Solution of the Grazing Goat Problem: A Conflict between Beauty and Pragmatism

  • Robert J Marks II


What is the ideal solution of a problem in mathematics? It depends on your nerd ideology. Pure mathematicians worship the beauty of a mathematics result. Closed form solutions are particularly beautiful. Engineers and applied mathematicians, on the other hand, focus on the result independent of its beauty. If a solution exists and can be calculated, that's enough. The job is done. An example is solution of the grazing goat problem. A recent closed form solution in the form of a ratio of two contour integrals has been found for the grazing goat problem and its beauty has been admired by pure mathematicians. For the engineer and applied mathematician, numerical solution of the grazing goat problem comes from an easily derived transcendental equation. The transcendental equation, known for some time, was not considered a beautiful enough solution for the pure mathematician so they kept on looking until they found a closed form solution. The numerical evaluation of the transcendental equation is not as beautiful. It is not in closed form. But the accuracy of the solution can straightforwardly be evaluated to within any accuracy desired. To illustrate, we derive and solve the transcendental equation for a generalization of the grazing goat problem.