Fizyx for Felines: A Physics Textbook for the Curious Cat


Posted in Uncategorized by skonabrittain on 22 January, 2010

The preface is my favorite part of the book. Even people who hate physics and fear math like it. And cats adore it because it affirms their superiority. A delightfully relevant “Hobbes and Calvin” cartoon sets the tone.    



Mathematics is the Queen of the Sciences.

Carl Friedrich Gauss

There’s no question that mathematics, physics, and cats are all royalty. But, unlike the brilliant mathematical formulae for which he is so famous0.5, Gauss didn’t get this quite right. Actually, mathematics is the king of the sciences, and physics the queen. Thus the study of mathematics is more appropriate for the king of the animal kingdom – see the MAA’s Lion Hunting and Other Mathematical Pursuits1, not to mention the Lions family of famous French mathematicians2.

Cats are natural scientists. They possess an overabundance of the same sense of curiosity that has led to the greatest scientific discoveries throughout the ages. Physics being the queen of the sciences, and cats being the queen of the animal kingdom, it is not at all surprising that cats are particularly inclined to study this field of science.

Figure P-1.
In this "Hobbes and Calvin" cartoon, Hobbes lists physics first
and foremost among all the academic subjects he applies in his life.

Aspiring felines have attempted to use some of the more readily available standard Physics texts. Especially the easier "Physics for Biologists" ones – not out of any inherent intellectual laziness, but rather because cats are nine times more likely than humans to be interested in the Life Sciences; unfortunately, albeit quite understandably, they have been turned off by the biologist’s penchant for feline experimentation and dissection. And while the "Physics for Poets" texts have undoubtedly appealed to the poetic feline nature, cats, being very precise creatures, have found them disturbingly lacking in mathematical precision. On the other hand, being highly intuitive, cats do not need the typical physics majors’ long expository textbooks, overstuffed with explanations, applications, examples, and exercises.

Clearly, what has been missing is a mathematically precise survey of classical and modern physics, i.e. one that is short but sweet, like a kitten. This text attempts to fill that gap. Although we hope most of you will choose to read it all in your current lifetime, it is organized into nine chapters to facilitate your dividing it up in case you prefer to read one chapter per life. In order to keep the book small enough to be easily carried about by its spine in your jaw, sometimes we merely state principles and assume that you are capable of deriving all logical consequences from them without having the steps spelled out for you. Here we are relying on the infinite wisdom of the Felis genus.


The main prerequisite for this text is having inquisitive whiskers, a logical tail, and a feline personality, or loving someone who does. Readers who merely love someone who loves someone who does are also welcome, but that’s as far as it goes.

Mathematically, a rudimentary understanding of calculus is occasionally helpful, but basic algebra is sufficient for most of the text. Sections that require knowledge of calculus are marked with the calico cat icon shown in Figure P-2(a); they may be skipped without sacrificing understanding of the remaining material. Readers whose calculus skills are lacking may wish to consult Calculus for Cats3 by the same author. If you already possess a thorough theoretical understanding of limits, derivatives and integrals, then you are indeed fortunate, for you are about to be rewarded with practical applications of these abstractions, which will enable you to pursue mice more efficiently, escape dogs more effectively, and go through life always landing on your feet.



(a) Calcy4 the Calico stretching indicates sections that would be too much of a stretch for readers who are not familiar with Calculus.

(b) Exeter relentlessly pursuing his tail marks exercises for the reader.

(c) Exeter finally catching his tail marks answers to exercises.

(d) Wise eyes indicate places where non-obvious intermediate steps have been omitted

(e) The Cheshire cat stretching indicates sections that could be too much of a stretch for anyone.

Figure P-2. The meanings of the icons used in this text


Most physics textbooks contain literally thousands of exercises for the reader. However, we understand that cats simply do not have the time for so much work. Humans typically need only eight hours of sleep a day, and college students don’t need any, whereas the minimum daily requirement of sleep for felines is 13-16 hours5. Furthermore, humans don’t have tails, which obviously need to be endlessly chased. Thus we have not followed each chapter with a plethora of time-consuming exercises. However, when we feel that an exercise is particularly relevant or beneficial, we have included it directly in the text. Such exercises are marked with the illustrative exercising cat icon shown in Figure P-2(b). Sometimes we also provide an answer following the question in the exercise. To set off the answer and keep you from inadvertently peeking at it, it will be preceded by the corresponding conclusive icon shown in Figure P-2(c).

Almost all of the examples have been chosen with the feline reader exclusively in mind. Most apply directly to your life in an obvious way: chasing mice; being chased by dogs; playing with balls and strings; analyzing canned catfood; using pet flap doors; etc. The other application area we have focused on is planetary relationships, not just because they have such a large effect on everyone’s lives, in terms of light and darkness and seasons, but also because we know that cats have a special affinity for both the sun and the moon. (Even the ancient Egyptians recognized this, almost 5000 years ago, with their cat-headed goddesses: Bast, the goddess of sunrise and the moon and the protector of cats; and Sekhmet, the goddess of the noontime sun and sunset. See Figure P-3.)

Figure P-3. Bast and Sekhmet

Occasionally, an example that appeals more to humans is necessarily included, such as the ice skater in Chapter 1. This situation is due to the creative limits of the non-feline author (who, for example, knows of no recreational feline activity involving ejecting objects on virtually frictionless surfaces). We hope it can be remedied with ideas6 sent in by interested readers in time for the second edition of this text, which should benefit your great-great-grandkitten’s generation7.

To accommodate the occasional non-feline reader, we have supplied another icon, shown in Figure P-2(d), marking the places where we omit steps required by beings of finite wisdom. Its presence is intended to allay discouragement when a conclusion is not humanly obvious.

The last icon we employ, the stretching Cheshire Cat shown in Figure P-2(e), marks places that require a different kind of stretch than the ability to do higher mathematics – that of the imagination.

A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there.

Charles Darwin

A physicist is a mathematician
with a feeling of reality.

Norman Packard


Aside to Human Readers

Some people have questioned whether this text is really written for cats, pointing out that the cats they know neither read books nor do mathematics. Rather than give this question the lack of attention it merits, we will quote renowned zoologist Desmond Morris: “It may be a cat physically, but mentally it is both feline and human”.8 This issue was addressed more directly in a historical tale related by MIT physicist Daniel Kleppner in the esteemed professional journal Physics Today: "You do not believe that cats can do physics? But why not? Cats are not dogs”.9 And finally we will add a personal warning: Anyone who doubts the mental capacity of his or her cat is in for trouble!


0.5 – Stephen Hawking, "the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein", called Gauss "unquestionably the greatest mathematician of all time" on page 563 of God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History, © 2005 Running Press, Philadelphia. <return-to-text>

1 – This book by Ralph P. Boas, Jr., published by the Mathematical Association of America in 1996, was based on the seminal paper “A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Big Game Hunting” by H. W. O. Pétard in the American Mathematics Monthly, 1938, 45:446-447. <return-to-text>

2 – Pierre-Louis Lions, who won the most prestigious prize in mathematics, a Fields Medal, in 1994, and his father, after whom the Jacques-Louis Lions Prize for Applied Mathematics was named in 2003<return-to-text>

3 – If you are having trouble obtaining this text, it may be because it is currently out of print, having never gone into print since its conception in 1979. Please do not confuse it with the more recent book of the same title by Amdahl and Loats, which would have been more aptly titled How Cats Paint. <return-to-text>

4 – "Calcy" is pronounced "Kal-kee". <return-to-text>

5 – <return-to-text>

6 – A reviewer’s suggestion of projectile vomiting of hairballs while skidding across freshly waxed hardwood floors has already been rejected by the author on aesthetic grounds. <return-to-text>

7 – This conjecture is based on the fact that the average time interval between editions of popular textbooks is 3.5 years these days.<return-to-text>

8 – The context out of which this quote is taken is page 4 of the book Catwatching, © 1986 Crown Publishers, Inc.. The comma is ours. <return-to-text>

9 – "Memoirs of Schrödinger’s Cat.".Vol.49, No.11:pg.11. ©1996 American Institute of Physics.<return-to-text>


3 Responses

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  1. Elizabeth said, on 26 January, 2010 at 12:29

    My goodness! I’ve been a fan of Physics for Cats since… when? All those many years ago in that adult ed class. One of my favorite projects, in fact. That was Santa Barbara and now I’m in New Mexico. I have the same cat. Or rather, she has me. I think of her as more a liberal arts kind of gal, but she was just now reading Chapter One over my shoulder and she said, “Mew,” which I think meant: “How do you know I didn’t want to go to MIT instead of lounging around in that garden on the Mesa?” Onward!

  2. Janet D. said, on 26 January, 2010 at 20:06

    I finally found some free time to read your preface, and I’ve been laughing at (or should I say ‘with’) it! Love it so far! I’d like to read the rest…do you incorporate the cat into the physics examples or something like that? “If we drop two cats off the roof of a single-story building and one weighs 10 pounds and the other 7, which cat will reach the ground and get to her litter box first?”

    • skonabrittain said, on 26 January, 2010 at 20:34

      Thanks for your feedback. Of course cats will star in the examples, but dropping them off the roof would be more likely to appear in a physics for dogs book! Interestingly, the experiment you mention is a cross between Galileo’s and Descartes’, and the latter is mentioned near the beginning of Chapter 2, so stay tuned!

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