07 July 2010

Civilisation began with a Cat

[Bastet statue, bronze. Photo by John Bodworth from http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/british_museum_42.html via Wikimedia]

I guess you've all heard that Toxoplasma is the powerful microbe that alters infected rats' behaviour so that they're attracted to cat pee, thereby becoming easy prey for the cats and -- here's where Toxoplasma is sneaky -- being transferred cross species because the microbe needs to be in a cat to sexually reproduce itself (and although I'm using the language, I don't think the microbes are sentient and planning to take over the world).

But what if cats carry other microbes that alter human behaviour? What if the microbe requires the human gut to sexually reproduce? What if it needs to be part of a large human carrier pool to survive? See where I'm going?

What if a microbe carried by cats altered human behaviour (toxins in brain) to encourage sociability? So instead of small groups isolated and rarely meeting, humans wanted to be together (carrying the happy microbes). Hence the rise of civilisations. Ta da, Ancient Egypt where they worshiped the (microbe carrying) cat and built a civilisation.

What if all our great cities are simply the result of a microbe twisting humans to be hugely social thereby supporting the microbe's chances of sexual reproduction and survival? No cats=No city.

But the serious thought under all this meandering is whether traits that we consider human are sparked by microbes--and if they are--what this means for how we define out humanity (in a sense we'd each be a city of microbes) and perceive our self-determination.

Stay tuned. Next week I re-imagine Britain's response to the financial crisis, and it involves slavery.


  1. I thought I was being silly, but according to MindHacks some people are making the leap to tie Toxoplasma effects to the World Soccer.

  2. Now cats beginning civilisation (according to Theodora, my Feline slave owner, with me as slave) is a perfectly sensible hypothesis. But linking the same parasite to soccer...!
    (who is soccer crazy for the duration of the World Cup here in South Africa)

  3. Have you seen the octopus with its amazing ability to predict the winner? I don't think I'll ever be able to eat octopus again. It's so cute and clever (and yeah, sanity is saying the octopus isn't actually a soccer expert, but hey, fun!).

    I think purring is what makes us cats' willing slaves. Nothing beats a contented cat on your lap after a tough day.


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