Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Taming the Tiger

Three scientists, Maynard, Frank, and Ludwig, stood in front of the door of a tiger cage. On the other side of the cage a tiger calmly walked back and forth, exploring the boundaries of his home. The scientists were discussing the best way to get the tiger into the next room.

Ludwig proposed a simple solution. The tiger was obviously curious about his surroundings; why not just get out of the way and let the tiger explore on his own. Eventually the tiger will pass through the door into the other room.

Maynard scoffed at Ludwig. “The tiger must be pushed into the other room,” Maynard exclaimed. “Otherwise, who knows how long it will take to explore this area? It may even retreat from the door before it actually walks through it. For its own good, we must shove it continually in the right direction.”

With that, Maynard called two assistants over and instructed them to push the tiger towards the door whenever it wasn't making progress (as defined by Maynard). The two assistants walked behind the tiger and shoved on the animal's rump. “Be careful!” yelled Ludwig, but the assistants didn't listen. They shoved and, predictably, the tiger spun around and effortlessly mauled them both.

“Stop this infernal noise,” Ludwig told Maynard. “You're just going to get more assistants hurt if you keep this up.”

Undeterred, Maynard called over a team of assistants and armed them with cattle prods. The assistants formed a line and began prodding the tiger. Any time the tiger lunged at an assistant, two others would jump in and shock it. Retreating from the shocks, the tiger slowly backed towards the door.

Thrilled with the success of the Maynard method, the lab manager, overlooking the cage, quickly dictated a lab-wide memo declaring, “we're all Maynards now!

Suddenly, the tiger stopped his retreat and crouched. “Shock him!” yelled Maynard, but each time a lab assistant moved to shock the tiger, it would swipe at the assistant's ankles. Soon, all the assistants had their cattle prods on full power, delivering continuous voltage, yet the tiger refused to budge. As the cattle prods began to overheat, the lab assistants dropped them and ran off to tend the blisters rising on their hands.

Frank just chuckled. “You can't push a tiger and you can't herd cats,” he said. “Tigers are going to go where they want to go. The key is providing the proper incentives for him to want to go where we want him to go. We'll just toss some steak in the other room and this beast will go right to it.”

“How much steak are you going to put out for him?” asked Ludwig. “If you put too much out, he'll get going too fast and break his neck running through the doorway.”

“We'll monitor his speed," said Frank, "if he's going too slow, we'll add some steak. If he gets going too fast, we'll take some steak away. We're fully capable of outsmarting a tiger.”

“What if he moves away from the door?”

“Ludwig, what a silly question,” Frank chided. “The tiger isn't going to move away from the door when there is steak to be had. But, in theory, if he did we'd just have to pile on more steak until he started moving in the right direction.”

Frank directed an assistant in the other room to toss out a porterhouse. The tiger, slightly dazed from riding Maynard's lightning, raised its head and sniffed the air. “It's working!” yelled Frank. “More steak!”

The assistant, who couldn't actually see the tiger from the other room, added a steak.

“More! More steak!” yelled Frank as the tiger stood and started walking towards the door. The tiger broke into a trot and soon began loping towards the door. “Take some away!” yelled Frank.

The process continued with Frank relaying instructions to his assistant until a breeze blew through the tiger cage. Confused by the breeze, the tiger began drifting off course and was soon moving in an arc about the door not towards it.

“More steak, more steak! Get some more steak out there now!” yelled Frank.

“That's too much steak,” Ludwig offered. “If he starts moving towards the door, your assistant won't have time to slow him down!”

Frank ignored him and screamed at his assistant. “More steak! Now! Use it all!”

Just then the breeze quit. The tiger regained the direction of the steak pile and, with cat-like reflexes, sprang towards the doorway, sending the three scientists skittering out of its way. The big cat roared as it galloped towards the treasure he smelled, completely drowning out Frank's pitiful wail, “Too much! Take it away, take it away!”

In a blind fervor to get to the steak, the tiger misjudged the width of the door and ran headlong into the door jam. The cat hit the door jam so hard that it bounced half way back into the cage where it sat in a dazed stupor.

“Enough!” crackled a voice over the intercom. The voice belonged to Hillary, one of the lab's management trainees. “Just shoot the damn cat and drag it into the other room. Once it's in there you can unkill it.”

All three scientists spun around and looked up at the observation window. “What?” they asked in unison. “That won't work. You can't unkill a tiger.”

“You can,” Hillary insisted. “You just have to do it the right way. I don't hold with you scientists and your science. I can unkill it.”

“Yes,” said Carly, the spokesperson for another MT. “You scientists are always arguing about your theories and hypotheses. John and I both agree with Hillary. In fact, killing and then unkilling the cat was John's idea in the first place.”

“John?” asked Ludwig. “You mean 'I don't know much about science' John? His solution, then, is to just ignore the science? We could have had the tiger in the other room hours ago of its own volition if we would have just left it alone to do its thing, but now you want to kill it? Wow! I hope none of you actually ever becomes the lab manager!”


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