Episode 7: The World of Tiny Cannibals
Updated: Aug 6
If you could eat one of your friends and absorb their strength and knowledge, who would you eat? That question might seem weird to you, but creatures on this world have to wrestle with that question every day of their lives.
1. Crystal Ng is a marine biologist at Chapman University. You can follow her on twitter at @crystal_a_ng
3. Alie Ward is a science communicator extraordinaire! You've probably heard her voice on her podcast Ologies and maybe even seen her face on Netflix's 100 Humans and Brainchild. You can follow her on twitter at @alieward
Hello, and welcome to Exolore, a show about facts based fictional world building. I'm your host Moiya McTier. And today I'm joined by an ocean ecologist, a self titled art bitch. She didn't want to call herself an expert, but you'll soon see that she definitely knows her shit, and a general science communicator extraordinaire. Together we're imagining life on a planet around a variable star. I'm honestly so stoked for this episode, and I hope you're ready to hear about some cool cannibals with long tongues. Let's get started. We're going to start off easy with introductions, and so I would like all of our viewers and listeners to know who you are, and Crystal is at the top of my screen. So Crystal, do you want to start by telling us who you are, what you do, and what imaginary worlds you're inhabiting. So like, What are you reading or watching or playing right now?
Oh, okay. So hi, I'm Crystal Ng. I'm currently a postdoctoral fellow at Chapman University, which is in Southern California. And I do research on climate change stressors and how they impact marine communities. So specifically, I'm interested in understanding how different climate change stressors, impact species interactions. And I look at that in more nearshore communities. So I've worked in giant kelp forests. And now I'm kind of transitioning to kind of the intertidal pools that you might see when you go to the beach. Well, so right now, in terms of the last question for the what worlds am I in, I've just started watching Twin Peaks - I'm a little late to the game ... but it is what a world it's a it's a funky world. So that's kind of what I've been watching as of late.
Well, are you watching the original is the new one out yet, with Jordan Peele, I think?
Oh is ... Oh, I didn't know. I knew that there was a reboot. I think a couple years ago. I'm watching the original. I know there's a reboot. I didn't know there's like another one with Jordan Peele.
Unless I'm just making this up.
He did Twilight Zone.
Okay, that's what it is.
Awesome. Kylie, do you want to go next? Who are you? What do you do?
I'm Kylie and I am a tour guide at Metropolitan Museum of Art and museums around the country. I also am just a comedian who really loves talking about women from history. I host a podcast called "Nevertheless She Existed". It celebrates the women from history, who should be in your history books who you should have learned about and it is also a live show at Caveat, which is a venue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that is miraculously still open, not the venue itself, but the business. We're struggling through and I am also the booking manager there, which I don't think will come up in our work today, but it's my day job.
[Probably not] but thanks for sharing.
It's my bio, I've got to do it.
Yeah, and what worlds are you inhabiting?
Um, well, I'm ... my book that I'm reading right now is very much grounded in this world. I'm reading "Assassination Vacation" by Sarah Vowell ... which is, she travels around the country going to sites, sort of the weird tourism that surrounds assassination of American presidents. It's excellent, but I'm also watching "The Great" on Hulu, which is like put it in my veins. It is, like beautiful period costumes like woman talking to bears. It's cool. It's good to watch.
What more could you ask for?
A lot of vodka, which I don't drink. So there you go.
Great Alie, what about you?
I gotta get up in that cause I'm very into period costumes and bears so I need to do that. Um, let's see. My name is Alie Ward and I host a podcast called "Ologies" which is a different ology every episode, so it's ... the last one I did was planariology which is about flatworms. So I challenged myself to try to get people interested in obscure topics, instead of like, you know, who's divorcing who in the celebrity world. I'm like, please care about flatworms, and so I do that and then I also am on a Netflix show called "100 Humans" and another Netflix show called "Brainchild", and a CBS show called "Innovation Nation" with Mo Rocca and ... yeah, what I, the world I'm inhabiting are mostly dream worlds of my own horror and making, I feel like I just keep having these ... just absolutely bananas dreams or I'll wake up from them and not know what was real so I've been having some serious isolation dreams but I haven't been watching enough TV and that is partly because I'm just always chasing deadlines with ologies and even still, even in the absence of my other work but I'm trying to think of the what we've gotten into ... and I honestly can't remember the last thing that I got into it's which is really sad actually --
I confess ... that I haven't been watching enough television. I've just been having nutty dreams ... which sucks.
Well, maybe after this you can inhabit the world we create. Maybe you'll dream about it.
I hope so. I really .... the biggest challenge and all of this has just been trying to find ... trying to make a schedule for myself and I'm finding even without having to be anywhere I still am bad at making a schedule. So, that's a big burden, big thing I've learned.
Same, honestly. Thanks for sharing. So my name is Moiya McTier, and lately I've been reading "Sorcery of Thorns" by Margaret Rogerson, which I did not expect to be good at all. I really didn't. I've never read anything by Rogerson before, and like it's called "Sorcery of Thorns", like it has the title of like a crappy young adult, or like maybe mid-grade romance ... but the writing is really great, and the world building is is like ... sneakily beautiful. The whole thing is about sorcerers who get their power by conjuring demons, but there are these great libraries and like, there are sentient books. It's amazing. I'm in love. That's what I do. Alright, so let's get on to the world that we're going to build. So the world that we're building is a planet that orbits a variable star, and a variable star is one that over time will get brighter and dimmer. There are some really interesting mechanisms for why that happens, but that's not totally relevant to the discussion. All you need to know is that this star gets much brighter over the course of a few years; and so at its brightest, it's about five times brighter than the sun; and at its dimmest, it's about five times dimmer than the sun. Fluctuations in brightness will also lead to fluctuations in temperature, but it's not exactly a one to one match. So when the star is at its brightest, it's also at its hottest and the planet, then will be about one and a half times the average temperature here on Earth ... but when the star is at its dimmest, it's actually still emitting a lot of infrared light which we feel as heat. So the planet doesn't actually get very cold, it just gets very dark, and like I said before, this all happens over the course of a few years. That's the the period for this variability. With that in mind, my first question is always about the physical environment, because that determines the biology of the life that exists on this planet, that determines the culture of the life that exists there. So let's get into the environment. How do we think that this variability of the star would affect things like climate, or plant growth on this planet? Do any of you have any thoughts on that?
Would it be kind of like a desert? Like how deserts can get really cold at night, but really hot during the day like very kind of hardy plant life?
Yeah, question mark. Yeah.
Yeah, I was thinking something like, at least with plants, things that can hold water. probably good for those really really hot periods of time 'cause it's interesting 'cause it's not just like one day it's hot, one day it's cool it's this really potentially more prolonged heat spell. So figuring out how to store some of those I guess nutrients or water either in your actual body right of the plant like a cactus or something, or an underground kind of more extensive root system. What would probably optimally you know, prepare you for the really hot.
Kylie, you look like you're deep in thought.
I'm just trying to figure out who - I was talking about with one artist name, but I ... What is ... then what do people eat? Like? Are there catastrophic harvests? I have no - I just have more questions ... but no answers. Are there like, catastrophic - like do all hard like all crops die every few years or do they just eat a lot of carrots like things that can grow underground and root vegetables that are hardy and will be preserved? A lot of things like aloe that can handle changes in light and store a lot of water ... I also have a lot of houseplants that's my only area of expertise.
You do have so many plants I've been to your apartment. It's very green.Yeah, I imagine the ... plants that probably can't handle these changes, most likely won't last very long on this planet. So root vegetables is a good direction and then cactuses, cacti, aloe plants, things like that. Anything else? Any other plants that do really well in like, extreme sunlight and heat.
Um, I think you'd end up with like a lot of really weird forests because you'd have things sort of like what happens to rainforests where you would have like ... plants that can handle like growing up and above. So I'm picturing like just giant cactuses, and I'm not - this is not - I'm not a botanist, but I'm picturing like gigantic cactuses and things that will thrive and then underneath things like ... cast iron plants and bird's nest ferns and things that can grow with low light and a lot of like lush foliage. Yeah.
Smart. Yeah, that's a good direction.
Crystal, what about the ocean? That's your main area.
Yeah. Actually, when you said that, it'll be on average one and a half times hotter. I was like, oh, that's gonna - that really sucks for a lot of animals, right? Like, it's, it depends, right? And just like how there's a difference between the poles and the equator on land. There's a difference in the ocean, and depending on how close you are, I guess to your physiological limit ... can determine how much you're able to handle, you know, one degree even two degrees could potentially push you over the edge; or you might be okay. The thing though with the ocean is it's really variable already. There's periodicity, just like we see seasons on Earth, or on land. And so I think there's actually quite a bit of, you know, extreme kind of a life that can live in the ocean because we have a lot of things like, you know, pressure, not a lot of light deep down. We also have kind of marine heat waves ... but I think my biggest fear, I guess, in this world for the ocean animals is ... the ones that are actually the, you know, the conversation is still building on this, but variable animals actually live in a variable environment. It could go one of two ways; you could either be really hardy, because you're used to that variability, so those animals might be able to survive. I know the kelp forest animals that I you know, worked with they are experiencing huge swings in temperature oxygen pH every single day. So they might be a little hardier but then you might have ... but then on the flip ends, they might actually be not super hardy. So we're not sure they might be hardy because of their use of the variability, but they also might not be very hardy because they're close to their physiological limit. So they're being swung around, but one tip in you know, a couple of degrees could kind of send them over the edge they're basically just swinging just within their their limits right now. So it's ... not like there's gonna be a blanket roll to who's gonna die right and who's gonna survive but ... I think the I'm gonna put my money on the ones that are used to variability might be a little bit hardier they might survive the heating.
Unidentified Speaker 13:55
What are there - are you telling me there's - the ocean has different seasons than the land?
It's ... so upwelling is one thing that I kind of study, and that's kind of some of my past work is ... upwelling actually happens in the spring, it starts to happen in the spring. So we, if you've lived like in more coastal areas, and you start to see the wind kind of build up, that actually leads to a lot of waves and choppiness if you're just like looking out in the ocean, and I'm looking at the California coast, right? So this is my example of it, but that actually, even though we think of spring as this is the time for things to start popping up - warming, you know, like, great things on land. In the ocean, at least in the California coast, it actually gets really cold, because those waves kind of like move this cold, deep water up to the surface. So it gets really cold, and if you're diving out in like, spring, summer that can be sometimes the coldest parts of the year. Yeah.
What's the hottest time of the year in the ocean?
I mean, okay, so for me, like Northern hemisphere, I would say probably, it depends, again, 'cause the upper - like with me like I think sometimes like the fall was nice, was really nice, you would get kind of flatter days ... warmer temperature like you know, you get to like 60 degrees, 62 degrees Fahrenheit in the water. So it depends, right 'cause not all regions are upwelling regions, and so even though it could be really cold and an upwelling region in the spring and another region, it's perfectly fine like the Atlantic ... closer to you guys.
I was raised in the Bay Area and so the notion of just like ... kind of trucking yourself into the ocean for a nice swim was like "no, why's it so cold - it's so cold!" and then so it's really weird on the first time I went to the East Coast ever I was like you're getting in the water and it's just a very different ... very different situation. So yeah, you need like a wetsuit to have a beach day in Northern California.
I get it. Also, what about dormant periods? Like ... cicadas right like 17 year, cicadas or like a FLOTUS blossom or ... yeasts or fungi that can just lay dormant until the time is right; do you think in a planet that had that - those kind of cyclical changes, would they be regular enough to foster life that was just like, "bye, bye. I'll see you when the sun comes out", you know?
Yeah, that's a great point. I mean, the star is very regular. Yeah, even more regular, I'd say them the seasons here on Earth.
Oh, okay. So maybe, maybe there would be little critters that would just go like have a period of quiescence? Isn't that I learned that word literally yesterday, so that's a lot of bang for your buck.
Oh, absolutely. Cicadas have always freaked me the fuck out.
I remember when I was little, seeing their little bodies on the trees that they left behind, and I genuinely thought that it was like the locusts coming and that God was punishing everyone because that was back when my parents were still sending me to Sunday school .... It was bad.
I love those. I love those. Those are called "Exuviae" if you ever need to know what they're called, but it's just like this ghost that you left behind and I almost named - I had to come up with a name for my company and I almost called it Exuvia because I thought those little shells of like, this is what I used to be were cool. Anyway.
Kylie, you had a second question?
Oh, it's gone, but I do have a question for you ... How this is more, because it'll impact culture. How long are the periods like between the swings?
Yeah. Every three years the star is at its hottest.
Oh, okay. Okay, because if it was like 20 years you get - and things were dormant those things that would be dormant that would then come up would be like luxury goods when they did, but if they're coming back every three years or so, that's a different story.
I think three years can still make something a luxury good. I like the idea of these bugs or these creatures that come back. cyclically being delicacies.
Yeah, like a little shrimps or something like, oh, let's see, it's kind of like seafood season here. You know, everyone gets excited about lobster fests and such.
That's true, actually, with the warming, especially if it's not like, bam, it's warm it could actually lead to different distributions and species. So even though we might not be able to catch some fish, you know, in Southern California, because it gets warmer here, you might actually get some ranging expansion of some species. So that yeah, I think that that could be like, ooh, on my menu, something's popped up that could be available, you know like two years ago.
Nice. Alright, so I like that we're talking about a lot of different types of creatures that would exist on this planet because obviously that's the case, right? Earth doesn't just have humans on it. There are millions of species? I think ... there are lots of things here, but I would like to try and focus in on the type of species that we think might become dominant on this planet. So the human equivalent, even if they don't look anything like humans, but the most powerful species here. So what physical traits do you think would lead a species to just like dominate over everything else on this planet?
Maybe smallness? I don't know.
I actually thought that too.
Or I you know, I interviewed a thermal physiologist on "Ologies", and he was talking about sizes of creatures and now I feel like he was saying, the bigger - the colder it is, the bigger the creature.
Hmm, because that makes it easier to hold on to heat?
Yeah, so I wonder for thermal regulation? That's a great question. I don't know.
Unidentified Speaker 20:15
Yeah, I guess ... So there is a pattern that basically at the polls, you tend to get big, and then the equater is you get smaller. And I also think I mean, I'm also not a physiologist, but I think it also has to do with like, your, the surface area of your body to the volume or whatever is big and so you actually can expand and evaporate heat pretty quickly. If you're smaller, and there's also the idea of fat storage. If you're bigger you're holding probably more fat.
So, how much does the temperature fluctuate Moiya, or is it more about light?
The brightness definitely fluctuates more than the temperature. But the coldest it gets is just like how cold it gets here on Earth. But it will get much hotter. So ...
One and a half. Yeah. Yeah. I like little. All right, all right. Um, what other traits? Like? What would their skin look like? If they have skin?
Probably something that was ... I'm either thinking like an exoskeleton that could retain moisture, or something super permeable to off like to ... be able to get rid of heat. So I don't know those are. I feel like those are polar.
What if we had a cold-blooded thing? I feel like I remember reading when I was young, that cold-blooded creatures, because they like take on the temperature of their surroundings. Maybe they can deal better with extreme temperature swings or maybe that's totally wrong. Do any of you know?
No, oh my gosh they're ectothermic. Oh, I learned this from Shane it's "ectothermic poikilotherms" or maybe they're I think it's "poikilothermic", but I'm absolutely fact check me but ... that's like when ... you can adapt - you can kind of adjust your own temperature. I feel like it's "poikilotherms" and I don't know, but ... doesn't "poikilotherm" also sound like a Greek appetizer? Like I'm going to get a feta poikilotherms?
Oh, well it does now.
I'm looking it up - am I allowed to look it up?
"Poikilothermia" ... that's the inability to regulate one's body temperature.
That's the opposite of what we want.
Yes, yes, and "homeotherms" can keep the same temperature, and we are endothermic and "ectothermic poikilotherms" cannot regulate their own temperature, and those are like amphibians and reptiles and stuff. So now we know "poikilotherms", "exuvia", and "quiescence". You're welcome.
I'm gonna have to keep track of the new vocabulary words, gonna be great.
That I keep mispronouncing Yeah, the worst.
So the homotherms you said are the same ... homeo
"Homeotherms" ... we are homeotherms because we can do homeostasis, and our temperature is kind of the same. And fish, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, those are poikilotherms, where they can't regulate their own, so they kind of need their environment to help regulate their temperature.
So we want a warm blooded thing that can very easily regulate its body temperature., under these changing conditions?
I feel like especially with the with the brightness, it might be really advantageous to be able to change your skin color. Like to be able to manipulate the amount of melanin in your skin to protect you from from these environments. Are there animals that can do that here on earth?
Squid, right? Octopuses [can] really well, they have ... these little packets, right? You would know -
Yeah, with the squid too. Yeah.
So maybe they're having that then you can also just change depending on what the fashion is.
That's awesome ...
Small, warm-blooded creatures that can change the amount of melanin in their skin to adapt to the environment. Anything else?
Do they sweat?
I think sweating is gon' be really imperative. Just like thinking about us, like if we couldn't sweat ... bad news.
Yeah, or they'd have to have like, uh you know how dogs ... dogs I think don't sweat but they're able to pant through it and I think ... even alligators will regulate their temperature by just cracking open their mouth and ... so I think big huge chunks. Also important either sweaty, you're going to be sweaty or you're gonna have your tongue hanging out?
Why not both? I like both. I'm picturing just like sweaty messes with like giant tongues like that Pokemon - Likitung, that's what I'm picturing for these people? So we covered environment and some of their bio. I really like to to focus most of the episode on culture; so how do we think their behavior would be different between the bright times and the dimmer times?
I think it also, it depends on kind of your institutional memory too, because if you're like, if you haven't generation time, like a human, you're going to experience so many of these phases in your life, that that could really impact the way that you view, the future planning, those kinds of things. But if you're an animal that has a short generation time, that doesn't even hit the net, you know, within that three year period, you're not even knowing that it's, you know, basically it gets hot and you're dead, or it doesn't even have to get hot and you're already dead. You lose that institutional memory so you're gonna make decisions in a very different way potentially, thinking that there's more time. So I think it's it's good depend on the generation time.
Yeah, that's a really great point. I mean, I've always thought that if a ... Allie?species is going to become dominant in a space that they probably have to have longer lifetimes, otherwise they just can't build up enough intelligence and enough of a society to make much of a difference. What do you think?
I like assuming that they have longer times, just because I think that's more fun to play with, in terms of like, what kind of culture they'd actually build ... that's my instinct, do you think Alie?
I'm ... thinking of, like nocturnal being versus being diurnal, because I feel like maybe, I wonder if in periods of more sunlight, if that's kind of more than a rest period? And so they're, they do more kind of on they're more like, almost seasonally productive during the darker times. And, you know, with like bigger eyes and that's kind of their that's their daytime. And then, you know, from a large kind of perspective, every couple of years, it's like okay now is like their - almost like their summer vacation where things go [gasp], you know?
I love that, I'm picturing like how people in Spain will have long siestas in the afternoon in the summer 'cause it's just too hot to do anything.
Yeah, or kind of like Ramadan ... where it's like the sun sets, and then it's time to gather and eat and in the daytime is ... kind of more of like a fasting resting. So something like that would be it'd be interesting to also think about that culture that's flipped, where the sunlight and the heat is what is a threat as opposed to human beings who at night our vision isn't so great, and we're like, is there any tigers out there? You know?
I did have a question sort of related to that of - are we assuming that the periods of sort of at either end of the spectrum are great periods of shortage? Like ... is there famine? Is there drought? Like what? What do people - what resources do people actually have access to on either end of the spectrum?
Yeah, there probably will be drought, when it's very hot. And then in the middle, it'll be pretty rainy when it's temperate ... I see Krystal nodding. Maybe you should be the one answering this question.
Um, I think that's ... my guess to I mean, I think once it's really hot you would have, I think drought would be very, very common. And then ... the thing is, is that it's not actually really decreasing, it's not like we're having really cold spells either -
It's just like our normal cold that we could get.
It's just dark.
It's just dark. So ... it's really tricky, right? 'Cause I feel like ... initially I was like, oh, well, maybe in the hot times, we become more nocturnal. So every couple of years, we become nocturnal, and then once it cools down again, it's just like this abundance. Like we're just like, time to go out. We're, you know, living life to the largest because everything is now not super hot, and I can actually do my things during the daytime; but it depends, right? Because if it's dim during those colder times, you're also not really going to have crops, depending on depending on how much light there actually is. You might not get crops during that time, too. So the society might actually be used to really not having a lot of abundance.
Unless they behave, unless they, like, model their behavior after that. So maybe they stockpile food or maybe there's a whole community shift to foods that don't rely on sunlight either ... night growing plants, those are a thing I'm pretty sure, or they develop more of a meat based diet during the dim times.
If you think about our winters ... there's not shit to eat and a lot of places, you know, you've got a whole bunch of snow and some twigs. You're like, "ugh," but people have gotten used to it by storing things and then also culturally, you know, like the Hygga type of indoor, light a candle. Everyone's close, everyone kind of has to bond because there's not a lot of resources. So maybe those periods of dark times are a period of like cozy overindulgence almost. It's funny because in winter, where there's not a lot of crops is when we in America eat the most. It's like ...
No one's pants fit in the winter. It doesn't make any sense. There's not a fruit but we figure it out. So I don't know maybe they're dark time is just like, you know, eating -
I'm picturing lots of stews, stews or things that you can make with food that you've stored up like salted meat and vegetables that you've stored away.
Yeah, dried fruits ... just you know, like things that have stored, canned - situations. But I wonder if that would be a time of just very like cozy hunkered.
I also think it's a time of like, greater equity if we're thinking about like, culturally because it's a time where most people will have access to the same. I don't know, I'm trying to think of like when there'll be the greatest disparity and like access to resources or not people or creatures. They're not humans. But yeah, I mean, does that happen more in times of darkness or times of lightness or is it a constant, but that just means different things. I'm just thinking about a more of like how that's going to translate to art 'cause like rich people determine what art we watch ... we look at. Yeah.
Yeah, I think that's a great point. I think to get there, we first have to think about what they value as a society; and that can be both, like characteristics like traits that people have, like, loyalty and honesty or material possessions. Like how a lot of people think that crows really like shiny things, which isn't true, but like, we still think that so what do we think that this society would value?
I had a dark thought, but I'll go there. What if, enterntain it, what if they become cannibalistic in the dark? What if they become cannibals and whoever can outrun each other, and whoever has the gumption to eat, their friends are the ones who continue on so it's just this brutal, tiny creatures who are the -
With their tongues -
Yeah, with these big waggy, sweaty and they will eat your face off when nothing grows. I'm just saying, what if I was -
Alie, I love that you went there because I myself was thinking that maybe this is a purge planet.
Purge siren starts getting light again and or something.
Unidentified Speaker 34:29
See I think it happens frequently enough that it would become like systematize like I think we would have adopted it into the way that our society operates. And so I think 'cause if it happened every 50 years I think that would be a purge planet but I think this is a "Hunger Game" planet; and Alie and your note with the tongues I was like I think that there would be valuable resources that you can only get during the hot times or during the dark times like pearls or you know, whatever their equivalent is of that sort of thing. And then that would be part of jewelry and part of expensive art and so I wrote down "tongue jewelry" ... so we're just going full Hunger Games, like I just like to imagine like really elaborate jewelry with things that you could only get if you're rich.
Or that your grandma wills to you.
In times of revolution would be like ... taking their tongues because that's almost like your wallet. You know what I mean? Like, that's your dowry or like ... the ruling classes like that's dark sorry, but you know what I mean?
Right? It'd be like ... tear the tongues would be like the revolution cry.
Yes. Like the Robin Hoods.
Get a tongue lashing.
I also wrote down "fashion skin dash we naked?" If they can change their skin color, based on what's happening, I think we would have again evolved to a place where that becomes a fashionable choice for some people; and for... we've figured out a way to monetize that right? Like you can go get your melanoma massage and it comes out a different you know what I mean, I feel like having your own pattern would also be a thing. If you can control it the way like an octopus does. Yeah, Sarah McAnulty is gonna at me.
I think you're right on target.
You know, I think she would be very down for that. Okay, I'm trying to backtrack. Fashion, tongues, cannibalism. Alright, so now that we've covered a bit about what they value, it seems like they value like jewelry and appearance, but also strength and speed if it's an almost like Gladiator-like society where there's a lot of fighting just to survive. Who would have power? So how do you accrue the type of generational wealth that we see here on Earth on this planet?
I wonder if it's almost like old royalty where being a very rotund person was like, you must have a lot of lamb shanks at your disposal. You know, how like kings were well feasted individuals say, I wonder if there would be anything because then it's like you carry your resources around on your bow day, y'know, where you've got a lot of energy stored.
I also wonder if it's related to how close you live to an agricultural area and/or the ocean where it's easier to kind of stockpile 'cause if you're in the middle of the country, or like a middle of the landmass, where it's also probably gonna be hotter, it's likely going to be hotter. You might be at a disadvantage in multiple respects, you might be more sluggish because it's hotter and living that nocturnal life, but also the access to the resources, the access to the places where you get your pearls right? Like you got to ship those pearls inland. That's a lot of energy, and so [being] centralized in the middle of landmasses [and] not close to a lot of growing resources or ocean resources might put you at a at a disadvantage.
Do you think it also might be that people form societal bonds because they make agreements to stockpile together? So I'm picturing like parable this like Octavia Butler "Parable of the Sower", it's communities, like they have like wild communities within Los Angeles that have stockpiled resources and are living relatively comfortably and outside of that is, chaos and people fighting and people are ... aggressive with one another 'cause they're forced to fight over limited resources. Yeah, or just like other periods from history, not the dystopian all the things that actually happen on Earth. Yes. I wonder if that would be the way that societies are structured.
That makes a lot of sense to me if it's hard to come by things and you would want to protect your resources at all costs.
I wonder too, okay, what if because the times of heat and sunlight would be huge fluxes is what if, instead of living high on a hill, - a castle on a hill, it would be very uppercrust to live in caves to just live in like a cave system, where once you get kind of low enough, you have that year round dark coolness. And it's almost like going up and into the sunlight for people without resources or for people who are, or critters who are sent to do labor. You know, for like almost like a lower working class, and then the people with the resources are just underground all the time where they haven't had to see sun in just years.
That means - go ahead.
Yeah. Curious ...
That means two different things to me. One, it means that pale would be beautiful. Two where there are caves, there are gems.
And gold and other precious materials. And I feel like that's just a way for the rich to get richer, like if you already have access to these caves and you I own them, and no one else can access them, then you just have the opportunity to get more stuff that people value. That's horrible, but that's very possible.
I also think if you have the resources to get resources, like get those jewels out to other places, so like to the middle of the country, I mean, like if we're developed enough if it's developed enough as a society that sort of make it to those places in the middle of the country, or those land masses like what Crystal was talking about are -- bless you, Alie -- that might create like a whole new status of wealth like if you could be, you know, in the caves of Arizona, but get stuff shipped from California. That's a whole ... we're just making earth ... but with gross tongues. We have no faith in creatures we're like they will they'll separate, they' will put people above ground that other people -
They will eat each other.
All right, well -
Sorry. Well, I think it's ...
So dystopian I ... think you know what part of it is. I just did an episode on these worms and they're carnivores and cannibals. And I was reading about these studies where they fed one worm to another worm and the second worm maybe retained some of the first's memory. Life is crazy. Life is crazy, and so yeah.
Okay, I would love to incorporate that here. What would the society then look like if when you ate someone, you absorbed their knowledge and their memories and power?
Oh, you would almost want ... to live in willful ignorance for safety. Almost.
Or at least be able to cloak - to manipulate your behavior. So that you don't seem too clever.
Mm hmm. Like you could either be very strong so you could beat everyone or very weak so no one would want to fight you, and eat you and in the middle is where there's trouble.
You just want to pretend like you're a dumb-dumb. For safety.
So does that mean there would be like, idiot Olympics?
Whoever took the longest to get out of a maze.
Where'd everyone go?
This is sad.
I went another way with it, which is ... what is the way to conserve intelligence about survival is to eat someone, like eat your ancester or your community leader. Yeah.
That's what I was thinking ... if you're at the point where you're gonna get to eat someone, I feel like it's you're gonna probably be eating somebody who's of your class and it's gonna be maybe the lower classes that are going to eat each other. Because the ones that are living in their underground caves with a bunch of stuff might not feel the need -
I don't know rich people do weird shit.
That's true, could be some weird ... behavioral thing where they're like, I'm just gonna eat something for fun.
Yeah, have you looked at Elon Musk's twitter feed recently? Like -
He would definitely eat someone.
Yeah. Are you kidding?
He would order them at Buca di Beppo ... absolute wild person, just for fun.
Or you would create this like ancestry thing that you would codify this right and in your religion and your art or your rituals so like the Asmat and Papau New Guinea were one of the most recent societies to be cannibals, and again, you see like cannibalism on earth in places that have a scarcity of meat of large animals. And so they have like a huge part of their religion and their belief in the way that life and death works, which is that if you needed to balance out a death that happened in your community, you had to go to another community and eat someone from there; in order to rectify that and to make sure that that death of your community didn't spread to other people. So I just I wonder if you create something like that. I wonder, if you sort of make something like that where it becomes codified in ritual or in religion?
Yeah, that thing definitely happens. Those types of things definitely happen on the, the topic of religion and mythology, before they develop science, and like this is a whole world with like a whole timeline, and so there are different stages of development; but before they develop science, they would come up with stories in some way to explain what's happening to them. Why does it get much hotter sometimes? Why does it get brighter and then dimmer? So what stories do you think they might tell themselves to explain this? Like what would their myths be?
I could see the period of light ... as sort of a ... they're God's scrutinizing them almost like Santa right before Christmas; you know, just like "I'm checking in to see who's done what", like the light if you turn on the light, and you picture like cockroaches scattering or something like this like, "alright, what you've been doing down there?" So I could see like as it starts to get brighter, like having to take stock, maybe.
Yeah, I love that.
Yeah, I wonder if it's ... 'cause the relatively temperate periods would be periods of... you can see that being periods of like celebration and time for feast, and for bounty and so then immediately after that, it becomes very stark and there are limitations on resources. It's like God turning the lights on at a bar in like the lower East side at 3 am, with like, what have we all been doing? This is a punishment for your sins, and your gluttony
And for talking to that dude. Yeah, I wonder if they come up with some sort of like their myths are, you know, if we get too ... frivilous during these temperate periods, then ... whatever the sun in the sky will ... suck us dry.
That will also lead them to not over indulge during the temperate periods, which means they can store more for later so it has this ... practical function as well which is nice. The best myths are always like a little cruel in their story but yeah, they like they teach a practical lesson.
Don't lick that mushroom.
Save that mushroom for later or the gods will be angry and you will die.
It's also the exact opposite of I feel like the American tradition of right as it starts to get into winter. We have this huge feast at Thanksgiving, which is in itself ... such a flawed myth; but like, hey, you're gonna need resources until roughly April, let's eat them all now.
Unidentified Speaker 48:55
Yeah, they can.
Yeah, exactly. Like it's a completely like, not aligned to but ... yeah, I like that idea of don't fuck it up. Dark. Like the brightness is coming.
What about the dark times? Why is that when the gods are just looking away, and is that a bad thing? Do the gods stop caring about them?
I think the darkness I think, would - I could see people justifying it as, you know ... gods are still ... angry at us because it is our time to kind of escape out of our cave, but yet it's still so dim, which is a really sad, sad kind of viewpoint of it or it could also be that there's a lot of like, when you think of dim you could also think of there's a quiet, like there's a calm to the world. And so after you've been underground for so long and you're potentially cannibalizing each other, there's this period, right, where you just kind of go back into a new normal, at least for the next couple of years. And it's just this kind of relief a little bit.
Do they believe that like night is comforting?
Yeah ... it's like a little cozy blanket. Kind of like as the sun's going down. That's what I'm thinking about.
I know, I know.
The rest of us are like, let them eat each other.
I don't like it. I definitely don't like it. Blame the planarians, these worms I got worms on the brain.
Um, well, I think for these "richies", I was sort of picturing what the Dutch did sort of like the Dutch Golden Age, which is was a lot of like really boring paintings to look at now, but if you sort of understand what they were doing back in the day, which was ... they would paint these still lives, but the still lives would be their like bragging rights, it would be them showing off all the resources, they had all the rich stuff that they had. And especially during like the height of the Dutch shipping Empire, they'd have things like paintings of things like monkeys and pineapples and peacocks, and that would be their way of saying, like, I got that here. I got it. So I wonder if like a lot of like paintings that show opulence and paintings that are ... you know, if we've moved past, or they were still in the point of mythology, but we're moved into like a capitalist society; where people are showing off their wealth and displaying it. I think that would be something that they would use to decorate these caves. I also feel like if we know this about their mythology that maybe they think that the light is a punishment. there would be art criticizing that or criticizing the either that light as a punishment which would come post, but they're also before that would be art in the religious sense that would be maybe punishing people or looking down on people who were celebrating too much during the temperate period. And again that is I don't know I keep talking about Dutch art, I haven't like talked about in months but Judith Leyster in Frans Hals were famous for doing these paintings of drunk people with their mouths open ... which at the time painting of person with their mouth open was like - scandal. Um, you didn't do it.
I know. Right? Um, yeah, and if they showed teeth, they were like drunk and/or sloots. Um, so that's the whole thing, but the paintings were to sort of satirize and criticize people who were living it up during these like high economic times, forgetting that, you know, 20 years earlier, things hadn't been going so hot. So I wonder if there would be art sort of ... mocking the people who did live it up during the temperate times? Like these fools.
Yeah. I also think that they would probably have some ancient tongue jewelry.
Yeah, hell yeah.
Yeah, like crude. Like, stone tongue ring. That's what I'm picturing.
That's so gnarly. I'm picturing the Met had an exhibition ... two years ago that was like jewelry, and it was just jewelry like that was it; but it was from all over the world, all different time periods. Yeah, something like that, but it's just tongue rings.
Ah, amazing. Yeah, I see it. Can you imagine?
No, I can't. I'm trying to picture this. I'm having so much trouble. Do you think they have any other traditional crafts?
Yeah, and I think ... in terms of materials and stuff I bet Alie and Crystal can weigh in a little bit more on that in terms of what would be available to like make stuff with; but I do think a lot of like clay paintings, paintings using that. There's also like thangka paintings - it's a Himalayan tradition. I don't know if it started like Tibet or Nepal or Bhutan, but ... they would take precious jewels like emeralds or sapphires, crush them up super small put a little bit of arsenic in there to preserve the paint and then mix it with something else it's escaping me to make a paste out of it, and then they would paint using that; and then also the arsenic has the added benefit of then bugs don't eat it. Which is why we have all these like really beautiful vibrant paintings from back in the day still surviving, but I because they're in a cave environment, I guess they would use something like that.
I picture like, almost like a sunlight but bore through like a channel that would almost serve as light you know so maybe those with resources have kind of like little spotlights in the cave, and it just goes all the way up but it gives them enough light to sort of -
I love that.
See and be seen, but that idea of sunlight - controlled sunlight being art and being a resource in and of itself kind of like how if you go to the Bellagio in Vegas, you're in a desert environment, and the Bellagio is a shit ton of water in the middle of a desert just ... frivolously dancing, and that's such a flex. It's so like, yes, welcome to Vegas, where water is scarce, and we throw it around to music, so I could see almost using the elements as kind of an art and of a status, and of a resource itself, you know, where resources turned into art.
I love that. That also makes me think that there would be mythical stories about heroes who wrangled the sunlight and could bend it to their will.
And then you could create that right like you could do like a multimedia like artwork where like on the wall is carved with the hero, like punching the sun when it comes that one time a year. But you could that could be like a religious site, you know what I mean? Mm hmm. You know, where someone figured out that the light hits this wet this one way in the cave once every three years, and then that's a place where people come to do pilgrimage.
I could picture also because it's perhaps cannibalistic, and maybe exoskeletons exist, I could see those becoming almost like taxidermy trophies of this is someone who I have bested and whose knowledge I've absorbed. This is almost like galleries or chambers or you know, of conquests intellectually, you know.
And now I have all their knowledge.
Yes, and so this is my library.
Yeah and so, they have, like skull hooks in, oh my god, I can't remember the name the society they're in ... Oceania, but they don't eat people anymore; but they're in the Met but it looks like this right, but it's made of wood and it's huge. And then on each of these is like we would have put a skull and it's like, that's just where I hang skulls.
It's like an umbrella rack, it's like having a coat rack.
I think it would also be part of funerary rites that you would get buried with or with either symbolism of the people that you ate or with the bodies. So again, those Asmat we were talking about earlier from Papua New Guinea, you'd get buried with like a huge - they're called Bis poles and you get buried with them. Well, you wouldn't get buried with them, but it was part of their funerary rites and in the Bis poles is carved the skulls of everyone who you ate in your lifetime.
Or their heads, and then you'd be like, Oh, that's my cousin Kyle, he ate six people.
What did you do?
Cousin Kyle! This is so interesting, I love this so much. So Crystal, I read that part of your research is in looking how climate change will affect the way that species interact with each other.
So, just in general, does variable climate make interactions between species more or less common?
That's a really great question. I would say, you know, this is a total guest here, but probably more variable, not necessarily ... more common, but there just might be differences in frequency in which you're encountering, like a prey; because what I'm thinking of is, you know, during warmer times, that's also going to change a lot of like, milestones in your life as an animal. So like, you might reach maturity at a smaller size ... which would then change your predators ability, to like know When that timing is happening, knowing when to get a mate, that kind of thing. So I think it's it's that the change in your frequency of meeting each other might be different also with, you know, if you're changing in distribution, right, because of now it's warmer northward, I might my head up there. So in some ways I could see if you have that more overlapping range, different species interactions might be more common, like you might get novel species interactions, things that might not have interacted in the non warm times. Or your used to be overlapping range might be not there anymore, so I think that the frequency might change because of the variability, but yeah, that's a good question.
I feel like Crystal, you probably are very passionate about climate change, and Kylie I know that you and your co-host on Nevertheless She Existed do a lot of work to help Planned Parenthood and abortion movements.
So what do you think, and those are both hot button topics, here on Earth. So what do you think a hot button topic might be on this planet? What are they debate about?
Hmm. I feel like if people are living in caves, and there's a limited amount of space like a finite amount of space, then repro rights are probably ... it's probably pretty strict. Like there's probably societally a lot of restrictions on people's ability to reproduce and people would be getting permission to do that. You know, might even be be controlled like top down like people might need to get like governmental permission to have a kid. Maybe, I'm not sure. And those might be disincentives to reproduce if that kid might get eaten, yeah, I wonder what people's access would be to be able to make their own choices when it comes to family planning in a very like tight society.
Alie, what do you think?
Well, I keep thinking about certain reptiles that have different sex, there's change sexes depending on the temperature like sea turtles with certain and ... Crystal I'm sure that you know more about this but like the you'll have a clutch of eggs that is mostly female if the temperatures rise a little bit so it would be interesting to see kind of during some periods you have maybe way more of one biological sex, or if there isn't, if everyone is is kind of you know, has hermaphroditic you know sex traits like a lot of molluscs and worms and things like that. But maybe choosing how to express them could be something that was very, like very hot button. So that and maybe if that were temperature dependent, too, I don't know if that would I'm just thinking about how the temperature would affect that. In terms of reproductive rights -
That'd be so cool. Change your sex because it's hot outside.
Yeah. Wouldn't that be awesome?
But like, what would society look like then? I have a lot of questions. Crystal, sorry.
I feel like there's gonna be a lot of different power dynamics at play there, right? Because it's like, what if you, when you change your sex, you also have more stereotypical, like, you know, male traits, which is you have larger muscles and so those are the people who are getting the crops to feed our society and then if you can change to female and you know, like, it depends because I feel like you can either start to kind of bend those rules, because you're able to change depending on the climate, or there might be more kind of typecasting, there might be actually more kind of driving into a particular role that you might play because when you switch, you're expected to do these things; but you could also be fluid and there could just be total sharing of responsibility, kind of that more positive. I mean, I think I like to go with that more positive route, that there actually might be more of kind of sharing of responsibilities when everybody is capable of changing their sex depending on the temperature.
Yeah, depending on what was needed to.
There are these flatworms that stab each other with their dicks, and whoever loses gets pregnant and the others like, later, dude, and then the other ones like, dammit. now I gotta use a bunch of resources to make all the babies, but it's nutty that that happens here on Earth - penis fencing and just loser makes all and as they discuss it, but it would be yeah, it would be interesting if okay, well, you have a choice as to what your biological sex is. And it would be nice if more of you could please be the ones that are making more people and that was sort of a, "why would I, I don't want to" and we'd like you to we need more of us. And so that was sort of like, a push - pull.
I have a question for Crystal that sort of ties into this or does tie into this. You talked earlier about like how maturity would change ... does that mean that the age at which these creatures reach maturity would change based on the environmental conditions? What were you, you sort of threw it away but I think that factors into every pro question?
Yeah, first of all, my computer's about to die. Can I go grab my charger before I just completely cut off?
Alie, do you have any stories related to that?
How environment affects the age at which creatures reach maturity?
Right? I do know that the more nutrition you get, I believe the younger you reach sexual maturity so it might be that in a time of more resources, you know kids get horny.
'Cause that's in part why we're getting like girls are reaching puberty earlier and earlier. These days, right?
Yeah, we got a lot of dinosaur chicken McNuggets, we got milk, we got protein shakes, Flintstones vitamins, let's pop out some babies. So I don't know maybe the more resources you have, the more you're like "time to make more of us".
Crystal, what do you have to say?
Yeah, okay, so the, the age of maturity thing is, interesting because the idea is that it as it gets warmer, you will reach maturity. So your size in which a lot of animals, like at a certain size, they become reproductively capable, essentially. And so, the idea is that if it's warmer, you're gonna basically reach that reproductive maturity at a smaller size. Not sure what the repercussions of that would be -
When you're cycling.
Yeah, I mean, you would potentially be giving birth at a really, really young age.
Babies having babies.
Babies having babies.
Oh, yeah, babies having babies, but that could also be your insurance policy, so that your species survives, right? If you can just get those babies out, then you are going to probably have more of a workforce to do whatever you need. Have people take over if you are kind of the royalty in society, so -
You know, what's weird? I was just thinking it's weird that if you graduate high school, it's 13, people like "way to go, you're Doogie Howser, you're a genius. You're going to be the president of the United States". If you have a baby at 13, which is like, I'm mature enough. I grew this. I suckled it, people are like, "wow, what did you do wrong?" You know, and so I think it's interesting that the way that we look at, like, we have this weird, judgmental way of looking at sexuality in females. And I think it's, it would be interesting if in their culture, it was like, "wow, she had a first baby at seven. That's amazing. Like, what a genius. She had 12 babies before she was 10. She's gonna be the president of the United States." You know, instead of being like, "you better wait till you're out of grad school," you know?
Yeah. I had a thought about that that sort of ties back into this mythology thing of it's kind of dumb, but because we are going through like three period or three year cycles if you're born at a certain time, that means you're experiencing more heat, you're experiencing more of those heights like heat cycles in your life versus if you're born at a different time, where you're experiencing more darker periods? So then is that like their Zodiac or their astrology is based on when your born in that? So they're like, Oh my god, she's such a Pisces. She was born during the temperate times or whatever. I don't know actual astrology, but ...
I think there would be like a cave salamander. You know, born in the nighttime, it'd be like "wow what a flying fox. What a sunflower."
Oh, but because that's when you're born ties into more hot periods so then if you're born you're experiencing more hot periods in your life are you then hitting sexual maturity younger? So then like the Pisces have more babies and the Virgos are less fertile? I just ... my brain went it's over there now.
There's a lot with reproduction on this planet. Like, yeah, how it's affected by environment. That's really cool. We are almost at the end of the hour. I want to ask one last quick question before we wrap up, And it's for Alie. So I have seen some of your cocktail videos, and I was wondering if you could make a signature cocktail for this planet, what would it be?
Oh, I mean, I think it would be something flaming on the top, for sure. I like the idea of a gradient of color. So I'm thinking like, perhaps we'll do a grapefruit base, and then we'll do a little bit of orange juice on top of that; so you have a gradient, and then you float a little bit of a grind of citrus; and then you pour some kind of alcohol in there, then you light that on fire. So it's like a gradient, like a temperature gradient with a fire at the top, and you don't drink it, you throw it in the face of someone and then you kill them and eat them.
Like seasoning their food before you eat it.
Yeah, yeah, you don't even drink the cocktail. You just use it as a weapon, and then you're like, haha, like I'm gonna have 10 babies. That's what you do.
That is the best note to end on I can possibly imagine. Cool, so, if our viewers and listeners want to learn more about you, we'll go backwards from before. So Allie, if our viewers and listeners want to learn more about you, how can they do that work and they find it?
"Ologies", is the name of my podcast "Ologies with Alie Ward", and so you can go and listen to experts talk about all kinds of stuff. And I'm on all the social media at Alie Ward with one L and "Ologies" is @ologies is so yeah, get into that so many good experts, so you're gonna hear a lot about weird animal dongs, promise.
That's my favorite thing to hear about that and throwing fiery drinks in people's faces.
Come to the right place.
Kylie, what about you? What are you up to? How can people learn about you?
Um, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at Kylie Holloway with an underscore after it and the other Kylie Holloway, show yourself to me. You could also listen to my podcast "Nevertheless, She Existed" anywhere you listen to podcasts, and I run a monthly livestream show at the moment called "Modern Whitney", where comedians analyze art, and then I tell them what to think. It's on Friday night, check it out.
And that's on the Caveat livestream.
Right? Yes. Also, just check out Caveat live streams and plays on a to Caveat. It's my salary, and it's also a place where a lot of amazing people make work. So if you have the resources, please do.
Awesome. Crystal, what about you?
Uh, I am on Twitter. I'm new on Twitter though, so I'm still getting used to it. It's a lot. But you can find me on there at Crystal_a_ng, and then you can also if you have any questions want to touch base. You can email me at Crystal Ng at Chapman dot edu.
Thank you so much for lending me your time and your brains and your funny bones. I laughed a lot during this episode. Any last thoughts?
I never want to go to this place.
I was about to say the same thing.
You sound like dicks.
Yeah, Alie. I really hope you don't dream about this world.
I know. I know. I probably will, and I will tweet you all and tell you about it.
Okay, cool. Well, thanks again, and that's a wrap.
Welcome back to Earth, and thank you so much for joining us on this journey to a world orbiting a variable star. I want to thank my guests Crystal Ng, Kylie Holloway and Alie Ward for creating those tiny vicious sweat monsters with ornate tongue jewelry. And I want to thank my patrons from Patreon. Special shout out to Michael Bush, my first centar level patron I met Michael a few years ago when we were both visiting Vanderbilt's Astronomy Department, he's a great friend and one hell of a day drinking buddy. I asked Michael if he had anything of his that he wanted me to promote, and he just pointed me to the Baltimore action legal team, a bailout fund to get Baltimore kids out of jail while they await trial during the pandemic. You can find their website down in the episode description. If you want to be like Michael, and support my world building work, head on over to patreon.com slash go Astro Mo. If you liked this episode, then be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe to the show. That way you can catch me next time on another world.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai