This wonderful article in Wired seeks to explain how, to their cats, any human being is “a huge, unpredictable ape”. They are “our captives, domesticated aliens with no way of explaining their customs, or of interpreting ours” and we don’t know how to listen to them:
You hear the unmistakable sound of claws on couch. You snap, shout, squirt water, and maybe even throw a pillow. It’s all futile, because eventually he’s at it again. Your cat isn’t ignoring you, Buffington says. He just doesn’t know how to connect your negative reinforcement with his behavior. This is because cats evolved as solitary hunters with little need for reading social cues, especially those for behavior modification.
“How the hell is your cat supposed to know that you’re yelling at him because you want him to stop scratching the couch?” Buffington says. Without the cognitive ability to connect your outburst to their scratching, cats see only chaotic aggression. “To the cat, you’re this crazy primate who is attacking him for no reason,” he says.
Instead of discouraging the act, you become an object of fear. What’s more, your cat becomes frustrated, and eventually stressed, because you constantly interrupt natural feline activities like raking his claws or jumping on something high. “Cats get sick when they want to express their natural behaviors and they can’t,” he said, and will continue to do the thing when you aren’t around.