Nora the Cat Genius, playing the piano

Plus some thoughts about the artists’ brains…

You need to see this, if you don’t know about Nora already.

Nora is a genius cat, capable of playing the piano, sorta.

She got adopted by a music family. She had the opportunity to observe and eventually imitate the students that were getting piano lessons at her home.


A piano isn’t designed for a cat, her paws are too big to begin with. But it’s remarkable how she’s trying, producing somewhat convincing sequences of notes.

Of course she can get easily distracted, but you must admit her performances are quite extraordinary.  Other cats may walk on keys, even step on a key producing a sound or two and sniffing at the music sheets, but Nora is clearly committed to playing the piano.


Her owners even created a website dedicated to this unique feline celebrity.


Cat genius vs. human genius?



If being a genius just means to be very intelligent, how far above the average are, say, the top 1%?

Since intelligence is our most important evolutionary advantage, you may expect human geniuses to excel in maximizing the special characteristics of their brain; in other species you won’t probably get significant legroom for improvement to a limited hardware/software.

When even Nora loses focus and proceeds to just sniff around, you feel there’s a lost opportunity there. But a cat is quite good at a lot of things: a jack-of-all-trades, if you will; pushing intelligence to the limits is not in their nature.

On the other hand, a cat genius could count on extra stimuli coming from a species that is far above her level, a luxury humans don’t have. While most cats won’t probably get much learning opportunities from humans, especially at a crucial developing stage, thus keeping their average low.
I feel there’s a bigger gap between her and other house felines than you may find between Einstein and your average DMV clerk.

I don’t know. Maybe she’s one of the biggest geniuses in history, maybe not.
But enough about quantity. What’s really instructive, to me, is the quality of her being special.


When they picked up her at the cat shelter, she was playing alone: it seems she’s not enjoying the company of other cats. In other words, she’s an introvert. Let that sink in.

Take this mildly humorous video: you can clearly notice her aggressive behavior against familiar cats. Nothing serious: at times she’s just a bit catty (well…), territorial, not very sociable. She’s become kind of a spoiled Diva, her owners joke.

She’s clearly Alpha: she dominates the other cats.

What strikes me most is that they need to carefully control her diet, to avoid her getting overweight, because she is quite voracious.


Artists and intellectuals are a special ingredient in the genome sauce; a small amount, to be used with discretion


See where I’m getting at? This cat is an artist. She’s got some very recognizable, typical flaws that you are used to find in human artists. Egocentric, assertive, with a strong character; introverted, prone to overeating. I take her problem with food as a strong indicator that, were she to get the same kind of opportunities that humans have, she would easily indulge in lots of vices.

Her brain is wired differently!


Don’t judge artists too harshly. The same peculiar predisposition that gives them more freedom to think outside of the box and explore new realms, is also possibly the cause of their lack of restraint and tendency to defy morality. Often hurting themselves.

Conversely, if you understand that your brain has some unique degrees of freedom, beyond trying to do something special for humanity, you should responsibly evaluate the associated risks and be more cautious, possibly asking others to help you control your urges.

And above all, remember that your “liberating” rants against social norms, while at times useful, don’t necessarily reflect a superior understanding of reality; they may just mean your dopamine and/or endorphins are acting weird.




I wanted to write about this for years, so don’t be surprised if the original video is from 2007. But Nora is still quite active: here’s a very recent video, where the owners managed to put together a moody, sad performance in memory of the loss of another of their cats.


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