Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dogged Geniuses

Hang onto your doggie bags, folks.  It turns out DOGS CAN DO CALCULUS.
          Yes, I know my own Chihuahua, Mickey, has been concealing this and many other skills for years,
but studies have been done, and we humans who always avoided math are now UNdone.
          It’s very humbling to be outsmarted by a dog, but here’s the scoop (well, not the usual scoop you think of with dogs, but a scoop nonetheless):
          A few years ago, mathematician Tim Pennings of Hope College in Holland, Michigan, threw a tennis ball into a lake and watched as his Welsh corgi, Elvis, fetched it.  
Then he marked the path Elvis took in order to get there fastest.  Pennings threw it not only way to the side, but way ahead.  This means the dog has multiple choices:
1-     The dog wants to use the quickest path to the ball, and knows that running on dry land is faster than swimming in water.  So he is not likely to run straight ahead on land, then make a 90-degree turn, and run toward the water, in an L-shaped course.
2-   He is even less likely to hurry into the water and then swim the longest part of the journey.
3-   If he is as dumb as most humans, he will take a straight diagonal course to the stick.
4-   But no.  He is smarter, and takes a not-quite-diagonal course, then a small turn, and then finally enters the water.  This, it turns out, is actually the fastest route, and requires calculus.

          And this saddens me.  I am not happy that all of dogdom has outwitted me.  I am sad that I cannot understand that diagram, nor the multiple equations you will see if you Google this.  I am also sad that Mickey will not run  to fetch the ball unless it is wrapped in bacon and is thrown towards her, not away from her.
          Who knows—maybe she’s smarter than all of us.
You'll feel much better if you simply order one of my books here, and curl up in a blanket to read it.  Trust me.

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