Posts Tagged science
I got sidetracked.
I was working on tying volumes to bones in order to calculate mass from volume and density, when I suddenly realised I was going to have to get density from somewhere. I was this close to following the original plan and adding a simple constant “creature density” value to the game… but…
Well, quite frankly, I’m tired of making placeholders and putting the interesting stuff off until I’ve finished the boring stuff. So I decided not to, and dived headfirst into the new material system. I wonder how many of these I can fit in? Any preferences?
My initial thought was to take a leaf out of Dwarf Fortress’ book, and define materials generically, to amplify the possibility of weird, interesting and utterly horrific combinations. The problem with this, though, is that they need to texture differently depending on how they’re applied, especially for things like fur and claws. So it’s more likely we’ll need to split them up based on how they’re applied…
– The furry/feathery/skinny/slimy surface covering. Has a strong influence on friction and insulation. Mass determined by Surface Area * Thickness * Density. Immediately visually apparent by virtue of body texture, obviously.
– The goo and meat and muscle inside the creatures body. Influences the creatures strength and flexibility, as well as their optimal operating temperature and how endothermic they are. Mass determined by Volume * Density. Visual markers are mouth-textures and corpse meat textures.
• Hard Tissue
– Skeleton and weapons (I’ll probably split these into two seperate items, so a creature can have different claw and bone material). Density and compressive/shear strength will be the most influential settings for the skeleton, while density and sharpness will be important for weapons and chewing. Visible on hands and feet, teeth and in corpse bone textures.
These three categories will make up the outer covering (fur, feathers, skin), inner covering/organs (fibrous, porous, fatty) and skeleton/claws/teeth (keratin, chitin, osseous tissue, enamel), respectively. Each item will have its own texture/spritesheet, and a position in the mutation map.
I will likely have to have duplicates so as to allow, for example, chitin to be used as either endoskeleton or exoskeleton. One idea I’m leaning towards is storing materials as three texture objects in the same asset folder, so chitin could be a single Material asset but still be applied as Skin, Flesh or Hard Tissue. I imagine making your internal organs and muscles out of chitin wouldn’t end well, but why should we stop creatures from trying?
And as a bonus, this means creatures can have body coverings and flesh made entirely out of materials I hadn’t considered before now, like fibrous muscle, or bone tissue, or eyeball fluid or retina cords!
Wow. I am a horrible person.
This material system will likely become one of the sources of tangential learning for Species. Much the same as how playing Dwarf Fortress is an extremely effective way to drill into you what Magnetite, Hematite and Limonite are, Species will happily throw a bunch of terms I’ve stolen from Wikipedia at you until you bloody well remember what Osseous Tissue is, damn it.
The system will also have a few additional per-material values. Most of these will be placeholders until their appropriate systems are in place, but it doesn’t hurt in the long run to define them early. So far ‘m thinking these ones look good:
Compressive, Tensile and Shear Strength,
YieldRatio (a simpler way to represent Compressive, Tensile and Shear Yield Strength),
Coefficient Of Friction,
IgnitionTemperature, BurningEmission (that is, the amount of heat this material will emit while burning),
Melting and Boiling Point,
Thermal Capacity and Conductivity,
OperatingTemperature (flesh and muscle specific: determines the optimal body temperature for this creature),
HeatOutput (per unit of mass. This will be what establishes Endotherminess!),
Of course, finding values some of these numbers is gonna be all sorts of fun. “What’s the compression strength of fibrous muscle? What’s the melting point of eyeball fluid?” It won’t be easy, but there’s plenty of dogs and cats in the area.
Or, y’know, I could just ask The Google. But where’s the fun in that?
(Edit) Oh wow. I think I promised to let somebody kick me if I did exactly what I’m doing right now.
Yep. Yep I did. Who wants to do the honours?
A friendly creationist left a comment on one of the old posts. I thought I’d respond to him or her in more detail here. Here’s what he or she said:
“Am I missing something? This article said nothing about how all life on earth could have evolved in only 4 billions years… NOTHING! But hey, if you want to believe everything arranged itself from a goo or a rock – GO AHEAD!”
That sounds to me like a CHALLENGE!
I certainly don’t believe “everything arranged itself” from a rock, and I’m pretty sure “goo” is only a singular noun in World Of Goo (worth taking a look at)… but I’ll try to explain what I accept as the most likely hypothesis about abiogenesis (which I guess is a synonym for “believe”? eh, close enough).
I’ll also try and simplify it as best I can, but I’m no expert so everyone else can feel free to correct me on this if/when I get it wrong.
Y’see, young earth was a very active place. Volcano’s and meteorites and lots and lots and lots of rain. Imagine the plot of Armageddon combined with the Yellowstone caldera erupting combined with a British Public Holiday, but everywhere.
Anyway, all this activity meant that pretty much every body of water, especially the shallow ones, would have been filled to the brim with volatile chemicals and minerals, like the floor of a chem lab after a shrapnel grenade. And combine a situation like that with an energy source (the sun) and earth would have been home to a whole host of interesting chemical reactions, including those that result in organic compounds.
Note that this isn’t speculation. The famous Urey/Miller experiment might not have been a particularly good simulation of early-earthian conditions, but it demonstrated that if you dump a load of inorganic components together and apply energy, you can get organic compounds easily enough. Besides, it’s successors have done a far better job of simulating early-earthian conditions, with even better results.
But back to early earth. This mix of organic compounds in shallow water, across an entire planet (that’s a lot of space for a microscopic experiment) provides the perfect environment for the formation of more complex chemical reactions, including those involved in abiogenesis.
Now, the exact mechanism of abiogenesis isn’t known, but this isn’t because it’s difficult to make happen. Turns out there’s loads of ways to make a self-replicating molecule. We’re spoiled for choice: there’s so many that it’s hard to pick a “most likely” option. Personally, I like the idea of catalytic cycles.
A catalytic cycle isn’t a self-replicating molecule. A self-replicating molecule is something that builds copies of itself out of whatever molecules exist in it’s environment: so Molecule A takes 2 Molecule B’s and combines them into another Molecule A. A catalytic cycle, on the other hand, is a molecule that builds another molecule, which in turn builds the first molecule. So A builds copies of B, and B builds copies of A. It’s chemical symbiosis, and the component molecules can be even simpler than self-replicating molecules (which are already fairly simple).
Anyway, once you’ve got reproduction, these molecules quickly take over their environment, converting all the “building block” molecules. If one of these cycles changes slightly to use a different mineral to make itself, it will be able to spread further than the original and become dominant where there’s none of the original food. This process can then continue until all the worlds oceans are teeming with catalytic cycles or another variety of chemical self-replicator. From there they become more and more complex, to use more and more ‘food sources’ and fill more and more niches. This is the base for evolution: random mutation + natural selection. It leads to more versatile molecules, to RNA and to DNA, and later to single celled organisms. Since you’re all undoubtedly familiar with evolution, I’ll skip that for now.
As you can see, this process isn’t the creationist misrepresentation of “the components of a cell rolled together by chance”. You might be able to say “the components of a catalytic cycle rolled together by chance”, but that wasn’t so much chance as chemistry.
Of course, the biggest stumbling block for public acceptance of the science behind abiogenesis (well, apart from people desperate to believe the universe as a whole cares about them) is that all this would have happened nearly 4 billions years ago. We don’t even have many *rocks* that old, and even if we did it’s not like molecules fossilize So there’s no way to know what the exact structure of the early self-replicator/catalytic cycles may have been. Maybe aliens did seed the planet with their dandruff, maybe God did look at a barren rock and think “you know what this needs? SINGLE CELLED ORGANISMS!”, maybe space bacteria from Mars surfed an asteroid here. Maybe all of these things happened at once and God got smacked in the face by an asteroid carrying martian head-lice We’ll never know for certain. All we can do is try to work out what the most likely scientific hypothesis option is. And that’s abiogenesis.
This isn’t enough for IDists and creationists, though: for some reason (I’ll avoid speculating on motives) they can’t accept that abiogenesis is even a possibility. But since it obviously is (and the research in that area just keeps on confirming this), they need to misrepresent it as something absurd in order to make their arguments from incredulity.
Which brings us back to the comment that sparked this post.
But hey, if you want to believe everything arranged itself from a goo or a rock – GO AHEAD
I don’t want to believe that because it’s a ridiculous misrepresentation. But hey, if you want to believe that the scientific alternative to your own beliefs is blatantly stupid, a fact which has somehow miraculously escaped the attention of every atheist chemist, biochemist and biologist on earth despite them spending their lives researching this stuff… go ahead.
“Or maybe it’s a CONSPIRACY!”
There’s not too much to say about the obvious mechanisms of the 0.5.0 in-game grass: it uses the billboard system which I explained a while back. I could mention the other technical details: it only draws a few, nearby, vegetation nodes, grazing affects the length of the entire node, it fades out at a distance because there’s way too much of it to draw it across the entire map… okay, done that, now what?
Well, seeing as how talking about implementation is boring, I guess we might as well talk about the design aspects.
The moment I decided on grazing as a feature for 0.5.0, I knew I’d have to represent it somehow. The grass itself, though, wasn’t originally meant to be that representation. Indeed, I’m still not entirely convinced that grass is the best representation for it: rendering grass has limitations that make it less than ideal.
Okay, I’m in the middle of typing up this post and I’m beginning to realise that the height of the billboard grass really isn’t the best way to represent grazable material. That’s what I get for blogging about a feature I’m in the middle of coding. Oh the joys of an evolving project.
Okay, new approach: I’m going to use this post as an opportunity to get my thoughts in order before I go off and play with the code a bit more.
The plan (prior to about about 30 seconds ago) was to include a grazables container or bucket within each square of terrain. This container would contain all the energy that creatures could graze from, and how ‘full’ it was would determine how long the grass in that square was. Fertility loss due to grazing would occur when the bucket was empty and had to ‘buy’ more energy to regrow.
The big pro to this approach is that grass height shows you at a glance how much grazable energy the local area has. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of cons:
– all grazable scatter-material grows like grass and is edible, regardless of what it actually looks like. This includes pebbles on rocky terrain, shells on the beach, salt in a salt plain, and lava rocks in lava.
– grass in an area is all the same height. Since an ‘area’ is an exact square of roughly 10m x 10m, this would be especially noticable at borders where grass on one side is short and grass on the other is long.
– fertility loss is applied on an area-scale, not on a local one. A creature eating at the very corner of an area will affect the fertility of ground 14.1421m away (+/- 10m, anyway. Oh who am I kidding, I have no idea how big the vegetation squares are), while not affecting the ground just behind it.
– Grass is invisible at a distance, so you can’t see the direct effects of grazing from far away.
Now, all of these are things that can be dealt with to eliminate or reduce their effect: scattering a squares vegetation a bit beyond it’s border would blur the straight line between squares, by applying fertility loss on a macro level makes it less apparent that it’s related to overall area and not to the actions of individual creatures.
But what if we could deal with all of these problems just by changing the way ‘grazable energy’ is stored? This is the idea I’ve just had:
Eliminate the energy buckets in terrain squares, and effectively remove all terrain-based control over grazable energy. Grass no longer has any limit: creatures can just keep grazing and grazing within their biome… until the biome changes.
With this system, a creature emits a ‘death aura’ while grazing, gradually reducing the fertility in a small area directly underneath themselves. Eventually, the biome under them degrades. This introduces a direct correlation between fertility and energy: a creature absorbs fertility from the ground and gains energy in exchange.
Since grazables are no longer dependant on area but on biome, we’ll be able to introduce a variety of biome dependant statistics (starting with a simple isGrazable boolean) as a central function of the simulation, rather than as something tacked on afterwards as was originally planned.
A conventient bonus is the fact that the ‘death aura’ code already exists, in the form of biome stabilisation from trees. The only difference is that where tree’s stabilise the habitat they’re best suited for (with the exception of some unbalanced pioneering species which make the simulation more dynamic by stabilising towards biomes they can’t survive in), grazing creatures stabilise the habitat towards arid, desert biomes, and then have to move on to find more grass.
Of course, I’ll have to rework some of the code for this: the ‘buckets’ system already exists in the development version. But that’s the nature of prototyping.
[The following day]
Welp, that’s done. This actually makes the environment feel a lot more ‘directed’, since you can now pinpoint the source of every fertility change: it’s either grazing creatures, trees or water. I might have to add a few more fertility-change sources, just to make it less predictable.
Ultimately, this change leaves the grass itself as little more than an aesthetic item. Oh well: the system’s in place now, it’s useful in defining the presence and quantity of grazable material in each biome, and when even the placeholder art looks good, you know you’re doing something right..
He doesn’t mean it about the vegans. We actually think vegans are pretty awesome: it must take a lot of willpower and strength of conviction.
Please don’t kill us with your psychic vegan powers.
This post turned out ramblier than expected. Sorry about that: it seems to be happening more and more lately. My forum posts tend to be a bit more coherent.
Alright, let’s present some more evidence for evolution: in this case, the evidence that Darwin used to convince his peers. Back in the 19th century, there was a very sparse fossil record, no understanding of genetics, and organisms changing over time hadn’t even been observed, yet Evolution still had enough evidence behind it to convince the scientific community and smack down the existing dominant theory (Intelligent Design: 150 years out of date).
What made up the shortfall in other areas, and what Darwin spent much of his book outlining, was biogeography: the relationship between biological life forms and the area’s they inhabit. Explorers were in vogue at the time, so there was a lot of data available on the distribution of various types of creatures across the globe, and of course Darwin got the chance to witness it first hand in the form of the Galapagos finches (Dude spent 7 years of his life studying oysters, but somehow it’s the few weeks watching finches that everyone remembers him for).
What Darwin noted was the fact that, as geological separation increased, so did biological separation. The animals close to each other would be more similar than the animals separated by hundreds of miles. Animals separated by water or desert or mountain ranges would diverge even more extremely.
Australia’s marsupials are the boring textbook example of this, and everyone’s heard that one before, so to mix things up let’s go for a more interesting and complicated example. Besides, small furry mammals are overrated: there are equally adorable creatures amongst the other families.
Some fairly recent DNA analysis determined that the closest relative of a species of blind Australian cave fish isn’t another type of Australian cave fish at all: it’s a species of (equally blind) cave fish found in Madagascar, on the opposite side of the indian ocean.
At first glance, this hardly seems like evidence for evolution: quite the opposite, in fact. These fish aren’t built for travelling: swimming across the Indian ocean isn’t a simple proposition when you’re less than 10cm long and blind, not to mention adapted for freshwater. So how do two closely-related species of effectively-immobile organisms end up on opposite sides of the ocean?
That’s where geography comes in: specifically, plate tectonics.
I assume we’re all familiar with Gondwanaland, the supercontinent that split apart in the cretaceous? As you can see by this map, Australia and Madagascar were connected by Antarctica, implying that the common ancestor of these fish lived at least 100 million years ago. This matches up with a load of other biological evidence for the Gondwanaland split: the few marsupials that survived the rise of placental mammals outside Australia are all on other subcontinents of Gondwanaland, the Jurrasic-era dinosaur species that lived in South America are identical to those in Africa and Antarctica. On a less charismatic scale the pattern still holds true: all of Madagascar’s freshwater fish groups, exhibit relationship patterns related to the breakup of Gondwana (some are related to groups in India/Sri Lanka, and others to groups in Australia) including our cave fish.
It’s this culmination of evidence that makes Evolution such a certain thing, but also makes it so hard to convince denialists of its veracity. The evidence for evolution often can’t be summed up with soundbytes or images: with moon-landing denialists you can show off photos from the lunar reconnaissance orbiter, with cryptozoologists you can point out that the requirement for a stable population means at least 100 sasquatch individuals wandering the mountains. There’s very little like this for evolution, because the evidence is strongest when taken next to all the other evidence, giving denialists an easy out: by picking holes in a single element at a time, they never have to confront the overwhelming mountains of evidence behind them.
HERV’s are one of the most concise and definative arguments for evolution I’ve found, and even they depend on a pattern, rather than an instance. Fossils like Archae and Tiktaalik help, but are also easy to dismiss: “there are no transitional fossils” makes for a better soundbite than “the term is misleading since all fossils are transitional to one extent or another, but several fossils display transitional features including…”.
Screw it, here’s a chainsaw rover:
Goddammit ENCODE, how do you manage to screw up a video narrated by Tim Minchin?
The ENCODE Delusion, via Pharyngula
The video itself was actually quite good for the first half: a little patronising and oversimplified (I rationalise that as being because it was aimed at a younger audience), but otherwise enjoyable and interesting. And then ENCODE ROBOT.
New rule: nobody is allowed to portray any form of scientific research as a giant cancer-fighting robot unless they’re actually building a giant cancer-fighting robot.
I’m actually more bothered by the claim that Junk DNA is functional, but ENCODE ROBOT was funnier. I might do tomorrows post on Junk DNA, assuming I can come up with something to say that isn’t just a repeat of what PZ said.
Loads of stuff going on behind the scenes right now: in addition to 0.5.0 (Got biomes and 3d trees done! Currently working on the interaction between the two) I’m also working hard on two parallel Species-related goals.
One has been mentioned both explicitly and implicitly several times in the last few months (I expect it to grow our audience a little), but I’m going to keep it under wraps for now because of unforseen difficulties and explosions. The other is a super-secret prototype.
So, I promised a post on science communication at the end of that comment on Bill Nye (that whole thing is still going on, btw. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis is really pissy about it. It’s hilarious). It can’t promise the following won’t come out a little bit rambly (okay, a lot bit rambly), but here are my thoughts on the subject…
Science communication is a strange and somewhat tainted field, mostly because many of the people actively engaged in it don’t seem to realise they’re engaged in it. It’s deceptively easy to categorise the world into scientists and non-scientists, but most science communicators aren’t actually scientist communicators: they’re teachers, journalists, authors, TV personalities and (disturbingly) polititians and pundits.
There are some wonderful exceptions: scientist bloggers and writers like… (EDIT: Nevermind. I started writing this list and couldn’t stop, plus then I went researching and holy mother of cheeses there are a lot of them out there and I don’t read nearly enough of them regularly). But their audience is the people who go looking for scientist communicators: the vast majority of people don’t read proudly nerdy stuff like science blogs, and “proudly nerdy” is a good description of most scientist communicators.
In short, the general public get their info from other sources.
And those other sources usually aren’t scientists. In fact, I’d say the vast majority of the time they aren’t scientists. In general, they’re either…
a) people with an moderate understanding of science, tasked to transfer a preset curriculum of facts to a group of uninterested teenagers so they can pass their tests and promptly forget everything but the most trivial framework, or…
b) people with a barely rudimentary understanding of science, tasked to produce something they think other people with a barely rudimentary understanding of science would want to read/watch/play, or…
c) people with no understanding of science, who misheard something with sciencey sounding jargon in it and latched onto their misunderstanding as a certitude.
So that’s why we need dedicated science communicators: not just underpaid and overworked journalists tasked with getting a hyped up article about a discovery they don’t understand out in a few hours, and not just underpaid and overworked teachers tasked with making sure their students do okay on a standardised test at the end of the term. We need to expand the field.
This is especially vital in our modern society. We live in a world with uprecedented knowledge, and unprecedented access to that knowledge, yet science is still seen as an esoteric concept: the domain of nerds and geeks who use multisyllabic words like “esoteric” and “multisyllabic”. In a world where 5 minutes on wikipedia can inform anyone of things you used to need a bachelor degree to know, somehow people in general trust science even less than they used to.
So we need science communicators. I trust the scientists themselves to keep pushing at the boundaries, but if all they’re doing is pushing the boundries further and further away from the public, instead of bringing the public along for the ride, then science will suffer and society as a whole will suffer. On a societal level, education is something with no negative consequences and oh so many benefits.* Inversely, ignorance tears us all down.
*note: Okay, hypothetically, there is a level at which too many people are educated and with the surplus of skilled labour not enough are willing to do unskilled labour, and the country collapses. In reality, no society has yet reached that level: if the US had, for example, this chart would show equal levels of unemployment at all levels of education. It’s an interesting concept for science fiction to explore, though.
However, we also have to be wary. Science communication is an easy thing to fail at. It requires two skill sets that, stereotypically at least, are diametrically opposed: a logical, analytic mind to understand the specifics of the science in the first place, and an ability to market yourself and your subject: to communicate enthusiasm and empathise with your audience. It requires you to be a Spock and a McCoy at the same time. (this blogs first Star Trek analogy. Oh… yeeeaaah)
To showcase this, here’s a few examples, of both successes and failures.
First of all, the Mythbusters. Indubitably a success. They might lack basic rigour, but as Zombie Feynman says: they got a whole generation interested in science. They made science cool. Ergo, if we want to communicate science, we should follow their example: sciencey stuff + funny hosts + blowing stuff up. Right?
No. None of these things were what made Mythbusters cool. I only ever saw one of the subsequent copycat shows, a series called Braniac hosted by Richard Hammond (who, for the record, is actually pretty good at communicating this stuff in more scripted shows, like documentaries), and it demonstrated quite thoroughly that “making science cool” is probably one of the worst things you can do to it. The show had it’s moments, but generally it was just a bunch of unconnected science-skits wrapped up in hype and sillyness. If you try to make science cool you fail at both science and coolness.
If you take a closer look at most episodes of Mythbusters you see fairly quickly that they’re not trying to be cool, and the moments when they are are painfully scripted. Adam, Jamie and the Build Team are by far at their best when they’re improvising, debating, making mistakes and being silly: in other words, acting like human beings. That human face, in addition to the usually excellent pacing of each episode (the show follows a pacing structure which should be familiar to anyone who has done a rudimentary literature course or remembers their high-school english), is what really made the Mythbusters popular. It was more than just a bunch of guys faffing about with science trivia and ‘splosions: it was a story, built around the scientific method.
Let’s take a look at another example, this time not of a success but of a failure, and not a particular work, but an entire genre. Edutainment.
For those of you who didn’t just hiss and cringe away from your computer, and thus we can assume were spared the horror of actually playing one of these games, edutainment was (and to an extent still is) the product of a bunch of people (likely older people) who saw that kids liked video games and hated being taught stuff, and thought “We can combine the two to make kids like being taught stuff!”
Unfortionately, the people put in charge of designing and making the resultant wave of educational video games didn’t understand video games. Based on the examples I’ve seen, it’s possible they didn’t understand teaching either. In some of the worst cases, I am forced to wonder if they had ever actually met a human child. For the most part, the games were what you’d get if you took a generically poor ‘memorise this’ classroom lecture and made the teacher stand behind a cardboard cutout of a cartoon character.
But it’s unconstructive (fun, but unconstructive) for me to keep insulting edutainment games without exploring why they failed. And to explore that, I need some successes to compare to. Now I’m sure that there are some edutainment games which are entertaining, but I’m not familiar with enough of them to know which ones those are. The only edutainment game I remember genuinely enjoying was an aquarium one, where you could gather fish by solving math puzzles, which appealed to my latent OCD in the same way that Pokemon did for cooler kids than I (yes, I was the kid who wasn’t cool enough to give a crap about Pokemon).
But I’m not really looking for a successful edutainment game: I’m looking for a successful game which educates. And those are surprisingly common, once you realise that games don’t have to try to educate in order to do so. This is due to a thing called Tangential Learning (yes, another link to Extra Credits. If you’re at all interested in games and you’re not watching the series, you should be).
My very first proper game, when I was in primary school, was The Incredible Machine. Anyone else remember T.I.M? It was basically a 2d Rube Goldberg Machine-maker, where you could place balls, platforms, trampolines, switches, lasers… a whole variety of things. And as a result of that game, long before I would have been capable of understanding a word with as many syllables as “algorithm”, I was making them. “The bowling ball falls to this light switch, which activates the fan, which blows the tennis ball off it’s platform…” The same logical, sequential thought patterns that game worked by would later come in handy when I was learning how to code.
When I was a little older, I picked up Sim City. Sim City taught me about complex, interacting systems in society: how doing one thing in one area could have dire consequences in another, and how the easy route (borrowing money) can get you into hot water later down the track. (although mostly what I remember learning from it is giant spider robots are bad news and that you can get money for nothing if you type F-U-N-D-S).
And just to prove that games like these aren’t a product of the past, I highly encourage everyone to check out Kerbal Space Program. For all that I thought I understood orbital physics, I never really grasped them intuitively until playing this game, which is also a whole load of fun (especially if you like explosions, and let’s face it, who doesn’t?).
At this point, you might be noticing the common thread: they’re all simulations. This means that what the game teaches you isn’t something tacked on afterwards, like a quiz or a cutscene: it’s a fundamental part of the game mechanics. By building a game around a simulation, they’ve improved both: the simulation provides depth to the game, and the game makes the simulation entertaining. And because the game mechanics revolve around the simulation, simply playing games like these tests your understanding of the simulation in a way conventional educational curriculi are simply incapable of.
This is actually a similar message to the one we took from Mythbusters earlier: you don’t have to make the science/learning fun/cool, like awesomeness is something you have to tack on to science in order to sell it, or worse: like science is mutually exclusive with awesomeness and you need to sacrifice one for the other in order to be accessable (they know know who they are). The science is already awesome: what makes a Science Communicator good is their ability to show us how awesome it truly is.
That’s what we need to get across. We shouldn’t be teaching people with games as if you can just pour information into their brain: we should be showing them how awesome the information is, letting them drink it up of their own volition, and then telling them where they can find more awesomeness of the same nature. That’s what the best communicators: the Neil DeGrasse Tysons, the David Attenboroughs, the Carl Sagans, keep telling us.
And, ultimately that’s what I’m trying to do with Species: not create a game that’s awesome and scientific, but create a game that’s awesome because it’s scientific.
“The optimism, IT BURNS!”
Recently, Bill Nye [the science guy] produced a video called “creationism is not appropriate for children”. It’s fairly short and he doesn’t go into much detail: mostly a bunch of assertions on Bill Nye [the science guy]’s part. From what I’ve seen it shouldn’t be difficult to support those assertions with evidence (they’re nothing particularly controversial), but Bill Nye [the science guy] doesn’t bother: he simply presents them as is. Really, it’s more a presentation of an opinion, rather than a particularly detailed or thorough takedown of creationism.
Now I’m Australian, so until recently I’d never heard of Bill Nye [the science guy] (Note: I have been assured that “the science guy” is a mandatory part of his name and that if you don’t use it he
magically scientifically appears and beats you over the head with a Bunsen burner). I understand he’s a science communicator and used to have his own TV show, but the remainder of my understanding of who he is and what he does comes almost entirely from Randall Munroe.
So what I find interesting about this case isn’t Bill Nye [the science guy]’s opinions on creationism. I don’t know the guy, and his opinions are really pretty standard stuff amongst people with any understanding of science: the video itself is about as controversial as a NASA engineer saying the moon-landing hoaxers are a bunch of loons. What I find interesting has been the denialsphere’s reaction to Bill Nye [the science guy]’s opinions on creationism. It seems like every creationist of note suddenly went critical.
Various creoblogs have been tearing ineffectively at him, and there have been more than a few video responses, including white-background parody’s from groups as well known in the misinformation sphere as Answers In Genesis.
“… the complete lack of a genetic mechanism that allows organisms to gain information”? If this blog was a drinking game, I’d be insisting everybody take a shot right now.
So what I want to know is: why is it that this particular video of a guy on a white background garnered such a reaction? There are plenty of more vehement, more eloquent, more thorough and more fact-oriented video’s on YouTube condemning creationism, some of them from well known and popular people. But it’s Bill Nye [the science guy] that gets all this attention. Why?
It can’t be the format: a YouTube interview is hardly anything new.
I think it might be partly the content. Bill Nye [the science guy] provides an emotional argument: a plea to get back to real science in America. This is in many ways more persuasive than a step-wise, fact-based argument… but it’s also the creationist community’s home turf, which allows them to engage on their own terms. Since Bill Nye [the science guy] didn’t provide immediate facts to back up his assertions, the creationist responses can be simple denial: they are under no burden to prove otherwise, and the audience for all their exposure to “both sides of the argument” is no more informed than they were before.
Mainly, though I think it’s a matter of the source. Bill Nye [the science guy] is well known, and not in the same way that evolutionary scientists like Dawkins are well known. He is a scientist, yes. But far more importantly to the denialists, he’s a TV personality.
Bill Nye [the science guy] isn’t an authority on scientific matters: one of the “experts”. Denialists have done a fine job of slandering the very concept of expertise over the years, to the point where amongst their audience scientific experts are less trusted than weathermen (and in the case of climate change, I mean that literally). But Bill Nye [the science guy] is more than just one of the faceless experts: he’s someone that introduced people to science, showing them how it worked and that it worked. He showed people the side of science that wasn’t the dry academia we’d seen in school. It’s easy to accuse a faceless consensus of experts of lying to you, but Bill Nye was someone people came to know and trust. And that, I think, is why the denialists are so apoplectic about Nye: they have plenty of experience denying facts, but it’s harder to combat the opinions of someone your audience knows and trusts.
Interestingly, this hypothesis means it’s Bill Nye [the science guy]’s status as a science communicator, not his status as a scientist, that so scares the denialist community. This makes sense: almost all scientists in relevant fields support evolution without hesitation and have done so for a long time, but this means very little to the denialists: they are far more concerned with convincing the public than convincing the scientists. It’s the science communicators who are in direct competition with them for the trust of the public.
In some ways, science communication is a science unto itself (or maybe an art?) but communicating science is certainly not the same thing as teaching it. Successfully communicating science…. hmm… actually, there’s too much down that damn rabbit hole to go into in the last few paragraphs of this post, so I’ll leave Communicating Science as a topic for a later blog post. Suffice it to say, I think that at the point our society is at, science communication is almost as important as science itself.
Certainly science communication makes me hope that my work on Species will create something more lasting than an interesting game. Plus, if I can piss off the denialist community by even a fraction of the amount Bill Nye has done with his video, I’ll be laughing.
Oh wait I forgot to AAAARGH PLEASE NO NO NO NOT THE BUNSEN BUR-
“Serious Question: in a fight between Bill Nye and Adam Savage, who would win?”
Dammit, now I’m wondering just how much energy really is contained in creationists. Let’s find out:
(We’ll confine ourself to American creationists since the statistics are better and, as Bill Nye [the science guy] says, modern creationism is a primarily an American phenomena)
Average Human Weight (male, US) = 88.6 kg
Average Human Weight (female, US) = 77.2 kg
Average Human Weight (US) = (88.6 + 77.2) / 2 = 82.9 kg
US population = 314,289,000 people (2012)
Creationist Percent of the US population = 43% (2007)
Number of US Creationists = (314,289,000 * 0.43) = 135,144,000 people
Mass of US Creationists = 135,144,000 * 82.9 = 11,203,440,000 kg
c = 299,792,458 m / s
E = mc^2 = (11 203 440 000) * (299 792 458) ^ 2
= 1.00e+27 joules
= 239 000 teratons
For comparison, the Chixlub impact that wiped out the dinosaurs has been estimated at a mere 100 teratons (a teraton is one million megatons). So for the sake of a comprehensible mental image, imagine more than 2000 “world killer” meteorites hitting America at the same time. (And in case you were wondering, this math puts the energy yield of a single person at 1780 megatons: our largest nuclear weapons (the full-yield tsar bomba) don’t even come close at 150 megatons).
Clearly there is only one sensible conclusion to draw from this: creationists are the power-source of the future. Somebody get those buggers running on treadmills!
Okay, so normally I approach the slightly more difficult denialist arguments and try to give them the benefit of the doubt, so as to constructively critique them and address the fundamental misconceptions that resulted in them, as well as to comment on actual concerns in science communication and on some of the more unintuitive and interesting results of the theory of evolution. [deep breath] But…
… sometimes I read something that breaks the stupid barrier so hard the air-molecules in front of it fuse with it and cause a multi-megaton explosion, and I just have to laugh at it, and share it with friends so they can laugh at it, and broadcast it via gravitic waves from a repurposed orbital EMP cannon to finely control the vibrations of every smooth surface on the planet so every sentient being on earth including the reptiles that live thousands of kilometres under the earth can laugh hysterically at it. This is the sort of stupid to which the only real responce is snark: snark so dense that it collapses into a snarkularity and causes the snarkpocalypse, which I’m proposing as an ending for a Darker And Edgier cover of Dr Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat. So here’s an article from Richard Gunther of Living Waters Ministry, Ray Comforts official cartoonist and easily one of the dumbest creationists I’m aware of. Seriously, this guy puts Comfort, Hovind and Ham to shame. He’s in a whole league of his own.
Fair warning, the following makes no attempt at being constructive, persuasive, unbiased or even fair. It is written solely as an exercise in sadistic mockery of the eminantly mockable. And I am going to thoroughly enjoy writing it.
I will, however, refrain from commenting on the HTML layout of his site. Some targets are just too easy.
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A while ago I drew a cartoon as a joke, with the picture of hairy primate and the words to the effect: “If we come from apes, and if apes were “fitter”, then how come there are still apes?”
That would be this cartoon:
(Attribution: Richard Gunther, Living Waters Ministry)
Have you ever wondered what you’d get if you gene spliced an orang-utan, a horse, and a goldfish? Well now you know.
And in answer to the question, an analogous question: “If Australians are descended from Europeans, why are there still Americans?” (The answer, of course, is “Because We Find Them Amusing”)
It was a rather confusing question, unless you followed the assumption followed by Darwin, that the “fittest” would survive – as opposed to the “unfittest” which would become extinct.
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Firstly, Mr Gunther, Thomas Huxley came up with “Survival of the Fittest”. Darwin wasn’t too keen on the term, and would probably have used twenty times as many words anyway.
Secondly, SotF is a 150 year old oversimplification. Everyone else moved on, why didn’t creationists?
Thirdly, Microsoft Word says “unfittest” isn’t a word.
This joke was drawn and written for its humour, not its accuracy, because of course it is downright silly to argue this way.
Alright, fair enough. I suppose it was pretty funny, in a “laugh at the mentally disabled creationist” sort of way… wait, no, that’s not funny at all. But then again, since when are cartoonists expected to have a sense of humour anyway?
Just because one thing came from another does not mean the originator must be gone – just because humans are “fitter” than apes does not mean that apes ought to be extinct. A simple illustration of this is found in dog, or cat, or rabbit, or hen, or pigeon, or horse breeding. The original stock is still with us, while the offspring, hybridised and modified through careful breeding, is also with us. There are also many examples of very “unfit” plants and animals, such as the panda which lives almosty exclusively on bamboo, or the koala which likes mainly eucalyptus. Most unfit” yet they survive.
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There’s a pretty big difference between “specialised” and “unfit”. I’d like to see you survive solely on Eucalyptus, Richard! (Actually, I really would, that would be awesome)
The only reason panda’s and koala’s are ‘unfit’ these days is because we’re destroying their natural habitat faster then they, as extremely specialised animals, can adapt.
Unfortunately, when this cartoon about the humans and apes was posted on a website, it drew a great deal of flak, as several people took it as a serious comment. On the one hand I am pleased to see that there are some intelligent people ‘out there’ in etherland, who know some facts about breeding,
“Breeding”? I assume he meant to say something like “ancestry” or “population dynamics” (or, azathoth forbid, “evolution”), but… “breeding”? Now I’ve got a mental image of Zombie!Gunther staggering about moaning “breeeeeedddinnnnggg”…
(I suppose it makes sense: he certainly has no desire for brainz)
and I must admit I was slightly flattered that anyone would even notice my little cartoon, but on the other hand I was disappointed that the humour in the work was not taken as just that. Humour, satire, irony and other forms of amusement are not supposed to be taken as seriously as, for example, a scientific statement, or a statistical comment.
“If the world is really made entirely from cheese like creationists believe, then what type of cheese is it?”
“Ummm… creationists don’t actually believe the…”
“CAN’T YOU TAKE A JOKE?!”
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It reminded me of a joke I read, where a little kid asked his Dad “If God made us, and we are apes, then God must be an ape too!” Very logical, and based on the original premise being true, quite consistent, but funny, because the whole question is based on a silly premise.
Alright, so if we assume Gunther is claiming this joke is analogous to his, then the “silly premise” in question is… what? A rediculous caricature of the theory of evolution?
Something doesn’t add up here. Why would a creationist make a parody of a strawman caricature of evolution? I could understand a evolutionist making that parody to mock creationists, and I can understand a creationist making a parody of evolution itself, but in this case we’ve got a creationist parodying a creationist strawman?
Or maybe Richard is just backpedalling because he realises his original cartoon was somewhere between neurodeficient-tapeworm and concussed-housefly on the IQometer.
So taking up this view that it is a good thing to be logical, and consistent with an original premise, let us see where the Darwinian view leads, if we follow it through: Darwin saw Mankind as the product of millions of years of slow development, an increasing trend, from lower to higher levels of intelligence and complexity – a development which he claimed was a normal part of living things.
Well, leaving out the ‘lower to higher’ aspect, which is just silly, (increased complexity and intelligence are merely byproducts of our improved ability to survive), yes. Evolution progresses slowly, over millions of years.
Apply a logical progression to this: If this premise is true we should see:
A continuing improvement in average human phisique, health and resistance to biological opposition over time,
A continuing increase in average human intelligence, and technology,
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Okay, see, the one part I left out, because it was silly? That’s the part you’re focusing on, Richard. Also, you seem to have forgotten the ‘millions of years’ part.
Also, when did human technology start reproducing biologically? You’ve been holding out on me, technologically industry! I want my biotech!
We do not see any of these things. The trend is the other way. Darwin’s theory of evolution upward doesn’t fit the real, observed world.
False Attribution: “Darwins theory of evolution upward” actually refers “Richard Gunthers utterly moronic caricature which he thinks is an accurate description of evolution.”
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Health? Humans are increasingly beset by new diseases (small pox, malaria, cholera, ‘black death’. etc)
Black Death? The black death is a new disease? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
The other “new diseases” there would still be lol worthy even without the black death, but… oh my goodness, that’s hilariously idiotic.
I’m subtracting a Headdesk just for that.
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How[sic] Intellect? Increasingly discoveries of ancient civilizations are revealing that those people were actually brighter they we are in many ways (i.e. huge monuments made of incredibly heavy stones, the antikathera, astronomical knowledge, metal-work, more complex languages, etc.
Yep. The people who built great big lumps of triangular rock to bury their dead leaders in were totes smarter than the engineers and experimental physicists who built a perfectly circular tunnel of vaccum under france and italy and just used it to discover the Higgs Bosun. And the zodiac is waaaaay more advanced than hubble. And metal work? I’ll bet the engineers who just landed a rover the size of a mini on another planet with a parachute/hovering VTOL skycrane combo would never have thought of heating up iron.
Any more insights, Professor Gunther?
No, seriously, is he seriously arguing that our intellectual level has followed a downward trend since the bronze age using examples from technology to prove his point? I would understand it if he was using writing and philosophy: that would at least make a certain level of sense, albeit sense not backed up by evidence. But technology?
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Are humans improving ‘morally’? Not at all – we have had more than 5000 years of continuous war, raging at least somewhere on the planet, including the more recent two world wars, a holocaust, and many examples of genocide – some going on right now. Peace on earth? Right now there are millions of people living under oppressive military regimes, or dying of sickness, hunger and/or are in the grip of poverty.
Yeah, and a large percentage of the world population now believes that war, slavery, racism and discrimination is wrong and lives in peaceful democratic countries, where our opinions, beliefs and freedoms are protected and we are all (theoretically) given equal ability to influence how our countries are governed. WE’RE WORSE THAN WE’VE EVER BEEN.
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So this is the opposite to the path set by Darwin’s theory? According to him, evolution for humans is all up and up,
Also according to Darwin according to Gunther: the moon is an eyeball of yog sothoth’s pet unicorn, humans are secretly being controlled by the koala-bear hivemind (but it’s okay because they only want hugs), and germs are actually the tears of fairies who have lost their wings.
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but the reality is down and down. Humans are not smarter, healthier, better. They are either much the same or much worse. Darwin was dreaming.
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All I can think of right now is that quote from The Castle: “Tell ‘im he’s dreamin’!” It’s possible I may have just given myself a concussion.
But there is one last thing to note: one huge and obvious difference between that ape I drew and the average modern human is that apes don’t have an inherited sinful nature.
Bonobo’s have sex for pleasure and chimps eat each other.
If humans really did come from primates, they too would be sinful, but they are not. They have no moral awareness at all.
Several species of apes grieve for lost loved ones, and are capable of altruism.
That makes humans more likely to be special creations, by a moral God, than merely animals – something Darwin apparently refused to notice.
Yep, because Darwin was absolutely incurious about the natural world and didn’t spend decades of his life studying every detail he could find prior to publishing his theory. No, instead he “refused to notice” basic creofacts and wrote On The Origins Of Species after a drunken night on the town, during which he proposed to a 200lb dock-worker and accidentally set fire to his beard. Twice.
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Although, credit where credit is due, it can’t be easy for Richard Gunther to transmit these essays to us across the 5th dimension from the parallel universe he apparently inhabits.
“Pro-tip: never try to hug a koala. Seriously. Furry bastards have claws and a temper.”
… is Released!
Download the game here: Species ALRE Official Website
From the Development Thread:
Highlight Colour Filters (basic implementation)
Ultra Time Acceleration (deactives rendering, runs at the maximum speed the computer can handle)
Q/E to make the camera Rise/Fall. (It’s like maaagic)
Head animation and movement. (To make them look like they’re actually thinking. Makes them seem a lot less brain-dead)
Eye animation and movement. (as above)
Animated Cloud Plane.
Tree’s waving in the breeze. (These two should make the Time Accelleration actually feel like Time Accelleration, as opposed to simply putting all the creatures on meth)
Better Looking Corpse/Meat Models (Steaks! Delicious bloody raw steaks! How can they resist evolving into carnivores now?)
Basic Ambient Noises (placeholder sounds: check back for a hotfix for them later this week)
Export Creature function
Import Creature function
Mutation Map – Feature Model
Mutation Map – Feature Texture
Mutation Map – Body Covering
Mutation Map – Colour Pattern
Update the Mod Maker to acknowledge new Mutation Maps.
Mark Perception Target. (Head animation already made the creatures a bit easier to read: showing the player what the selected creature is targeting should improve that even more)
Remake the Eyes (Eyestalks and eyelids and light sensing pits!)
Remake the Eye textures (Lenses and Compound Eyes!)
Autorestart option for Mass Extinction (in the Options Menu)
Creatures not wandering even though they say they are. (LIIIIIEES!)
Creatures spinning endlessly in circles around tree’s. (Clearly they’re attempting to rob the planet of it’s rotational momentum. They must be stopped)
Game crashes at some point when you set the population cap to 2000.
Autosave closing any open UI tabs. (My bad guys, I should have fixed that one before release)
Creature’s heads rotating into their own bodies (mostly fixed, still happens occasionally though)
Creatures looking in the wrong direction in the Creature Details Panel.
Fake shadows visible through cliffs.
Fake shadows not orienting to ground properly.
Remove Creature Thumbnails. (currently they’re being taken at birth for every creature on the map, which costs performance. It would be better to take one solely for whichever creature is currently selected)
Deforest the area outside the border
Automatically detect if the player’s graphics card can’t handle Pixel Shader 3.0 and/or > 2048×2048 textures
Deal with all of the AI problems that Mark Perception Target made painfully obvious
Bind the Up, Down, Left and Right keys as secondary movement controls for people who don’t have qwerty keyboards.
Option to save as BMP files, for systems that don’t support saving to PNG (assuming that’s what’s causing the loss-of-terrain problems some people are reporting)
Check Biomass Bar for possible Memory Leak (No way to test it, but I have made sure it won’t try to draw more than 150 scale sprites)
Here’s a new type of post: analysing the behavior of Species: trying to work out why things are happening the way they are, and using what we learn to improve the mechanics for the future.
Eventually, I’d like to integrate this sort of questioning into the game mechanics themselves: make science itself a game mechanic. As an example: say you want to know what a specific gene does. The game could require you to earn a certain amount of “data points”, or something equally abstract, and then spend them on that gene to discover it’s function. And that would make for a decent game mechanic, encouraging you to earn data points, which I assume you’d get by performing actions like creature sampling. But it wouldn’t be science, it’d be economics. And no offence to economists and EVE Online players, but unless your entire country is falling into disrepair because of too many short-term investments and cuts by the rich and powerful, economics is boring.
Alternatively, you could take a creatures genome, apply heavy mutation to that gene specifically (via a targetable radiation gun or something equally awesome), then clone a creature from that genome and see what’s changed. You could then go back and label the gene. Observation, hypothesis, experimentation and conclusion: that’s science, turned into a gameplay mechanic. And best of all, the reward is the logical result of the experiment: you can now target that feature specifically when you manipulate genetics.
Of course, the game can take care of some of the slower bits: for instance, an ‘autocompare’ between parent and child, which detects and names the heavily mutated gene for you, would keep the game moving better than if the player had to visually inspect for differences, and then go back and type in the function of the mutated gene themselves. Afterall, I’m not interested in data entry, I’m interested in science. (On the other hand, if naming gene functions is your thing, this would tie in well with the ‘naturalist mode’ idea that Reprieve suggested)
Anyway, I’ve managed to go off track before I even got on the track in the first place. I don’t even think I ever even [i]saw[/i] the track: I’ve been doing donuts in the carpark this whole time. Shorter me: I’ll be looking for any opportunity I can to integrate science and gameplay. In the meantime, I can still do science on the game out here in meta-space.
And what I want to know today is: why aren’t carnivores evolving?
Play the game for a bit and the best you’ll probably get are omnivores, despite all the giant piles of delicious meat lying around. Something’s going on: hunting and scavenging should be viable strategies, so why don’t carnivores survive?
Part of this is simply the power of stupid. Creatures are often too dumb to seek out plants, let alone other creatures, let along dead other creatures. Rest assured I’m working on this for 0.4.1, and future versions will have significant AI improvements on top of it.
But it’s not just that. You may have noticed that probably the most viable strategy among the creatures is to find a large tree and just sit there eating it, staying at max energy and pumping out 10 or more babbies until it’s gone, like the Quiverful movement’s vision of the ideal woman.
So why doesn’t this work for carnivores?
Is it just simple math? I’ve been meaning to check the math for this post, but haven’t gotten around to it (and I don’t have the game in front of me right now durn it), but I’m pretty sure it isn’t: meat energy is highly dependant on the life of the dead creature, but everything they eat during their life is converted to meat, so there should be loads of it in each meat pile.
But there’s another factor. You see, creatures have an ‘eat rate’ value, which differs between vegetation and meat. The malleable, delicious, high-protein meat can be consumed much more rapidly than the tough, horrible, inefficient plants.
In theory, this serves as a reward: unlike grazing, creatures can get a lot of energy in a short amount of time from meat. In practice, it became the opposite: the above strategy, where creatures maintain their energy at max by eating from one source until it’s completely consumed, works for only as long as the source lasts. And meat doesn’t last much time at all.
This is an interesting phenomenamnicon in it’s own right: the ecosystem actually encourages slow-eating creatures, which is the opposite of my expectations. But it makes the game less interesting and actually discourages evolution, so I believe a few changes are in order.
There are two approaches I could take to this:
– The balancing approach. Consuming meat faster is preventing carnivores from developing, so I’ll make them consume meat slower. I’m not going to take this approach, partly because it’s illogical, but mainly because it utterly and unforgivably violates my primary design goal. I’m developing the environment, not the evolution: I shouldn’t be ‘balancing’ selection pressures to make the things that I find interesting develop. That’s not what the game is about! Aargh!
– The expanding approach. It’s not consuming meat faster that’s preventing carnivores from developing: it’s that I’ve failed to model the animals eating behavior correctly. It’s logically impossible for them to continue to eat when their stomach’s completely full, so why are they doing so? I need to fix that fundamental bug, rather than working within it to achieve outcomes I percieve as desirous.
Of course, I probably won’t be able to fix it immediately. Making them make a new decision when full is a relatively simple thing to implement, but it will lead to a whole bunch of new bugs to test for, and will have significant implications for their survival (making it much harder on the early, blind creatures, and much easier on the sighted random creatures). So I’ll probably hold off implementing it until 0.5.0, which will also implement grazing, a feeding strategy that doesn’t depend on sight and so makes it easier on the starting creatures.
(EDIT) Actually, you know what guys? Screw everything I just said, I’m implementing it anyway. I might as well: it’s not like I’m not fixing AI bugs already, and with those fixes I’ve already completely screwed over the game balance.
(EDIT Mk2) What the flip. The blind starting creatures are surviving better now? How are they… I don’t even… what is this? What the hell even is this? YOUR GOD DEMANDS TO KNOW.
(EDIT Mk3) Okay, it looks like this might be one of those hilariously unintuitive results the Anthropomorphic Personification Of Evolution is so fond of. I could explain what I think is causing it, but that would deprive you guys of the challenge of working it out yourself. So come on: tell me in the comments why they’re reproducing better now that they leave tree’s alone when they’re full! I’ll post what I think is the answer a few days from now.
“Phenomenon”: singular. “Phenomena”: plural. And the “Phenomenamnicon” is a book used to summon a particularly vague eldritch abomination. Geez, it’s not that hard to remember!