Magnets & Porcupines

It was a busy Sunday morning at the zoo. Many people had come to see the new animals that were up for display. Among the new additions, was a prickle of porcupines. Porcupines, mostly nocturnal, were annoyed by the sunlight and attention showered upon them. With help from a group of young volunteers, the zoo staff constructed a wooden hut inside the enclosure to keep the porcupines.
The enclosure was ready and Hyunh, along with other porcupines, rushed to find a place for themselves. Hyunh settled inside in a corner. As it moved to get comfortable, something fell on his head. It was a small shiny magnet, possibly left behind by one of the young volunteers.
“Don’t eat me!” the magnet shouted as it rolled closer to Hyunh’s feet.
“Who are you?” Hyunh asked.
“I am Milo. I am a magnet!”
“What is a magnet?”
“Well, magnets stick to metallic objects and, of course, other magnets.”
“Then, how did you fall?”
“I don’t know. I have a strong magnetic field. This has never happened before”
“Okay, don’t worry. I will not eat you. There’s already enough for all of us to eat here.”
“What is this place? How long have you been here?” Milo asked.
“This is a zoo. We arrived here yesterday from Vietnam, where we were waiting to be eaten. Then someone brought us here, instead. They put a tag on each one of us. Mine reads “Hyunh”. I know how it feels to be a delicacy, waiting to become a dish on somebody’s plate. So, I will not eat you.”
“That’s a relief! Moreover, you will not be able to digest me and worse, you might choke. So, it is for your good that you do not try eating me. Chuck’s dog once swallowed me and it was horrible. Chuck made him eat things so he would puke. I wonder if that made my field weaker.”
“Who is Chuck?”
“He is my friend. I live at his place. I was in his pocket until I fell here”
“I see. So, what do you do with this field? Pull food?”
“Oh, I wish we could do that. But, this field is life for us. We are useful as long as it stays and then, we’re discarded as junk.”
“Strange creature, you are”
“So are you with all these spikes on your body.”
“Yes, they call us porcupines.”
“What’s with all these people outside?”
“They’ve probably never seen porcupines. We’re not the most attractive of species. Perhaps, the quills fascinate them.”
“I think there is no greater force than attraction.”
“It has a shelf life. Once you get what you are after, it starts to weakens”
“Once magnets are stuck together. We are inseparable”
“Porcupines cannot stay too close.”
“Why is that?”
“See these quills? It hurts when we get too close.”
“How tragic. So, why do you even try? I mean, you should maintain safe distances.”
“That is not an option. When the cold winter winds freeze you and there’s no shelter, we must huddle together. In a group, we keep each other warm and alive.”
“So either you have to choose between being frozen and getting pricked?”
“Yes. That, my friend, is the porcupine’s dilemma.”
“Porcupines cannot get too close.”
“And magnets can’t stay apart,” Milo exclaimed.
“We don’t think. We pull or get pulled towards everything within our ranges and once we stick to one of those, we stay there until set apart.”
“You must be grateful that you cannot feel due to this hard shell. Instead, it makes you shine.”
“We do not feel but we just break into small pieces”

“A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However, the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another…” – Porcupine’s Dilemma by Arthur Schopenhauer


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