|I returned home to eight cats greeting me at the door. And the air conditioner was on. Sammy climbed up me to undo my long hair and let it tumble down my shoulders so she could chew it.
“I love you guys,” I said, holding Sammy. “Now who turned on the air conditioner?”
Nirvana purred louder. I picked up the air conditioner remote control from the floor and closed the drawer where it had been hidden. These cats were getting smarter every day. I was glad I was living with street cats.
“Are you going to contribute to the electricity bill?” I asked Nirvana.
“No,” she answered, purring. Nothing surprised me anymore.
“I work to support us, and it's easier with the air conditioner off when I'm not here,” I said.
“We love you and we miss you when you are gone, and it's easier with the air conditioner on,” said Nirvana's daughter, Jachin. “Will you toss some mice for me?”
Jachin was the only one of Nirvana's three living kittens who still, in adulthood, jumped for toy mice. Boaz and Sammy had given up the activity when they gained their adult paunches.
“Is everything we do predetermined?” I asked. It was nice to have someone to talk to. I gathered mice to toss for Jachin.
“No way,” said Orion, the kittens' father. “We choose, like Nirvana chose to be a mother.”
“Scientists have proven free will is an illusion,” said Boaz, licking her foot. “The brain is subject to physical laws and once formed, makes its predetermined decisions.”
“But accidents happen, and that affects sequences of events,” said Serendipity. Serendipity had been in a motorcycle accident, healed in a vet's and then was released to the streets nearby, so the tribe adopted her. “If not for the accident that broke my leg, we wouldn't have met. I was never in this part of town before.”
“Hey Boaz, are accidents predetermined according to scientists?” asked Sammy. Sammy was sitting in my lap, front paws on my shoulders, chewing my hair. I tossed another mouse for Jachin.
“The legal system would have to be different,” said Xiaolong, named Baby Dragon because as a kitten he hissed so much. “Imagine brain scans and pre-crime law: 'Your honour, the brain scan shows this baby will grow up to commit murder as a crime of passion, so we recommend he be imprisoned now to keep the community safe.' If it's all predetermined then that's what we can do.”
Saith sat down on Sammy. It was his turn to get some of my attention. Saith was happy just sitting together.
“We can't have pre-crime law because there is still choice once the person is informed of the potential tendency,” said Saith.
“Scientists say the brain gives itself the illusion of having made a free choice after the decision is made,” said Boaz.
“Why in evolutionary history would it do that?” asked Saith who had narrowly escaped death by having the courage to ask a strange human for help escaping from a typhoon. “We feel compelled to try, to hope, to do our best.”
“We don't always do our best though, sometimes we're just too lazy,” said Sammy. “We communicate with the presumption that we care. Does caring to understand mean we have free will?”
“Much of the debate is specist,” said Xiaolong, “and they even say we animals don't have free will.”
“So how did we turn on the air conditioner?” asked Sammy.
“Two of us opened the drawer,” said Saith.
“I hopped on the drawer to fish out the remote control,” said Jachin.
“I pressed the big red button,” said Orion.
“We take turns,” said Nirvana.
“That was all predetermined, according to scientists,” said Boaz. “But we're still responsible for our actions because we don't want a case in court setting precedent for 'my brain predetermined I do it'.”
“I'm responsible for your actions,” I said, “because I pay the electricity bill.”
“I feel like I chose,” said Orion. “Why would evolution make that feeling an illusion?”
“Why do humans have an appendix?” asked Boaz.
“Primates ate leaves,” said Sammy, “according to Darwin.”
“Orion raised a good point,” said Saith. “The brain didn't evolve to trick itself constantly, to make life an illusion. We're meant to be living in the real.”
“How do we know what's real?” I asked, scratching Saith under his chin.
“I know it feels really good when the air conditioner is on,” said Xiaolong.
I moved Saith so I could pick up the mice, so I could toss the mice for Jachin before making dinner. “Is what I am doing predetermined? I agree with Orion, it feels like a choice, and I agree with Xiaolong, it feels good.”
Jachin wriggled into her pounce preamble, ready to jump to catch flying mice.
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