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The results of evolution at work in other worlds and realms of being, in the far future of our own planet, in timelines that diverged from the one we know, in unexplored angles of the deep past, or by hand of unscrupolous Creators...

(for not-in-deviantArt-point commissions, contact me at concavenator [dot] corcovatus [at] gmail [dot] com)

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Animal brain size by Concavenator Animal brain size :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 17 10
Literature
Unity
5000 years hence
Some worlds were stranger than others.
Girdled by the orbit of three icy moons, Rama shone yellow and green on the emptiness of space. Over a thousand years before, its colonial population had stood at the crossroads between changing their world for themselves and changing themselves for their world, as any other; they had reached their domain crossing asteroids stained with the blood of civilizations torn apart by violence.
A philosopher of the yellow plains had reached an astounding yet obvious conclusion: as the protists rolling in the primaeval chaos of the Archaean lagoons had associated into multicellular bodies that transcended the abilities of each single cell, and survived to bring on their plans even when all their component cells had died and been replaced, thus would have to do the seeds of humankind to ensure their survival.
There was arguing and there was fighting, for fifty generations. Churches and heresies grew around this principle of its refut
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Departure by Concavenator Departure :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 6 5 Inheritor by Concavenator Inheritor :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 23 5 Sea People by Concavenator Sea People :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 27 2
Literature
Underworld
500 years hence
The official name of that place was Kardashev Chthonian Station n°11, but for the Tibetan workers that was Naraka, the many-layered underworld, abode of demons, the abyss of ice and fire. There was no time in the bowels of Naraka: day and night merged into a penumbra broken only by the dim glow of the burning crevices.
The machines clattered at every instant, the power planets buzzed and crackled ceaselessly, the exhaust water sloshed and hissed on the red-hot rocks below, bursting into columns of burning steam that filled all space, dotting the rough stone walls with onyx droplets. This was not an environment for human beings. And yet human beings did dwell in it, within exoskeletons of metal and plastic, resembling spiders more than men, crawling in pressurized corridors under the burden of tools and replacement parts.
Chiung no longer remembered what the stars looked like as they turned in the vault of the sky. What had he done to end down there? Had he m
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Terra 2070 by Concavenator Terra 2070 :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 18 2 Ea: UNSS Utnapishtim by Concavenator Ea: UNSS Utnapishtim :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 1 0
Literature
Darkness
10 million years hence
Darkness. Silence.
Khra startled awake, as if by a flash of lightning or a violent noise. Instead, there were only darkness and silence. Too much silence, as understood not by the lump of nervous tissue that sat in her skull, but by the sensorial reflexes that twitched deep beneath her colorless fur. The gurgle of the Stream - the blessed Stream that provided them with food, and carried their waste away to unsounded depth - could be heard no more.
All others slept, cuddled together on the slippery slabs of eroded concrete. Khra clambered down the furry mound of bodies, an easy task with her spindly spiderlike limbs, rousing grunts of annoyance. Then she threw her thin call. The echo returned to her of a flat and solid surface.
Below the group stagnated the comforting scent of her kin's dung, the hallmark of a prosperous colony. It was the supreme call of triumph, there's many of us, there's many of me. Further still below, pale mushrooms grew in the muck,
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Leopard by Concavenator Leopard :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 11 2 Man of Yksin by Concavenator Man of Yksin :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 5 0 Tagra by Concavenator Tagra :iconconcavenator:Concavenator 15 5
Literature
Omphalos
   The rules of travel between the worlds, being mediated by dream as described in Pseudo-Athanasius' Somnium Cavōrum and Fēngzǐ's Mèngjīng, are determinated by perception rather then by the underlying mechanics of reality. If one lives in a world in which anemone flowers exist, it will be easier to travel to another in which they exist as well by appealing to this similarity, even though they may have been produced by natural selection in one world, and by the blood of Adonis in the other. Their underlying nature is not relevant: only their appearance to the conscious observer is. This is ultimately the great divide between empirical and onirical disciplines.
   While travel between worlds that are closely related in such a sense does not present great difficulties for who practices the appropriate ritual, there are reports of ambitious mystics attempting onirobatia over distances they were unprepared for and, so to speak, fal
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Animal brain size
Behold! 108 animal species (mostly vertebrates (mostly mammals)), plotted on a doubly logarithmic graph by brain and body mass. (Brain mass is represented in calculations as E, body mass as S, both in grams.)
It's tempting to use brain size as a proxy of animal intelligence, but it's also obvious that simply weighting a brain is not enough. Just look at the leftmost ranking in the blue box: alright, cetaceans and elephants as the top, as expected, but does anyone believe sperm whales to be six times smarter than humans? And what is the chimpanzee doing below the walrus, the camel, and the cow? We know parrots and crows can be pretty damn smart, compared to birds and even most mammals - and yet they're much less brainy than ostriches and chickens.
OK, this isn't exactly a riddle for the ages. It's obvious that a larger animal needs a larger brain to perform the same functions. A 120-kg ostrich with a 6-gram brain wouldn't be as smart as a crow with the same E, and 2 grams of brain are much more active in a 250-gram pigeon than in a 56-tons Brachiosaurus.

So we only have to look at the relative brain size! We divide E by S, and... huh. Now the top of the list (middle column in the blue box) is dominated by tiny birds. The brain of a humble sparrow takes up 8% of its body weight - the equivalent for a 70 kg human would be 3 kg of brain! Homo erectus ranks barely above the guinea pig, the gorilla is just above a slug, and the chimpanzee is below an ant and a goldfish! And of course this time elephants and whales rank pathetically low.
Why does this happen? Well, it turns out that while a larger brain is required for a larger body, it doesn't quite scale up linearly. The specter of the square-cube law haunts everything. The scale of body structures and processes is not directly proportional to the overall mass; for example, an animal metabolic rate is only proportional to the 3/4th power of its mass, so that if one animalis 10,000 heavier than another, everything else being equal, it only needs 1000 times as much food. The legs of an elephant are obviously larger than those of an ant, not only in absolute shape, but in proportions, too - stout pillars instead of thin wires. The eyes of a sperm whale are larger than those of a dormouse, but they're proportionally much smaller in its face. This is called allometry.

And here comes the encephalization quotient (EQ). When you start studying the allometry of the brain (see for example Jerison, 1973 in the sources below), you find out that it grows with the 2/3th power of the body mass just, presumably, to perform the same functions. Thus, to quantify the braininess of an animal, you do not divide E by S, but E by S^(2/3). And then we divide it by 0.12, so that the typical value for mammals is about 1. The result is the formula you can see in the top left corner of the graph.
Now we're getting somewhere! As you can see yourself, the data points form a belt that runs through the graph in a slope corresponding to our formula. Primates and cetaceans rule the upper part of the new ranking (rightmost column in the blue box), followed by elephants, crows, and parrots. As they damn well should. Most mammals are indeed clustered around EQ = 1, as are birds, while other vertebrates and invertebrates are found below. (Sorry, Brachiosaurus: you're terrible either way.)
Now look at the diagonal lines crossing the graph. The red ones represent constant brain/body ratios. For example, the red line that starts in the lower left corner of the graph shows all the points where E/S = 1/100, or where the brain mass is exactly 1% of the body mass. (The highest red line shows were E/S = 1, or brain mass is exactly equal to total body mass, so obviously the region above is impossible to fill.) The blue lines mark constant EQs: for example, the EQ = 1 line cutting throughthe bulk of birds and mammals. If you go from the sparrow to the parrot, you can see you're going farther above the lower blue line (EQ rises), but away from the upper red line (E/S falls).

A few observations:
1. There's a rather narrow belt of EQs, say between 0.02 and 0.1, that seems to be typical for the animal kingdom in general; arthropods, mollusks, ectotherm vertebrates, all lie right on it. Mammals and birds, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly located on a parallel but higher line, at EQ 0.2-1.5 or so, with only a few specialized groups rising above. The large brain in birds and mammals has probably evolved separately, as both stem-mammals (e.g. Thrinaxodon) and non-avian dinosaurs (e.g. Allosaurus) score pretty low. Whatever common factor they have (probably endothermy - i.e. the ability to keep inner temperature constant - allowing the brain to specialize its functions for a particular temperature, rather than having to make do in different conditions?), it multiplied their brain size but left the allometric relation relatively unchanged.
(At one point, I dared estimate E and S for the flatworm Dugesia japonica; extrapolating from here and here, and assuming the flatworm to be a 0.7*0.2*0.05 mm block of jelly with the density of water, I put E = 0.0000008 g and S = 0.000007 g, which of course doesn't it to the graph, but gives E/S = 1:9 and EQ = 0.018, in the correct order of magnitude at least.)
2. Some EQs are genuinely surprising: I would have expected pigs (which are below cows!) to score much higher. The disparity between the two elephant species is strange, as is that between us and Neanderthals (though that's probably to due to issues with body weight: see below). On the other hand, pinnipeds do pretty well for themselves, with a sea lion and a walrus rivalling primates. The manta ray and the hammerhead shark score around 0.3, bizarrely high compared to other fish. And what the heck is the sun bear doing in the middle of apes??? Also, given the trend of discoveries about dinosaurs being much more active and complexly behaving than once believed, it feels downright unfair for them to score so low. Even Stenonychosaurus (once known as Troodon) is only slightly above the chicken.
3. We can attempt a few general statements about the high-EQ species. Omnivores like crows and primates, and also the goat and the raccoon, score the highest, followed by carnivores like pinnipeds and cetaceans. Ground hornbills, like primates, are omnivores that search food from many different sources. Herbivores tend to be lower than both, with the conspicuous exception of parrots (which eat high-calory fruit and nuts) and elephants (which are just weird all around). Carnivorans as a bloc are solidly above ungulates. Note that this mostly applies to active hunters: passive predators like frogs and spiders not as much (but is that just an effect of endotherm passive predators being rare in general?). Primates and crows are also enthusiastic tool users, and parrots and raccoons are at least able to crudely manipulate objects (pinnipeds and cetaceans, on the other hand...). Most of these species - apes and elephants and dolphins - are also strongly social; parrots and raccoons, not as much. (Maybe octopodes would score higher if they didn't die before meeting their own offspring.) In sum, all these features seem strongly correlated with high EQ and intelligence, but they all have obvious exceptions. Perhaps our secret was having all three at the same time.
4. At risk of being accused of teleology, I'll say there are clear trends of EQ increasing over time. In this graph I focused on living species, with only a few extinct token ones; but Jerison's book, in source i, has a pretty extensive list of brain data for extinct mammals, and it seems clear that Holocene mammals lie on a line above Oligocene mammals, which are above Palaeocene mammals, which are above stem-mammals (also see the graphs in source s). Jerison's examples of extinct fish (e.g. the placoderm Macropetalichthys) never rise above 0.1, which both cartilaginous and bony fish surpass today. Same with dinosaurs: as I mentioned above, the highest-scoring non-avian dinosaurs are right besides the lowest-scoring birds.
(In the case you're wondering, brain size for extinct species is mostly estimated from endocasts, solid casts of the internal cavity of the skull.)

Before we get too excited, though, here's a few important caveats.
1. First, and most obvious, the very concept of "brain" is not universal in animals. EQ was invented for vertebrates in general, and mammals in particular; most animal phyla don't even have brain-analogue structures. Arthropods and cephalopods have clusters of nerve tissue that can be called "brains", true; but their nervous systems tend to be much less centralized than that of vertebrates. The nerve cells that control the motion of our legs is still part of our brain; in a grasshopper, their equivalents would be located in ganglia in the thorax. Two thirds of the neurons of an octopus are in its arms; only a minority of nervous activity occurs in the "brain". (It would be so interesting to find out how a creature such as an octopus think; would it see itself as a group of mostly independent beings that happen to be joined together?) Another clear hurdle is extinct species, where we largely have to guess what fraction of the endocast volume was filled by the brain. What counts as the body is also not trivial. If I became fatter, my body weight would increase but my brain weight wouldn't; so my EQ would drop. But would that change anything about my cognition?
EDIT: archeoraptor38 reminded me that bird brains have a much higher neuron density than mammal brains, so they might actually deserve a higher ranking. Olkowicz et al. 2015 suggests that a bird brain has about 2.3 times as many neurons as a mammal brain of equal size. If we thus count bird brains as 2.3 their actual mass, the New Caledonian crow has E = 14 g, S = 280 g, E/S = 1:19, EQ = 2.9 (!!!); and the African grey parrot has E = 21 g, S = 410 g, E/S = 1:19, EQ = 3.2 (!!!!), ranking both between the chimpanzee and the porpoise. While this fits with studies of their intelligence, I'm not sure how sound this methodology is.
2. There's also the fact that most of these measurements are based on a few specimens, or even just one, which do not have to be representative of their species. Often, as in the gorilla and the walrus, brain and body size change enormously between males and females, and young organisms tend to have much higher EQs than adults. The sea lion from source o is a 1-year old female weighing 34.5 kg, much less than adult of its species. Regarding the discrepancy between the two elephants, source i notes that the Indian elephant may have been young. The gap between modern humans and Neandertals could be explained by data selection; the sources f and i both give the average weight of H. sapiens at 53.5 kg, much lower than Wikipedia's 68 kg, but I followed their numbers. (If you're interested, E = 1.35 kg and S = 68 kg gives E/S = 1:50 and EQ = 6.8.)
The sun bear from source t is especially problematic. The authors apparently received only the brain and could not examine the animal, which was reported as weighing 82 kg at death; but they note this is an astonishingly high weight for that species. Source i gives an even higher brain weight (390 vs. 300 g) for a more typical body weight of 45 kg, so the authors of t base their calculations on the latter number, noting that the bear was raised in captivity, and speculating it may have been overfed. If S = 82 kg, E/S = 1:86, and EQ = 1.3.
3. And then, of course, not all of the volume of a brain is given to what we'd call "intelligence". In at least some cases, most of a brain is used to process a large amount of raw sensorial data: this is definitely the case for the elephant-nose fish, and I would bet for the hammerhead shark (the former's "nose" and the latter's "hammer" essentially being sensorial antennae).
4. While EQ measuring seems pretty solid at middle scales, with the caveats above, I suspect it might break down altogether at the extremes. A brain can only get so small before it stops functioning as a brain altogether, which could make the EQ of insects and spiders artificially high. More importantly, when a brain reaches a certain size, expanding it might be useless even as the body grows. Perhaps the brain of a sauropod already does anything the brain of an ectotherm (???) could possibly do, and a larger one wouldn't help even in coordinating a larger body (since the speed of nerve impulses is actually pretty slow, such a being would benefit more by decentralized nerve control). This could explain why both ectotherms (with large dinosaurs) and endotherms (with whales) seem to reach an EQ "roof" above which the body grows without corresponding brain expansion.

Thoughts?


Sources for brain and body data:

a. Jerison HJ (2004). Dinosaur Brains, in Encyclopedia of Neuroscience (3rd ed.), Elsevier Science (link) (related data in source i): Allosaurus, Brachiosaurus (body mass from source v), Iguanodon, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus
b. Ari C (2011). Encephalization and Brain Organization of Mobulid Rays (Myliobatiformes, Elasmobranchii) with Ecological Perspectives, The Open Anatomy Journal, 6(3):1-13 (link): Manta, Rhincodon, Sphyrna
c. “Brain and Body Size” (2000), Serendip Studio, Bryn Mawr College (link): Macropus
d. Mlikovsky J (2003). Brain size and foramen magnum area in crows and allies (Aves: Corvidae), Acta Societatis Zoologicae Bohemicae, 67:203-211 (link): Corvus, Pica
e. Linzey DW (2012), Vertebrate Biology (2nd ed.), Johns Hopkins University Press (link): Gallus, Lacerta, Perca, Triturus, Troglodytes, Varanus, Vipera
f. McHenry HM (2009). Human Evolution, in Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, Harvard University Press (link): Australopithecus, H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis
g. Nilsson GE (1996). Brain and body oxygen requirements of Gnathonemus petersii, a fish with an exceptionally large brain. Journal of Experimental Biology, 199:603-607 (link): Carassius, Gnathonemus
h. Crile G, Quiring DP (1940). A record of the body weight and certain organ and gland weights of 3690 animals. Ohio Journal of Science, 40(5):219-259 (link): Alligator, Amazilia, Blaberus, Bos (Jersey breed), Bradypus, Bubo, Bucorvus (male only), Canis (greyhound), Capra, Castor, Cavia, Clarias, Columba, Desmodus, Didelphis, Felis, Giraffa (male only), Gymnothorax, Hippopotamus, Larus (female only), Lemur, Limax, Lithobates, Loxodonta, Melanoplus, Odobenus, Pan, Passer, Phrynosoma, Rattus, Salmo, Sorex, Struthio, Sus (female only), Testudo, Thunnus (averages from many males and females unless otherwise noted)
i. Jerison HJ (1973), Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence, Academic Press (synapsids, mammals): Ateles, Barylambda, Camelus, Cebus, Chlorocebus, Elephantulus, Elephas, Eryops, Gorilla, H. sapiens, Hyaenodon, Latimeria, Lystrosaurus, Macaca, Macropetalichthys, Megalonyx, Ornithorhynchus, Papio, Phenacodus, Pongo, Procyon, Rhamphorhynchus, Talpa, Thrinaxodon, Triconodon, Ursus
j. Marino L (2009). Brain size evolution, in Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, 149-152 (link): Balaenoptera, Basilosaurus, Megaptera, Orcinus, Phocoena, Physeter, Trichechus, Tursiops
k. Salas CA, Yopak KE, Lisney TJ, Potter IC, Collin SP (2017). The Central Nervous System of Jawless Vertebrates: Encephalization in Lampreys and Hagfishes. Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 89(1), 33–47 (link): Lampetra, Myxine
l. Seid MA, Castillo A, Wcislo WT (2011). The Allometry of Brain Miniaturization in Ants. Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 77(1), 5–13 (link): Camponotus, Paraponera
m. Iwaniuk AN, Dean KM, Nelson JE (2004). Interspecific Allometry of the Brain and Brain Regions in Parrots (Psittaciformes): Comparisons with Other Birds and Primates. Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 65(1), 40–59 (link): Psittacus
n. Mares S, Ash L, Gronenberg W (2005). Brain Allometry in Bumblebee and Honey Bee Workers. Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 66(1), 50–61 (link): Apis (worker)
o. Montie EW, Pussini N, Schneider GE, Battey TWK, Dennison S, Barakos J, Gulland F (2009). Neuroanatomy and Volumes of Brain Structures of a Live California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) From Magnetic Resonance Images. The Anatomical Record, 292:1524-1547 (link): Zalophus (female, 1 year old)
p. Lu JS, Yue F, Liu X, Chen T, Zhuo M (2016). Characterization of the anterior cingulate cortex in adult tree shrew. Molecular Pain, 12:1-11 (link): Tupaia
q. Packard A (1972). Cephalopods and fish: the Limits of Convergence. Biological Reviews, 47(2):241-307 (link): Loligo, Octopus, Sepia
r. "Dichotimistic" (2007), John McCrone (link): Portia*
s. Hopson JA (1977). Relative Brain Size and Behavior in Archosaurian Reptiles. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 8(1), 429–448 (link): Archaeopteryx, Stenonychosaurus
t. Kamtya T, Pirlot P (2009). The brain of the Malayan bear (Helarctos malayanus), Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, 26(3), 225–235 (link): Helarctos (male, but see "caveat" 2 above)
u. Hill DE (2010). Jumping Spider feet (Araneae: Salticidae). Peckhamia, 85(1):1-48 (link): see below
v. Benson RBJ, Campione NE, Carrano MT, Mannion PD, Sullivan C, Upchurch P, Evans DC (2014). Rates of Dinosaur Body Mass Evolution Indicate 170 Million Years of Sustained Ecological Innovation on the Avian Stem Lineage, PLOS 12(5):e1001853 (link): Brachiosaurus (body mass only)
(* source r, whose reliability I'm not quite confident of, gives the size of Portia's brain as 60% of that of a honeybee, which I took from source n. I estimated the overall body weight by interpolating those of related spiders Phidippus and Evarcha, as given in source u, for Portia's size.)

Sources for animal silhouettes

These ones were taken from the website PhyloPic, which credited them to the following authors: Becky Barnes: Sorex; Timothy J. Bartley: Perca (with NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory); Dmitry Bogdanov: Rhamphorhynchus; Andrew Butko: Passer; Anthony Caravaggi: Troglodytes; Dori & Nevit Dilmen: Columba; Rebecca Groom: Larus; Scott Hartman: Allosaurus, Archaeopteryx, Brachiosaurus; Jaime Headden: Iguanodon; Tracy A. Heath: Helarctos; Robert Bruce Horsfall: Hyaenodon; Chris huh: Balaenoptera, Megaptera, Orcinus, Phocoena, Tursiops; Stuart Humphries: Thunnus; Maija Karala: Gnathonemus, Latimeria, Rattus; T. Michael Keesey: Myxine (with A. H. Baldwin), Corvus (with Bc999), Gorilla (with Colin M. L. Burnett), Eryops (with Dmitry Bogdanov), Loligo (with Hans Hillewaert), Pan (with Tony Hisgett), Rhincodon (with Scarlet23), Loxodonta (with J. A. Venter, H. H. T. Prins, D. A. Balfour, R. Slotow), Basilosaurus, Elephas, H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, H. sapiens, Pica, Stenonychosaurus; Birgit Lang: Talpa; Lukasiniho: Bubo, Struthio; Mattia Menchetti: Apis; Gareth Monger: Pongo; Gustav Muetzel: Lacerta; Gordon E. Robertson: Bucorvus; Noah Schlottman: Physeter; Roberto Diaz Sibaja: Desmodus, Lemur; Vince Smith: Trichechus; David Tana: Triceratops; Steven Traver: Bos, Camelus, Capra, Felis, Gallus, Giraffa, Hippopotamus, Lystrosaurus, Odobenus, Procyon, Sus, Triturus, Varanus; Sarah Werning: Bradypus, Cebus, Didelphis, Macropus, Ornithorhynchus; Emily Willoughby: Tyrannosaurus; Yan Wong: Ateles; (uncredited): Castor, Macaca, Paraponera, Sphyrna

These ones I made from the following Wikimedia files: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Alligator, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Amazilia), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Australopithecus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Barylambda), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Blaberus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Camponotus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Carassius), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Chlorocebus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Clarias), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Elephantulus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Gymnothorax), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Lampetra), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Limax), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Lithobates), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Macropetalichthys*), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Manta), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Megalonyx), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Melanoplus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Octopus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Papio), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Phenacodus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Portia), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Salmo), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Sepia), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Testudo), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Thrinaxodon), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Triconodon**), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Tupaia), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Ursus), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Vipera), commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil… (Zalophus)
(* actually the related Quasipetalichthys) (** actually the related Yanoconodon)
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5000 years hence

Some worlds were stranger than others.

Girdled by the orbit of three icy moons, Rama shone yellow and green on the emptiness of space. Over a thousand years before, its colonial population had stood at the crossroads between changing their world for themselves and changing themselves for their world, as any other; they had reached their domain crossing asteroids stained with the blood of civilizations torn apart by violence.

A philosopher of the yellow plains had reached an astounding yet obvious conclusion: as the protists rolling in the primaeval chaos of the Archaean lagoons had associated into multicellular bodies that transcended the abilities of each single cell, and survived to bring on their plans even when all their component cells had died and been replaced, thus would have to do the seeds of humankind to ensure their survival.

There was arguing and there was fighting, for fifty generations. Churches and heresies grew around this principle of its refutations, alliances and conspiracies, the history of Rama, as vast and complex as that of Earth, though with quite a different culmination. All the spectrum of human emotion, from the most heavenly transport to the deepest, darkest loathing, churned and twisted the planet's surface, as that of a growing embryo whose tissues shift and fold, or are cut by apoptosis.

It had been a kind civilization, that of Rama. Out of love they burnt cities; out of mercy they brought down nations. Blood and tears swelled and flowed for the sake of compassion. The vision of the philosopher emerged clearer after every slaughter, as the only that could bring a lasting end to the wars waged for peace, and to the tyrannies built for freedom.

The inhabitants of Rama joined into a single being, one vast and diffused body that reached every highland and every depression of the planet, all its cities, its fields, its submarine oases, its orbital arks. Energy and information streamed uninterrupted from a sub-body to another, so that the splendor of a mountain dawn could be seen in the deepest galleries, and the warmth of the galleries could be of comfort on the frozen peaks.

The members of Ananta were not meant to die or the all, but to live for it, for each thought, each suggestion, each experience and impression down to a single pinprick or a flash of color in the corner of an eye was replicated and distributed among twenty billion brains, and later greater numbers, so that it would forever survive the death of one. Sometimes, Ananta thought of the countless lives wasted in now unimaginable loneliness, and of the countless minds irreparably sunk in the darkness; and then a soub would constrict twenty billion throats, and burning tears would flow from forty billion eyes.

So they turned their thoughts to the blessing that was their existence, and joy and laughter would cover for a while the pain of the ages; embraces and nectar and pleasure beyond the understanding of a mortal individual, as the pleasures of a symphony or athletics are beyond the understanding of a single neuron. And yet, the tragedy of finiteness, and the swallowing oblivion that lurked beneath all, as if every sip of a fine wine had been corrupted by a drop of bitter gall.

Not satisfied with preservation, Ananta would turn to creation; it would declare a crusade against extinction. Its powers were not much greater than they had been at the first joining: its cycles of elation and anguish were poorly conductive to progress, of which Ananta saw no need on the peaks of euphoria, and no possibility in the depths of despair.

Nevertheless it learnt to shepherd life for its flourishing; and later to transmute matter into life, and life into thought. Experiments were made in hollowed mountain plateaux that gave it a deep understanding of all manifestations of existence, or at least their mechanisms.

If Ananta had united, its work fragmented. On the rocky ridges and in the subterranean hollows of Rama, translucent spheres and polyhedra hosted miniature ecosystems, like clods of forests or droplets of ocean, each with its own flora and fauna, its browsers and hunters, its grazers and scavengers, its farmers and parasites. Often Ananta checked the well-being of this planets within a planet, god of minuscule worlds, and sometimes it harvested its share of resources. With these it would fuel the next endeavour.

Eventually Ananta once again looked up, its countless little tendrils caressing the clouds and grasping at the stars. A million sparks of fire broke through the pale atmosphere of Rama and dove into th sideral vacuum, as a fungus scattering its spores to the wind.

Ananta would have great success, in its future. Propagules still wired into the universal mind would detach from the yellow world to annex more. And perhaps, at the age of many million years, Ananta would still live among the stars; but having modified its sub-bodies for the necessities of different planets – into burrowing, swimming, floating forms – it would also be unrecognizable to other inheritors of the human species that would meet it.

Why did not Ananta end its days ruling the galaxies? Why did it, ultimately, fail? Perhaps its colonies, mercilessly kept apart by the limit of the speed of light, had simply drifted out of each other's understanding, and recognized each other as competitors to destroy, returning thus to the ancient division. Perhaps, some would suggest, it had been driven mad with grief at the impossibility of a true victory against the forces of unmaking.

Once Ananta sought to bring the surrounding worlds within its fold, to save the fractured humankinds from the indignity of oblivion. It dreamt of a galaxy turned into a garden of mind, where each tomb of civilization would be surrounded by loving caretakers, and each scrap of extinguished cultures gathered by zealous collectors. No more would a child of Earth weep at the side of a grave.

Yet in its zeal and its love Ananta found incomprehensible resistance. A neuron cannot understand the concerns of a brain, nor can a brain understand those of a neuron. The separate worlds fought bitterly for their own precariousness, and those taken by force would sooner dash their own head upon the stones than be brought into Ananta's embrace. Maybe it was many centuries of such rejection that finally broke Ananta's spirit; or more prosaically some of the taken were able to fight it from within, growing their movement on the bounty of all, cancer of the stars.

Rama's yellow surface, despoiled of its wealth, plated in crumbling cities, remained, a head shaved in contrition. New wonders would spring among its ruins, but they would mostly be of the old animal and vegetal order, for the great part descended from the experiments that Ananta had conduced in the bowels of the planet, a few from the abandoned sub-bodies.

By the time the great unification of the galaxy came, Rama and its surrounding shell of worlds had returned to their primal state, as they were long before they had ever fallen in the shadow of man.
Unity
A look at the off-Earth fate of one among the many descendants of the people of Underworld, long after the Departure.
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Departure
Laughter and revel echo along the narrow alleys. The struggle for freedom was long and painful, but eventually the ancient capital province had to relent, for Earth could not afford to destroy the source of its own wealth.

Jupiter rules as the deity of old, shining through the barely breathable air of Callisto, the "most beautiful" of all the domains of humankind. In the future, its free citizens will redraw themselves to thrive at the edge of Jupiter's reach, where the senescent Terrans never will.


A millennium or two after Underworld.
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Inheritor
This creature, running in shallow saltwater among thickets of giant rice, could seem of little importance, but brains identical to its own will calculate the trajectories of interplanetary flights.

A human observer could interpret it as a distant descendant of a species of frog, twisted by evolutionary radiations and transformations. However, it has no more relationship with frogs than a human would have with those earliest mammals scurrying at the feet of dinosaurs.



Delving in the future further than Darkness.
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Sea People
  Huh? What do you want? Is this about– ? ... And what makes you think I know anything about that?
  ... Uh huh. Uh huh, I see, clever, clever. Listen, I don't know how you found out and I really don't care to. You idiot, do you realize how much it can cost you? I was a professor once, a damn important one, men in black suits would come to me to "talk" about stuff that made the Watergate look like a comedy sketch. I advised the President a few times– no, the real one. And now look at me. I can't even drink myself to death in peace. I don't know why they didn't just make me disappear, maybe they figured it'd be less suspicious if I just rotted here.
  The view outside is pretty, isn't it? You came just in time for the winter fog. It spares you the sight of dead trees and rotting concrete, I guess. By this hour the sea is solid black. Really makes you think about what it can hide below. Yes, the fish smell is always here. But it's worse in the summer, believe me.
  Yeah, yeah, OK. Listen, this is bigger than you or me, it's not even a matter of national security, it's more than that– look, if you– oh, you son of a– You think you're scaring me? You think I've got anything left to lose? You only threaten yourself, here!
  Bah, you know what? To hell with you, to hell with them, and to hell with all the stinking land people. I'll tell you, just so you'll leave me in peace.
  Yes, I said "land people". The thing is that there isn't only one humanity on Earth. There's two, you see. And the other humanity is actually pretty damn advanced. And big. Maybe more than ours. But they hide, and they hide well.

  We found out about them when we started training dolphins for submarine warfare, back in the 60s. Which, by the way, remains the most absurd part of the story. You've seen the pictures, the dolphins jumping with tracking devices, pretty cute, actually. Of course dolphins are a bunch of psychopathic rapists, that's why we get along so well. What they don't tell you is that we could talk to them. Yes, dolphin language is simple but effective, and we learnt it. And when they came back from the depths, they had tales to tell.
  I remember the first time the dolphins told me about them. And I remember the first time I saw one in the flesh – a dissection, of course, just as in movies. All the same parts as a human being, just in a grey, slimy, fishy package. Then we sent people down. And they sent people up. We talked. We made deals. And it turned out that the same deals had been made over and over. But we always kept it a secret among our own kind, whereas they never bothered to. They felt no need, remember that.
  We gave them a proper name. Halianthropus absconditus, the hidden men of the sea. A bit ridiculous, since it was never going to be published. But it made things feel much more scientific. Because, most of the time, it felt more like summoning demons. Or like a hell of a trip. And we still know so little about them! So little!

  You'll want to know what they look like. I don't have pictures – you'll have to take my word for it. They're pretty clearly humanoid, no doubt on that. Their face is... toad-like, I'd say. Broad and flat, with this huge mouth, and slit nostrils that can be closed when they dive, and huge milky eyes. They have our same 32 teeth, the front ones sharp and hooked, to grip wriggling preys, the ones in the back flat, to crack shellfish. They smile just like us, and it's exactly as creepy as you'd imagine.
  The skin is grey-green or grey-blue, often blotched; for camouflage, I suppose. Sometimes they have keratin plaques that look like fish scales; there's one or two centimeters of blubber below. No hair all over the body, except the head, perhaps because once they floated in tropical waters with their skull out. It's longer in females, the infants clutch to the mother's hair. I've seen it once, it was actually kinda cute. They have breasts and nurse, too.
  The chest is very big and deep, because it contains huge lungs, as air reservoirs, though of course a lot of oxygen is stored in the blood. Their limbs are very long, kinda like frogs'. The feet are webbed, almost flippers. They can swim with their legs together, like sea lions – or mermaids, I guess, but mostly they move slowly. The hands, however, are not quite webbed; more lobed, like grebe feet, so they can move fingers a bit independently while still using them to swim. The thumbs are also separate and fully opposable.
  About their technology, I can't tell you much. They didn't want us to see it. They wore no clothes, by and large; some jewels, if anything. Of course you ask, why keep all this under wraps? Why not go public?

  A bit of background. You'll excuse this old academician if I make a kind of a lecture – I've wanted to make a lecture about this argument for years.
  Where do these things come from? Well, have you ever heard about the aquatic hypothesis of human evolution? The original formulation is mostly discredited, today, because we have a pretty good idea of what human ancestors were like, and there's little room for swimming apes in it. But later... there were lots of human species in the last couple million years, we keep discovering new ones. Homo erectus got to China and Indonesia following the coastline, and never moving inward... maybe it was not quite aquatic, but surely comfortable enough with water. Eating fish made us smart, you know.
  So it's easy enough for one human species to turn to water even if our ancestors didn't. Why not? There's plenty of food in those tropical coastal waters. Just as much reason to be intelligent, too. And then what? A couple million years can be enough to become completely aquatic, we know it happened to whales. OK, they wouldn't quite become fish or reptiles, but they'd get hairless skin, rounded bodies, weird eyes, maybe cold to the touch because of insulation... They kinda stink of fish, too.
  And yes, they become smart, damn smart. They get their omega-3. They're like dolphins, except with hands. They come up with civilization before we do.
  They breathe air, too, just like dolphins. Or they used to. They see that their little brothers in the dry have also woken up, and they show up to talk, to interact. To breed. Oh, don't make that face, of course they would, they even made a movie about it a while ago. What will humans not have sex with? Can you imagine what a sex fiend would come out from a thing half-ape, half-dolphin?
  And, well, chimps just barely fall short of being interfertile with us, but the... sea people are much closer kin. Their aquatic evolution was fast, so there's not much genetic drift in the way of interbreeding. Hence, people descended from "fish" and "water snakes" and "dragons" and what not. People hate each other over the silliest things, just imagine finding out your neighbors are half-fish; though in this case they might have had a better reason for– wait, let's go in order.

  It's pretty strange how many myths have civilization coming from water, you know? The Sumerians said their first king had as advisor this half-fish guy called Uanna. The first avatar of Vishnu was a fish, Matsya, who saved the first man from the Flood, remember that. The Chinese said that king Fuxi learned writing from a river dragon. The Dogon people of West Africa say they learned secret knowledge from amphibious fish-people called the Nommo.
  What's more, there's stories of people descending from aquatic creatures. No, I'm not talking about evolution, I mean straight-up fish giving birth to people, like the story of king Merovech. The Tanka people of South China live on water, and the people around say they're descended from "water snakes" or something. Anaximander wrote that humans descend from fish back in 6th century BC, and I doubt he had Ichthyostega on his mind.
  The craziest example, I think, are the Cagots, from Medieval France. They lived not far from the Basque lands. Great seamen, the Basque – got to America way before Columbus. But unlike the Basques, they were identical to the other French people. You can understand the prejudice against the Cathars, or the Jews – understand, mind you, not justify – the different is mistrusted, that's what humans do. But the Cagots spoke the same language, had the same religion – and yet they had to enter church by special doors, take the communion host on sticks. They said weird things about them, that they were cold to the touch, that they stank, were impure... and they were forbidden from walking barefoot. All forgotten after the Revolution. But their symbol was a duck foot – a webbed foot, you understand? You see where I'm going? It's all over the world, all over history. Look, and ye shall find.
  Did you know that Egyptians blamed the collapse of Bronze Age civilization on "sea people"? Maybe it doesn't matter, but the Bible says the Philistines – sea people who settled down – worshipped a god called Dagon. Dag is Hebrew for "fish", just saying.
  Of course these people in the ocean aren't actual fish, or snakes, or dragons, or whatever. But they have hairless skin – save the top of the head – with this rubbery, greyish texture. They're cold and slippery. They have webbed hands and feet, except the thumbs. They have these round, wet eyes that don't see very well in the air. They have a broad chest, and when they're out of the water with those skinny limbs folded below they look a bit like a frog. If you're a Sumerian peasant, or Chinese, or Hindu, it's not that unfair to call them fish-men or lizard-men.

  We know that ten, twelve thousand years ago humanity was more advanced than simple hunter gatherers... But then we regressed. The Flood, of course, the one Matsya saved us from, when the seas rose a hundred meters at the end of the last ice age. Of course most advanced settlements – most people – would have lived on the coastlines, that were drowned. Most fertile land, too. We still find undersea ruins of that time. That was all gone, of course we'd revert to a more primitive lifestyle for millennia.
  Before that happened, I think, the most populated and advanced place on Earth was Sunda, in Southeast Asia. During the Ice Age that was all a single peninsula. Warm, fertile, full of rivers. Today's Java, Borneo, Sumatra, would have been mountain ranges, poorly inhabited. There's Gunung Padang, which would have been like a mountain shrine, but it's little compared with what must be underwater.
  So here's what I think happened, first they helped us pull through the Flood, but then they expected something more than gratitude in return. They have ruled over us. It was as in the Spanish colonies in America, the conquerors ruled over everything, those of mixed blood were ranked between rulers and subjects. The middle ranks would have, in fact, brought civilization to the land people, like Uanna and Fuxi's dragon. They would have kept the religion of their aquatic ancestors, the most important part of their lineage. From what I gathered, most fish-people worship some kind of monstrous octopus god. In Polynesia the octopus is still the symbol of a bygone, destroyed past world.
  Most people of Sunda have just gone back to regular life. Fishing, diving for pearls, innocent stuff. The most aquatic culture in the world. Literal genetic adaptations for diving, just like the Andeans have for high altitudes.
  Have you ever heard about the chaoskampf? There's legends all over the world about the fight of a hero or a god against a dragon or a serpent – a water serpent, usually – to defeat chaos and create civilization out of its corpse. The Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Greeks, the Persians, the Indians, the Norse, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Cherokee. It's everywhere. The Bible talks about God battling the Leviathan. Often these dragons have many heads, which probably means they represented whole armies. Or machines. There must have been – listen – there must have been some rebellion, some battle, maybe all over the world, maybe just in one place, where our ancestors somehow defeated the overlords and drove them back into the sea. Maybe they'd been horrible rulers. Maybe we just didn't like taking orders.
  The Indians have legends of prehistoric weapons of mass destruction. Nasty stuff, worse than nukes. Of course we'd have to start again from stone age.

  Why has nobody seen them after? Well, some did. The Japanese talk about these "fish with human face", they were afraid of catching them or even finding them dead on the shore. Probably because the fish-people can get pretty damn dangerous if they think you've done them wrong. In the 16th century, "sea monks" and "bishop fish" were found stranded all over Europe. Bodies of "mermaids" were found even in the late 19th century, well into the scientific age, it's not all medieval superstitions.
  True, you'd expect to see them more often if they came up to breath. I'd figure they've found some way to stay down indefinitely, like genetic self-engineering, or oxygen tanks. I've seen pictures of a strange building rising barely out of the Antarctic Sea, which I think is meant to take and bottle up air to pass around. We've got a military base surrounding it, but I'm sure there's others.
  But if they're still down there, and if they're still smart – and they are, on both accounts – then they can't be very happy at what we're doing with the ocean now. Global warming, acidification, coral bleaching, chemical pollution, acoustic pollution, microplastics, artificial hormons, oil spills, overfishing, whaling... All this affects them. They hunted whales too, you know. They forage on coral reefs. The last time I spoke to one, he was livid. And that was, what, fifteen years ago?
  Here's the thing: we struck a deal, we the two sapient species of Earth. We get the land, they get the sea. But we haven't kept our part of the deal, so why should they? As the Americans know very well, as all their grand strategy says, it's easy to rule the land from the sea – much easier than ruling the sea from the land.
  They're all in it together, mostly. They don't have countries like ours – in the sea, it's easy to swim above any border or obstacle. And you know that water carries sound much farther than air. They've been communicating all over the world as long as they've been civilized, with noise-making machines. A bit slower than radio, but it can't be disabled short of emptying out the ocean. It's one huge nation, wherever there's saltwater, it's been for millennia. But they too have their splinter factions, their young hotheads.
  The partial descendants of the fish-people are still around. Nobody remembers it anymore – and they certainly won't brag about it! – but centuries of misery don't vanish in an eyeblink. Most still live in poverty, in the swamps of Louisiana, in the markets of Bengala, in fishing villages in the North Sea, in Japan, in Polynesia... They've paid horribly for the sins of their ancestors, and maybe some think we should get the same treatment. I know at least a few groups keep in contact, we had informers in certain sects... people of all kinds, of all races, of all cultures. But if even one in a thousand thinks they have something to gain by helping their buddies in the sea...
  You see the point now? Do you understand why this must be kept under wraps? What do you think would happen if the story became common knowledge – if people became afraid of a secret half-blood cult potentially betraying humanity? Can you imagine what could happen then? Look what happened to the Cagots. Look what happened to that damn city in Massachusetts. We're talking pogroms and witch hunts. And if that happens, I'm pretty sure the cult can defend itself, which makes things even worse. But most of the people in the crossfire, even the ones that are really descendants, cannot.
  But we are in danger, too. What if some accident happens, and the cult decides to accelerate their plans a bit? What if the sea people knew we know? What if some of us wanted to strike at the sea before the sea strikes at us? What if some of them think the same?

  Now leave. You've made me dry my throat enough. Say, isn't that bobbing thing in the water funny? Doesn't it kinda look like a head?
  Seriously, thanks for the visit. I feel a lot lighter by now. Maybe it's time the services finally decide to shut my mouth definitively. Maybe they'll come up from the beach tonight.
  Go home. Tomorrow, in the sunlight, you'll think I'm just a crazy old drunkard and forget about everything. If not, well, I suggest you start taking your holidays in the mountains from now on. Bye.

-- submission for the Speculative Evolution Forum's COM 92, "Government Coverup".


Edit (12-02-19): Oh hey, this entry won the COM! The original thread is closed now, but any who voted is reading this, thank you all!
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Tarturus Featured By Owner May 7, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Happy birthday.
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Happy birthday!
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Happy Birthday! Party 
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Thank you all!
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Happy Birthday! :)
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Thank you so much for favingHeart 
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My pleasure! A beautifully drawn scene, and finally Achilles is wearing the proper attire ;)
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Hug  
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Happy birthday.
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Thank you all! (sorry for the late reply)
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