Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

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Dave Schuler

I have no doubt that Oscar can smell the effects of the body shutting down.

All of our adult dogs are (were) registered therapy dogs. Qila, our male, was demonstrably able to sense seizures seconds or even minutes before they occurred. I also have reason to believe that he was able to sense impending death. Except his own. He was completely unaware in the changes in his own scent.

All of our dogs are very clearly able to sense where specific aches and pains are and can tell when people are sick or are in pain.

Whether it's by sense of smell or some other cues I have no idea.

michael Reynolds

I know I shouldn't say this in a room full of cat lovers, but . . .

Cats are predators. They can identify the weak member of the herd. The kitty cuddles up to the dying because he's thinking, "I can take this one down! Mmmm, baby, we're eatin' some old man meat tonight!"

Ruth Anne

I like the psychopomp in those circumstances.

Cool story, Amba.

amba (Annie Gottlieb)

And when they can't explain it away, they resort to ad felinem insult humor.

Simon Kenton

When my wife had her first episode of psychosis, the cat would come in and lie down in her arms by the hour. A better comforter than I was.


Of course, I'll never feel quite as warm and fuzzy about a cat jumping into my lap again...


Dave, I have to admit I whimsically thought the same thing... cats are predators, first and foremost!


And yet, Michael, we never read any stories of old ladies found dead and half-eaten by the 2 dozen cats in their house.

Dogs? You bet. A dog's your best friend until you're dead and he's hungry. But cats? Their affection for us is perhaps less demonstrative than dogs' but it runs deeper.


Beautiful post.
I have seen such cat behavior with illness. I especially liked your comment that "it gives me sadistic pleasure to watch hard-line Darwinians tie themselves in knots trying to explain away."

I think this story would make Christopher Hitchen's head explode.


Uh oh, my cat's been really affectionate lately...

michael Reynolds


I think it's obvious that such cases of cat-on-elderly predation are covered up by the CIA. You know, the Cat Information Agency. Unless you think the whole story is just another anti-cat manipulation by Opus Dog.


I don't think those agencies are capable of such a massive cover-up, Michael. But maybe the Tricateral Commission...


The cat story reminds me of something that happened when I was a teenager. I had the flu and was feeling miserable; I was sitting in a beanbag chair watching television and quitely kind of moaning and complaining to myself. Our dog, who was a wonderful German Shepard, came up to me and started to nuzzle me and whimper in sympathy -- he felt sorry for me! Several times after that I tried to fake being sick by moaning in the same way I had been when I was actually sick, to see if I could trick our dog into giving me the same sympathy. I never came close to fooling him.


I don't know what to say. Believable? You bet. With five of them who care for me when I'm sick or just down, I've learned not to question their ability to know us, to understand us, to be well ahead of us in all ways.

And this made me cry in all the right ways. . .

Randy (Internet Ronin)

I imagine that there is a great deal of truth to the story but am sort of sorry to see it published everywhere. I doubt Oscar will be able to continue doing this under the new circumstances. That is too bad because I'm sure that his presence brought comfort to some.


It's good to see stories like this. I hope Oscar is allowed to continue for many years.

(And, erm, although I am a cat lover, I must admit that there has, in fact, been at least one case where a woman died at home and the authorities said her cats "may have had access to the body"--read between the lines.)


I don't understand why a Darwinian would have a problem with this or tie herself in knots trying to explain away. There's nothing about what this cat does that conflicts with Darwinism.


Compassion is a form of mutual support that helps species survive and procreate. Compassion is good in itself, of course, but if you're looking for a perfectly logical Darwinian explanation, that's it. Was that so hard to think of?

amba (Annie Gottlieb)

What's that term for an accidental byproduct of natural selection? I just read it recently and it's driving me nuts that I can't remember it. "Wild card" isn't it . . . I just looked at Stephen Jay Gould's book and he refers to them as "spandrels."

Those are the "something extra" uses animals find to make out of what natural selection has provided them with, things that aren't in themselves directly useful for survival.

Remember that I said "hard-line" Darwinians.

amba (Annie Gottlieb)

Point is, hard-line Darwinians look for utility in whatever characteristics persist. Not utility for a species as a whole; utility for the survival and reproduction of the individual or of his kin who carry many of the same genes.

What utility, in that narrow sense, can you find in compassion for the dying? If that's what it is? It might be a characteristic that would win a human a mate, but a cat??

Emy L. Nosti

Fascinating story. I wonder what they sense, specifically.

Anyway, to play Darwin's advocate, what utility can you find in panic attacks? They are an unintended consequence of fight or flight, or anxiety taken too far/felt in inappropriate situations. Compassion for the dying is just an unintended consequence of compassion in general, an emotional state taken too far (at least in the Darwinian sense).

Regardless, there's no rule against lasting non-beneficial phenotypes, so long as they aren't specifically selected against. On the other hand, one could argue that this aspect of compassion would be selected against as it means less hunting time and potentially more vulnerability. Not that this would necessarily address that argument, but would the cat show compassion for the dying if he felt hungry or threatened?


I don't know of any "hard-line Darwinians" (which is itself a gross misnomer - it's like calling physicists today "Einsteinians" or "Planckians") who would argue that every single persistent characteristic can be explained in terms of immediate (or even longer term), solipsistic pleasure. It's simply not an implication of evolution of species. The very simple rebuttal is that the survival advantages of a species could outweigh whatever weaknesses it has (cats with a sense of compassion, humans with an appendix). But for a more direct argument, think of it this way: A group of monkeys, cavemen, lions, whatever, can only survive in the wild by dividing other life forms into 2 groups: threatening ones and non-threatening ones. It makes perfect sense from a survivalist point of view to show the non-threatening ones compassion - they might be able to support and help you later. So members of the species that can survive only through communal living (unlike sharks, for example) will be selected for an ability to be sensitive to the suffering of other life they find non-threatening. Note that I'm speaking in aggregate here - there will always be a lot of variation in individual behavior (diversity being a crucial catalyst for evolution). But rather than see this as cold and mechanistic, I think you could give it a deep spiritual interpretation - shouldn't compassion be so much more integral to our lives if it arises naturally from it?

amba (Annie Gottlieb)

Have to think about that -- seriously. A deep spiritual interpretation based on ultimate self-interest? In other words, we have evolved a capacity to be kind and empathetic to others because it increases the odds of eliciting the same kind of cohesive behavior that could benefit us. To put it differently, we believe down to our cells that life is good, and we want to join in mutual solidarity to further life on "our team" -- the non-threatening (and non-food) ones.

The question is: can natural selection explain everything? Or only "not rule out"?


Dont be stupid!!! U can scare kids by putting that up!! Models like me dont do that!!!!!!!!!!

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