Apparently, there’s a certain parasite in cats stool that makes us love them. What does it tell us about cats as pets? about LOLCATS memes? about free will?
Radiolab, a popular-science radio show and podcast from NPR had a show about parasites. The whole episode was great, but the one segment that really blew me away was about cats and this Toxoplasma gondii parasite.
The Parasite’s Problem
So for some reason, Toxoplasma gondii (let’s call it Toxo) can only reproduce in the guts of a cat. When the cat craps, that’s bad news for our friend Toxo. When a rat comes and eat the cat’s stool (never could understand these creatures) that’s even worse news for Toxo, as rats are rightfully afraid of cats and it’s enough for them to smell a cat to run as far as they can. How would Toxo find its way back to the kitty’s belly?
The Parasite’s Solution
You would think the parasite (being a parasite) will do something awful like cripple the rat to make it more vulnerable to cats, but no… It in fact does something else (arguably even more awful) – it crawls into the rat’s brain, and rewires things around there to make the rat not fear the cat, even love the cat, or rather lust… sexually that is! That means when a rat would smell the cat’s urine they would not run away, they would more likely run directly to the cat’s “loving” arms.
But it doesn’t stop there…
It’s obviously bad news for the suicidal mind controlled rats. But apparently Toxo’s kitty-loving mischievous ways affect more than just rats. By being exposed to cat poop, Toxo infects us and gets us to do some stupid stuff, like being less patient, having higher percentages of reckless driving, even more likely chances of schizophrenia and what not? But like Radiolab tells us, there is a slight chance that Toxo makes us like cats more than we naturally would should. So the image of the schizophrenic old lady surrounded with dozens of cats has some scientific basis.
From Parsites & Genes to LOLZ and Memes
Prof. Robert Sapolsky tells us that (surprise surprise) the US army is interested in Toxo. Hmmm… I wonder why would they be interested in a parasite that would make a person do stuff they would naturally be afraid to do (check him out in this other long interview about Toxo).
But for now let’s think of the cats (or rather CATZ) that we’re mostly obsessing about online – LOLCATS.
If science has convincing evidence to imply that parasites hold the super-powers of mind control, would it be so outrageous to suspect they are somehow responsible for these unexplainable cat memes?
Cats are the only species to have domesticated themselves. Think of it, unlike any other domestic animal, what good are they to us? (Hey! Snuf, you know I’m looking at you) When I was young I read a science fiction story claiming that cats are actually much more evolved than humans. They have transcended beyond the pursuit of self-fulfillment and have practically domesticated us to serve them. (or was it Toxo?)
Evolution’s rational is pretty straight forward in its the manipulative nature:
Cat belly = good,
more cat bellies = better,
humans feeding cat bellies with delicious food and keeping them fat and happy = awesome!
I am sure whoever is in charge for Toxo evolution could say:
“We have made it pretty far through hacking chain-cycle networks, then nervous system networks, why not continue now to communication networks?”
And what do you think?
It’s a new year, new decade, we’re all excited about new networks, new communication, new ways of making sense and decision making. I just wanted to throw this your way. Is it really free will that is guiding these emergent networks? Or is it Toxo?