The black cat analogy is a simple but effective analogy to help you understand and remember the various approaches to the subject of spirituality. It’s a quick read.
An analogy is a word picture that compares similarities between two or more things. It attempts to explain concepts by comparing something known with something new.
The analogy with an elusive dark colored cat is all about searching for something in the dark. The darkness represents the arena of the unknown and the cat is esoteric or hidden knowledge.
The Black Cat Analogy
We don’t know everything there is to know about the world, the universe, and ourselves. Many people find themselves eager to explore. This desire takes in two directions, outward into the world and inward. The journey of the outer world takes into the vastness of the universe. The inward journey takes into the mind, the subconscious, and eventually, our soul, and this inner world is as vast as the universe.
The cat in this analogy represents some aspect of the truth. Looking for our spiritual truth is part of the “great spiritual experiment.” There are many opinions about this quest. The spiritual quest is where we get the analogy of looking for a black cat in a dark room. Does the cat exist at all? Or, if it exists, can we find it?
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose your holy curiosity.” — Albert Einstein
The word “spirituality” has many meanings. It all depends on your worldview. The analogy of looking for a cat in a dark room explains the different ways of seeking spiritual truth. There are five main paths one can take. Here is a simple but effective analogy that will help you understand each of these five approaches to spirituality.
What are these five paths?
5) Spiritual Exploration
Are we looking for a Black Cat that isn’t there?
One other thing, some people use more than one of these tools in their spiritual quest. But, some people prefer only one approach. You’ll find the people who only choose one are those who pick a religion.
Philosophy develops ideas and theories about knowledge, reality, and existence. It tries to find meaning and patterns that help us understand things. (1)
The philosophical approach is like looking for a black cat in a dark room that may or may not be there. How can we be sure unless we search for it? How can we find it if the room is too dark to see, and how will we know that we’ve found it? Is there a better way to find it other than searching? Could we scare it out into the open, or could we draw it out with something it likes?
“Philosophy is the true mother of science.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
Is it possible that the elusive cat of spiritual truth is not in the room? Does it simply not exist? Perhaps we are looking for the wrong type of cat? Should we be looking for a white cat or a calico cat? All we can do is ask questions.
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the abstract, occult, or hidden meaning. It looks for and develops the underlying principles of things and looks for causation. It also delves into the abstract realm of Being, knowing our relation to time and space. (2)
“Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct.” — F. H. Bradley
The metaphysical approach is like looking for a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there. You look everywhere in the room, in each corner, and in every direction. You conclude there is no cat in the room. Yet, you keep searching in the darkness.
Eventually, hey, you find something else. But what is it? It doesn’t feel like a cat and doesn’t act like a cat. You don’t know what it is. What are the possibilities? Well then, let’s pretend it’s the cat we’ve always been looking for in the first place. Now, we can call the search a total success!
Religion is the collective belief in imaginary supernatural beings, God, or gods as the meaning of explaining the unknown. (3)
Religion is like looking for a black cat in a dark room. You can’t find the cat, but you don’t want to look stupid or incompetent, so you shout, I found it! Other people are interested in your discovery because they can’t find the cat either.
When other people come to hear about your discovery, you make something up to keep them around. You have a following now and you want to capitalize and monetize these people. So you make up a story about how you found the kitty, but you let him go. Now you can create a religion and sell a book on how you found the cat. Sure, somebody will buy it.
We see organized religion as a counterfeit to the authentic spiritual quest. It provides easy answers while making you a paying customer.
“Religion makes intelligent people say and do wacky things, believe and affirm crazy things.” — Christopher Hitchens
But people are hesitant to buy your story. So, you tell them it’s too dangerous for them to look for the cat on their own. You exploit their fear of the dark. You tell people if they don’t buy your story, they will spend eternity in a place of agony and torture. It’s how religion exploits our existential fear of death and the unknown. And it works very well!
Science is a systematic and unbiased approach to the investigation reality. (4) Structuring the process is easy, keeping your bias and prejudice in check is the challenge for all researchers.
“Science is magic that works.” — Kurt Vonnegut
The black cat analogy in the scientific approach is a methodical and organized search. The scientist would find a way to set up a grid and then search each sector of the grid with a flashlight. This approach would go from room to room, mapping out every clue to the cat’s whereabouts. Any hairballs or potential cat scratches will be documented.
It’s an approach you can combine with others, like the tools for spiritual exploration and the philosophical path. However, it doesn’t mesh well with religion. That’s because science exposes the inconsistencies and flaws of mythology and superstition. It can help those who prefer metaphysics to bridge reality and fiction.
Looking for a black cat would involve a team and the funding. It would be a serious undertaking, not something done on the spur of the moment.
As you can see from the above analogy, spiritual exploration has a lot in common, with several other vantage points. It looks at the philosophical implications, the metaphysical possibilities, and the scientific approach. It’s all about the individual’s perception through various consciousness development tools. (5)
“Beyond its practical aspects, gardening – be it of the soil or soul — can lead us on a philosophical and spiritual exploration that is nothing less than a journey into the depths of our own sacredness and the sacredness of all beings. After all, there must be something more mystical beyond the garden gate, something that satisfies the soul’s attraction to beauty, peace, solace, and celebration.” — Christopher McDowell
Consciousness Development Tools
Everyone has a unique way of awakening. We have unique gifts, and we are on different timetables. Awakening is a process that can either be slow or fast. Several factors affect our ability to access spiritual gifts that are sleeping in our DNA. Unlocking these gifts is the goal of spiritual exploration. We recommend this approach to the black cat analogy.
Exploring these gifts isn’t new. Many ancient societies built their cultures around this worthwhile adventure. They investigated and documented various ways of exploring consciousness. These traditions act as storehouses to preserve and pass this knowledge on to future generations. Today, these ancient tools can be measured and verified using modern scientific methods.
Since these tools are processes, you don’t need to join a religion to use them. Mostly, these tools come from Eastern traditions. Their focus is on exploring consciousness and developing human potential.
You will find this eclectic in other systems. For example, Gurdjieff’s approach adopted what has already proven effective. After all, human physiology hasn’t changed in thousands of years. We divide these ancient methods into four groups:
Looking for a Black Cat in a Dark Room
We know many people live under the influence of organized religion. They come from families where they indoctrinate children at an early age. Others join because they are looking for answers to life’s dilemmas. People in crisis are vulnerable, and they willingly subject themselves to indoctrination to find answers and solutions. However, more and more people are not satisfied with their proclamation that they have found the cat.
The black cat analogy is one way to explain these five approaches to the inner spiritual quest.
(1) New Perspectives on Agency in Early Modern Philosophy: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09672559.2019.1686809
(2) Cognitive Metaphysics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01700/full
(3) Moralizing gods, impartiality, and religious parochialism across 15 societies: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6458319/
(4) Science of science: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5949209/
(5) The Role of Spirituality and Religiosity in Subjective Well-Being of Individuals With Different Religious Status: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01525/full