Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Philosophical Thoughts While Shoveling Manure – Erich

One of the duties that comes as a piece of caring for horses on a farm is the shoveling and hauling of their waste. And poop cleanup is something new to me, not an obligation I have traditionally held in my previous career steps. But I find it an excellent time for thinking about the grander questions of the big, broad universe.

First, in the vein of you can take the boy out of the math but you can't take the math out of the boy, here is my functional analysis on the mathematics of manure.

There is a mathematical construct called a function. But to give an analogue, think of a function as a machine that takes some input and gives some output. The machine can take many different inputs, but what is important is that if you give the machine the same input more than once, you get the same output each time. Anytime you feed that same input in, you get the same output out. You can try a different input and maybe you will get the same output or maybe you will get a different output. Either is fine. But starting with the same input, you have the same output. Okay, if I haven't yet explained that to death, let me know. But I'm pretty sure I've exhausted that explanation.

Well, I was thinking of a horse as a function which takes inputs (I have to supply these) and gives outputs (the aforementioned shoveling.) So we have a function, h(x) and we know that h(hay) = poop.

But we are getting into the circle of life here. (Cue the majestic Disney music.) See, I haul the poop into a big pile cleverly referred to as the poo pile. But that poo will be allowed to compost or ferment until it becomes fertilizer. So we have a function f(x) choosing f for ferment. (Note, that in mathematics, we have favorites ranges of the alphabet for various items, and for functions, our favorite letters are f, g, and h.) And we know that f(poop) = fertilizer.

Finally, what is the fertilizer going to be used for? You guessed it! To grow more hay! So we have a growth function, g(x) and we know that g(fertilizer) = hay.

Thus, using the composition of functions, we can show that h(g(f(poop))) = poop! Poop begets poop. (In statistics, it is sometimes said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Similar, but not the same.)

What does this tell us about the world? I guess that even what we think of as waste can be a part of making something fresh and new. But ultimately, it all goes back to being waste. It's sort of like nihilism with brief optimistic spikes along the way.

Turning away from math, I know, you're disappointed, let move to philosophy. Question, who is the dominant species: humans or horses? If you've read Gulliver's Travels, you will see some of Swift's thoughts on that matter. But what about my thoughts? I'm not as famous as Swift, but he's long dead, so I get to have my say now.

On the one hand, humans put up the fences and gates. We choose when to open the gates and when to close the gates. We put harnesses on the horses and then move them where we want them. We choose the times of feeding. We seem to make a lot of their decisions for them. Sounds like we are the alpha species, right?

But then, while I'm shoveling poop and the horses are watching me, I can't help but wonder if they are thinking “Hey, look who's cleaning up my feces! I guess we know who's the low man around here, don't we?”

So maybe it's a draw.

Still, the horses have a pretty routine existence. Same basic meals all the time. Same times in the pasture, same times in the paddock. Yeah, the weather changes, but that's about all that varies much for them. And they are perfectly happy with it.

Maybe we humans could be like that. Just okay with sameness. Okay with predictability. Less concerned about the big wide world and more focused on our immediate surroundings. Or maybe, since we think like humans and not like horses, that would bore us right out of our sanity.

So, those are my deep thoughts that I came up with while hauling manure. And maybe they aren't so deep, or so great, or even so insightful. But in my defense, I did come up with them while shoveling poop. And as I have shown mathematically, poop begets poop.

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