David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Look At That Cow . . . In The Field

June 20, 2017

I've known some mathematicians with a disturbing fascination for cows (you know who you are, Henry). Apparently some of them have gone so far as to stalk them . . . via computer simulation.  (A similar story on this research can be found at Phys.Org.)

Research just published in the wonderfully named journal, Chaos (pronounced, I hope, "Cowus" for this edition), confirms that mathematicians have used computer modeling to determine the group dynamics of cow herds (Colin's family not included).  It is actually an emerging field called "Complex Systems Science" and it turns a bunch of a cows into a predictable phalanx of bovine energy.

You have to figure that this is a mathematician's dream, to be able to describe cow behavior in such anthropomorphizing ways:

  • "There's sort of a tension between the cow's own needs and their group needs."
  • Cows may skip between groups in the herd to "confront the tension between their desire to eat at a certain place and their need to stay safe within the crowd."
  • "One would have thought there would be two static groups of cows--the fast eaters and the slow eaters--and that the cows in each group carried out their activities in a synchronized fashion."
  • "To put it in context, a cow might find itself in one group, and after some time the group is too fast. Then, it moves to the slower group, which is too slow. . ."

Here is what is distressing to me: why is it we now know so much more about freaking cow herd dynamics than we do about student class dynamics?  Apparently, a cow is constantly stressing about the tension of staying with the pack versus dropping out and putting herself at risk of a predator.  Meanwhile, a similar dough-eyed, cud-chewing mammal of apparently an advanced species sits blankly through many of our classes, unconcerned with keeping up with the fast kids (oops, wrong species, "fast calves") and oblivious to the benefits of staying with the slower pokes.

Maybe we need to zoomorphize our student behavior more.  Get them in the field, show them where to eat, drive them to a new field when the green runs out, let the more active ones thrive, worry less about the ones who don't keep up.

Oh, wait, I think that is what we are already doing.  What do I know about animal or human behavior?  Of course, observation of human beings these days seems to suggest that we are becoming less and less of a "complex system" worth modeling.

Luckily, I live in farm country.  I think I will take a little drive and see if I can catch a cow loafing.  I fully expect to see you there, Henry.

*Title is ubiquitous Moz, not necessarily Bos, reference.