Not that we have a lot of choice in the matter. The way I understand it, it's all down to the fish: if they just stayed still, then we wouldn't be interested in them. But they don't, so we are. They move from side to side across our field of vision. Side to side - that's the important thing. The way we're wired, things that move in that fascinatingly fishy, mousey, dickybird-in-the-shrubbery sort of way just have to be watched.
It's to do with the retina, or something. Don't ask me how it works - I'm just a cat, for heaven's sake. There's no point asking my human, either. He's obliging enough, as humans go. But he's just a photographer - can't tell a reflex from a Pentax. Mind you, if there's one thing he does know about, it's exploiting the weaknesses of others to make a few bob. One minute it's "watch the birdy" and "say meeeeow", and the next minute, your picture is all over some smarty-pants magazine.
"Come on then," he says this morning. And he puts this bowl on the table, plonks me down in front of it, arranges the curtain in a way that you people seem to find interestig, then tells me to watch the little fishes. He knows very well that I don't have a lot of choice. Which is a tiny bit manipulative, if you ask me. And what's the upshot? That about 800 duff shots later you can now have a good laugh at my expense.
You know what I think? I think you ought to take a good look at yourself before you poke fun at others.
Take that laughing business as a case in point. Every time you do it, you put 15 facial muscles through a set routine, your breathing goes all jerky and you start making ridiculous little barking noises. At least staring at fish keeps me more or less fed. But laughing? Where's the survival value in that? How do you justify contracting 15 muscles just because something strikes youas funny?
And please don't assume that, just because I don't go around laughing, I haven't got a sense of humour. For all you know, I might see the funny side of lots of things. You want an example? Very well. Try to imagine what you look like viewed through this fish bowl. You think I look funny? From where I crouch, you don't look too clever yourself.
Web links Information on the working of the retina and the mechanics of laughter from Encyclopaedia Britannica (articles on "Sensory Reception", and "Humour and Wit"), available on CD-Rom or atwww.britannica.com For humour about the behaviour of cats and other pets: http:geog.utoronto.careynolds pethumorcatrules.htmlTeacher's guide to distorted perspective with materials: www.pbs.orgwgbhnova teachersguidespecialfx2