Black Cat Analogy The Meaning of Looking for A Black Cat in a Dark Room

Black Cat Analogy The Meaning of Looking for A Black Cat in a Dark Room

The Black Cat analogy is a simple but effective tool for remembering the main approaches to spirituality. It’s a quick and interesting read. 

An analogy is a word picture that compares similarities between two or more things. It explains how things are alike by comparing something known with something new.

The analogy with an elusive dark-colored cat is about searching for something in the dark. The darkness represents the unknown arena; our cat represents esoteric or hidden knowledge.

The Black Cat Analogy

We don’t know everything there is to know about the world, the universe, or ourselves. Many people are eager to explore. This desire takes them in two directions, either inward or outward. The journey of the outer world takes into the vastness of the universe, and the inward journey takes into the subconscious and, eventually, our soul. This inner world is as vast as the outer universe, and that’s what makes this quest so interesting.

The cat, in this analogy, represents the vantage points from which one can approach spirituality. Looking for our spiritual truth is part of the “great spiritual experiment.” There are many opinions about this quest. Looking for a black cat in a dark room takes us inside the mindset of those who use these approaches. It raises several questions. Does the cat exist, and if it does, can we find it? If or when we find it, then what do we do with 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 depends on what you believe. The inner quest is even more complicated because it involves reality, not just what you want it to be, but what it really is.

Looking for a cat in a dark room shows us what this quest would be like from five different perspectives. Different paths of seeking spiritual truth. What are these five paths?

1) Philosophy
2) Metaphysics
3) Religion
4) Science
5) Spiritual Exploration

Are we looking for a Black Cat that isn’t there?

Some people use more than one of these tools in their spiritual quest, but some prefer only one approach. You’ll find the people who only choose one are those who pick a religion.

The Meaning of Philosophy

Philosophy develops theories about all kinds of stuff. Some theories have value and lead to genuine answers, and some are just not worth reading. Its goal is to theorize, make you think, and motivate people to find the proper solutions. Sometimes it helps us understand, and sometimes it just drives us crazy. (1)

The philosophical approach is like looking for a black cat in a dark room where we are not even sure what room you are talking about. Are we sure we are in the right house? How many houses are there, and can we be sure without searching every place we know that has rooms?

How do we find the right place to look? If we find the right building, how can we find the cat if the room is too dark to see? Is there a better way to find it other than searching? Could we simply open the doors and hope it comes out? Could we scare it out into the open, or could we draw it out with something it likes? Will we need mice or catnip? Philosophy gets complicated fast.

“Philosophy is the true mother of science.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero

Is it possible that this elusive cat of spiritual truth is not in the room at all? Does it simply not exist? Perhaps we are looking for the wrong type of cat, and should we be looking for a white or calico cat? All we can do is ask questions. Are we looking for a black cat that isn’t there?

The Meaning of Metaphysics

Metaphysics is like philosophy, only harder. It deals with abstract, occult, or hidden things, so this quest for a dark-colored cat in a pitch-black room is a perfect assignment. On the way, we will develop theories about the underlying principles of finding cats, and we might even get sidetracked on the topic of 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 searching the universe for a house with a dark room that smells like a cat. Ick. Nothing will deter you from finding a black cat in a dark room. There has to be one somewhere. You look everywhere in the universe for the right dark room.

Eventually, you find something else moving in the darkness, but what is it? It doesn’t feel like a cat or act like a cat. You don’t know what it is. What are the possibilities? Let’s pretend it’s the cat we’ve always been looking for and call the search a success! Ouch, it bit me.

The Meaning of Religion

Religion is the collective belief of myths and legends about imaginary friends and enemies wrapped up in unbelievable stories and superstition. It has some crazy stuff. In the story, a guy gets swallowed and then regurgitated by a whale, but he manages to survive and becomes a celebrity. There’s more.

There is one story of animals from all over the globe traveling to the middle east to get on a boat. It’s got every kind of supernatural thing, from talking snakes to angels, demons, and zombies. Religious theology is the way a caveman might explain the unknown. (3)

Religion is pretending you are looking for a black cat in a dark room. You don’t want to look lazy, 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 and help you pay the bills. So you make up a story about how you magically found the kitty, but then you let him go. They will have to have faith you found the cat. Now, you can create a religion and sell a book on how you found the cat. Sure, somebody will buy it. Organized religion is a counterfeit of an authentic spiritual quest. It provides easy answers while making you a paying customer. Are you a customer?

“Religion makes intelligent people say and do wacky things, believe and affirm crazy things.” — Christopher Hitchens

There is a sense of doubt and indecision among people. They are hesitant to believe 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. If you don’t buy your story, you tell people 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!

The Meaning of Science

Science is a systematic approach to finding facts. (4)  Keeping your bias and prejudice in check is challenging for all researchers.

“Science is magic that works.” — Kurt Vonnegut

The black cat analogy in the scientific approach is a systematic process. The scientific method would set up a grid and then search each sector with a flashlight. This approach would go from room to room, mapping out every clue to the cat’s whereabouts. They would document every clue, even hairballs and potential cat scratches.

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. It would be a serious undertaking, not something done on the spur of the moment.

The Meaning of Spiritual Exploration

As you can see from the above analogy, spiritual exploration has much in common with many of the 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)

“Gardening — be it of the soil or soul — can lead us on a quest 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 one of the primary goals of spiritual exploration, which is why we recommend this approach of 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, modern scientific methods can measure and verify these ancient tools.

Since these tools are processes, you don’t need to join a religion to use them. They mostly come from Eastern traditions, which focus 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:

The Meaning of Looking for a Black Cat in a Dark Room

Looking for A Black Cat in a Dark Room

Examining the various approaches to spirituality makes us examine our own path. It helps us see how the wrong approach to the inner quest may not yield results. It is perfectly okay to change your path.

Many people live under the influence of organized religion. Some come from families where they indoctrinate children at an early age. Others join because they are looking for answers to life’s dilemmas. The people in crisis put themselves at risk and willingly expose themselves to indoctrination. However, more and more people are not satisfied with their proclamation that they have found the cat.

The meaning of the black cat analogy is a way to help us remember the five approaches to spirituality and the inner spiritual quest.


(1) New Perspectives on Agency in Early Modern Philosophy:
(2) Cognitive Metaphysics:
(3) Moralizing gods, impartiality, and religious parochialism across 15 societies: National Library of Medicine
(4) Science of science: National Library of Medicine 
(5) The Role of Spirituality and Religiosity in Subjective Well-Being of Individuals With Different Religious Status: