignorance and fear fuel the spread of the virus. And from what I read there are indications that the virus is mutating. Evolving to deal with its new ecological niche.

No one can predict what the mutations will ultimately amount to. One possibility, perhaps the worst, would involve two mutations. One would have it become transmissible via aerosol, via sneezes and coughs, able to survive outside a host or a victim for lengthy periods of time. The second would have it sporulate. If that happens then it could be picked up in the dust storms that blow westward from Africa and coat the Amazon basin, Central America, and the Southern United States with dust. If those two things happen then the virus could likely not be contained.

This morning there’s a story on BBC that a vaccine is being tested, one that shows good promise of being effective. Perhaps. Or perhaps too little too late? Time will tell. And if not Ebola, what else?

Obama is sending three thousand American soldiers to Liberia to fight the epidemic. They’ll build seventeen treatment facilities and act to educate the public and train health care personnel. Whether they’ll actually get it done in time to slow or stop the epidemic is an open question.

Africa could be hollowed out, relieved of its human burden, perhaps even its entire quota of primates. It could become the forbidden zone of science fiction, the place where no one goes. It might return to the state of being the Eden it once was, where Nature has full sway. Yes, with all the brutality of tooth and claw that goes along with Nature, that is a fundamental part of Nature, but Africa would once again become a place of balance instead of a place overrun with a plague of humans who corrode and destroy the Nature on which their very lives depend. And wouldn’t that be ironic, the place that gave birth to mankind would be scoured clean of men and become closed to men. Man, kicked out of Eden. By an invisible bit of barely animate protein.

Of course if the virus mutates, Earth, all of Earth, could become Eden, with life getting a fresh start, a new direction, perhaps creating a timeless world. Ruled, undoubtedly, by cats.

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6 Responses

  1. “Earth has a cancer and the cancer is man”.

    Plague of humans in Africa? Just wow.

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  2. From the point of view of the biosphere, the human species is a cancer, a plague, a deadly infection. Life on earth is not being destroyed by kangaroos and tulips.

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    • It’s all about perspective, one supposes.

      Those of us with offspring choose optimism. Perhaps incorrectly.

      Larkin was without issue. Probably explains much.

      This Be The Verse
      By Philip Larkin

      They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
      They may not mean to, but they do.
      They fill you with the faults they had
      And add some extra, just for you.

      But they were fucked up in their turn
      By fools in old-style hats and coats,
      Who half the time were soppy-stern
      And half at one another’s throats.

      Man hands on misery to man.
      It deepens like a coastal shelf.
      Get out as early as you can,
      And don’t have any kids yourself.

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      • I recommend ‘Evil Genes’, a book by Barbara Oakley. Good work on the genetics of human psychological dysfunction.

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        • See! A point of agreement at last! http://thenewaustralian.org/?p=1086

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          • Please! Restrain yourself!

            Less agreement than might initially meet the eye, at least between Oakley and Stout. Oakley focuses on borderline personality disorder, while noting that there sometimes occurs overlap between psychopathy and BPD (borderpaths, she suggests). My cursory look at Stout on Amazon suggests she’s focusing on sociopaths, possibly finding them everywhere, but I suspect that BPD is far more common. We are far more likely to run afoul of a BPD than a true full-on socio- or psychopath. Oakley dissects Slobodan Milosevic nicely as an example.

            But of course sociopath is much easier to say than borderline personality. I think the general technical term ‘crazyass motherfucker’ pretty much covers both cases.

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