BAN #229: Goat FOMO

22 June 2020   Issue #229

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

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Random Thoughts

Stuff I think about in the shower, typically

[Jack Burton munching placidly on some grass. Credit: Phil Plait]

This is the time of year when we’ve had a bit of rain (though never enough) and sun, and so the field around our house goes nuts with growth. Grass, thistle, and a hundred kinds of wild plants discriminatorily called “weeds” are exploding everywhere.

As you may know, we have four small goats we keep as pets in a pen near our house, and this is their favorite time of year: When we switch them from dried hay (which they do love) to fresh cut grass etc. (which they love a lot more).

I’ll cut a big bucket worth of fresh stuff for them in the morning and walk along the perimeter of their pen throwing it in. Something I’ve noticed as I do this is that as I walk along, a couple of them (notably Clayton) will only eat a bit of what I just threw over before trotting along to catch up to me to see what I’m throwing over next.

Now, goats are browsers, which among other things means they like to walk along and eat a variety of stuff. This is opposed to animals that graze (like horses), which tend to eat grass right down to the ground and then move to the next patch.

But it’s funny to see this in action, and lessons to be learned.

There’s a lovely type of plant we have that grows for a short time in June called bindweed.  It’s invasive, and most people hate it because it chokes out other plants, but we don’t mind it because the flowers on it are very pretty, and also the goats love it. I mean LOVE it. It may be their favorite food.

So if I throw over a handful of grass with bindweed wrapped around it, the goats attack it with fervor and joy. But then as I walk to the next spot to throw more things over, they’ll stop eating to catch up to me. Do you see? They will drop their favorite food in the whole world just to see if maybe I might be throwing in something better. That literally cannot happen, but they just have to find out.

In other words: Goats have FOMO.

[Clayton Forrester looking to see what else I had in my right hand while eating what I had in my in my left hand. Credit: Phil Plait]

It’s really striking to me when they do this. It’s terribly silly behavior, but then they’re goats and not prone to flashes of insight into the ways of the world.

But humans are. Or we can be. And when I see them do that, I wonder how I participate in this myself. Sure, I hate it when I know there’s a great scifi convention somewhere I can’t attend, which is literal FOMO. But what about when I’m channel surfing, or skimming the Netflix list, or scrolling through Twitter, or listening to music and anticipating the next song, or perhaps even chewing some food and looking to the next bite…?

That’s when this behavior becomes, well, not toxic exactly, but certainly counterproductive. Why not enjoy what you have in the moment, rather than worrying over what’s around the corner that might be a little better, but likely isn’t?

I do catch myself doing that sometimes. When I do, I also try to remember that I am (in general if not in practice) more intelligent than a goat, and can choose which of my behaviors to amplify, and which to suppress.

It’s actually helped. I tend to savor more joy of the moment, and while I still can anticipate a future thing that excites me, I don’t have to let that control my actions to the detriment of my now.

Huh. Funny what you can learn from a bunch of goats.

[Sam literally positioned himself this way after trying the grass at his feet so he could get the grass on the other rock. Credit: Phil Plait]

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[One of my favorite images from LRO: The crater Erlanger near the north lunar pole, is raised rim lit by the low Sun. From Thursday’s article. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

Monday 15 June, 2020: No, the Maya did not predict the end of the world on 21 June 2020

Tuesday 16 June, 2020: When were the *very* first stars born? Earlier than we can see, even with Hubble

Wednesday 17 June, 2020: A binary quasar caught by accident!

Thursday 18 June, 2020: Exploring the Moon's inky black craters… by the light of the Earth

Friday 19 June, 2020: Hubble sees the spectacular deaths of stars like the Sun

Et alia

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