Pangaea, Chapter Eleven

Author’s note: This chapter contains a rather long hypothesis, and according to some other people, it isn’t quite scientifically sound. I did try my best, but take my explanations here with a grain of salt. I’m not an expert.

Chapter Eleven

“But you get my point,” Malcolm presses.

“Yes,” Emma sighs; she seemed to have her energy and tact back when they began talking, but after a long discussion, she’s losing her polite façade again. “Yes, I get your point. But you don’t get mine.”

“Which is?”

“That we’re talking about theory here,” she says. “The experiments you did—they prove that little simulations of animals on a computer screen will behave a certain way. Nothing more. We’re talking about real animals. Ones that actually exist.”

He sighs, exasperated; he knew that she’d react this way, but after he’d talked for an hour, using careful, reasonable arguments that she was sure to understand, he thought that she’d be a little less stubborn. This, however, has not turned out to be the case. “You’re, ah, avoiding what I’m saying. This—this isn’t a debate of theoreticism versus empiricism. Theories exist for a reason. They describe what actually goes on in the world, or else they’d be useless, wouldn’t they? My computer simulations do tell us what happens when a natural system is introduced to a mechanical one. They accurately mimic the behavior of actual plants, and animals, and people. They’re completely valid. You just won’t listen to what they can tell us.”

“Now, about that,” Emma says, leaning back in her chair. “You say that you used a computer to model the way humans act when they’re in a system like this.”

“It was one element, yes. There’s—there’s no point in talking about mechanical systems without describing, ah, the behavior of the humans that operate them.”

“Now, we can’t quite do that, Dr. Malcolm, don’t you agree? It’s like you’re always saying—nature is unpredictable. Human nature is unpredictable. You can’t use a computer to tell what a person will do.”

“Human behavior,” Malcolm says, “is just like any other animal’s behavior, just on a different level. Now, I couldn’t tell you exactly what you’ll say next, or when you’ll wake up tomorrow, or where you’ll go on vacation next. That much, you’re right, is unpredictable.” Emma smiles, satisfied with herself. “But,” he continues, “it follows a fractal curve, just like any other animal’s behavior. You, ah, remember how a fractal curve works, remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” Emma says, rubbing her eyes with two fingers. “You explained it an hour ago.”

“It follows a fractal curve,” he says. “A general pathway. Overall, viewed from a distance, human behavior all works the same way, and becomes, in some ways, predictable. It works from up close, as well. If a man gets hungry and food is available, ah, what’ll he do? He’ll eat. If someone hits or insults him, in all likelihood, he’ll respond in kind. Basic responses. And, in this situation, algorithms for human behavior were even easier, because only certain responses were possible. The simulations of humans were entirely concerned with controlling the simulated natural system with—within the mechanical system which, in this case, was made for confinement. Basically, a zoo environment, or an ecological preserve with enforced boundaries. Following me so far?”

“Yes, I am.”

“In some cases, they didn’t try to interfere with the natural system while it tried to escape its boundaries—they only tried to catch the animals within it and return them to their habitats when they escaped, which they usually did. In a few cases, they left the system alone and didn’t change anything—like a nature preserve. But in a lot of cases, they did things like separating animals that fought often, or separating carnivores and herbivores, or adding or taking away plants. They wanted to make the animals within the system stay where they were—they always did. Any owner of a zoo wouldn’t—they wouldn’t let their animals get away or, uh, kill one another, would they? Of course not. So, you see, they always behaved in a mostly predictable way. But that isn’t what we’re talking about here. For once, any danger that occurs won’t come directly from humans. What we’re talking about is the way that animals—these animals—have been shown to act when confined within a mechanical system.”

“And you modeled these animals based on the fractal curve of their normal behavior, which is different for carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. As well as basic responses.”

“That’s right. They were somewhat predictable, but programmed to be unpredictable. An order to their chaos, just like real animals. Are—are we clear so far? I need to make sure you know this is valid before I go on.”

“I can suspend disbelief,” Emma says. “Go on.”

“Well, you’ve seen my conclusions sheet, you’ve seen my proofs, you’ve seen my strange attractors. What—what didn’t you understand?”

“Go over the part about imbalanced systems again,” she says. She reaches over and dials a short number on a cord phone, then picks it up and says, “Hello? Yes, another tea, please.” She puts her hand over the speaker and asks, “Would you like something to drink?”

“I’ve never needed a drink more than I do now,” he thinks, but says, “Coffee, one sugar.” “Caffeine should do it. Who knows how long I’ll be in here?” he thinks.

“Black coffee,” Emma says into the phone, and hangs it up. “It’ll be here in a moment. I have sugar in here.” She indicates a glass container, standing alongside a small pot of honey and several coffee stirrers. “Now. Imbalanced systems.”

“Imbalanced systems. What about them?”

“I’d like to hear more about systems composed only of herbivores,” she says deliberately, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms, “because I got the impression that those types of systems are likely to become cooperative when introduced to new environments. Please do explain that further.”

“All right,” he says, exhaling; he can work with this. “You know that ‘imbalanced’ is a term I used to describe natural systems that consisted of anything other than both herbivores and carnivores, enough plants to sustain the herbivore population and an herbivore-to-carnivore ratio that worked; a system with homeostasis. That’s balanced, and anything other than that—it’s fundamentally different than anything we’d see in nature, so it should be studied on its own. Right?”

“I can see that, yes.”

“Well, I studied different kinds of imbalanced systems. Ones with only omnivores, ones with an herbivore-to-carnivore ratio that was too high or too low, ones with only plants, ones with only animals, you, uh, get it. I assume you want to hear about the herbivore-only experiments.”

“Right. Sufficient plants were supplied, I assume?”

“Well, in some cases, plants grew on their own within the environment; sometimes they grew fast enough and sometimes they didn’t. In others, the animals’ food was brought in at mealtimes by human handlers, but those aren’t applicable here. In—in herbivore-and-plant systems, the herbivores’ adaptations—and they did adapt to break out of their environments—tended more towards the physical and less towards the cognitive, which helped them less in the long run. But it didn’t keep them from breaking out of their—let’s call them habitats. Herbivores aren’t creatures that need huge amounts of intelligence. Sure, their brains will grow every few thousand years, and they’ll develop complex social behavior, but compared to carnivores, they’re way behind. Think about the Cretaceous. Herbivores evolved to be bigger, stronger and more armored, while carnivores mainly adapted to be more intelligent. Triceratops grew horns, and Velociraptor developed coordinated attack patterns and complex communication behavior. Think about African wildlife. Elephants and hippos grew bigger, while hyenas developed more complex social structures. You see the difference everywhere.”

There’s a knock on the door, and Emma calls, “Come in.” A man in a vest places two cups on the desk; Emma thanks him, and he nods and walks out. As she talks, she pours a small amount of sugar in one of the cups and hands it to Malcolm. “I see. Go on.”

He takes a sip of the coffee; there’s a little too much sugar in it, and it’s still too hot. He drinks it anyway. “Carnivores need intelligence more, because hunting takes cognition. It takes planning and problem-solving. So carnivores develop it more and faster, and comparatively, herbivores are a lot less smart, but nature makes up for it by making them stronger. That means they’re capable of breaking out of their habitats, but those escape attempts usually involve brute force, and they’re less likely to succeed because they don’t involve any of the necessary planning or problem-solving. Which is a better escape from a jail, one where you pick locks and bribe guards or one where you just jump over a wall and hope no one’s looking?”

Emma sips her tea. “You’re saying these dinosaurs will physically adapt to break out of their habitats? After three generations, when it normally takes millions of years?”

“No,” Malcolm says, finishing his coffee. “But they can adapt physically without adding new characteristics. They don’t need to grow new horns or anything; they can learn to jump higher or run faster. Whichever the environment favors. That’s the guiding force here—all of these adaptations are guided by the animals’ environment. Or they can grow more aggressive—charge at things, get in more fights with each other to prepare themselves to fight people, push down trees. And they’ll teach their offspring that that aggression is necessary, so it’ll get passed on. Those are all things that the animals in my simulations did when they adapted. Any of those, ah, sound familiar?”

She puts her cup down. “Coincidences happen.”

“Coincidences make patterns. In any case, you know that my theory says that any system, balanced or imbalanced, will follow a certain pattern. First it’ll test its boundaries. Typically a lot of attempted escapes in this stage—just like the first generation of dinosaurs here. Then it’ll begin to expand as far as possible, followed by the establishment or reestablishment of a working ecosystem, followed by gathering information about and adapting to its environment, followed eventually by escape—which may take multiple attempts, much like your animals are making— or better yet, destruction of the mechanical system. In general, herbivores took longer to go through that process, because that lack of higher cognition that I told you about prevents them from self-organizing and gathering information about weaknesses in their habitat as quickly as carnivores do. So escape attempts are fewer and further-between. But when they do happen, well-planned or not, they can still be successful. Why is that? What would make them able to escape?”

“Physical adaptations…”

“Right.” He folds his arms across his chest. “They’re physically able to break out. So they do. They can jump over any walls in their way, break down obstacles—hell, anything you put in their way, they’ll get through, because from day one, they’ve been behaviorally adapting specifically to get past those obstacles. They’ve studied them and they’ve adapted accordingly. I’ll bet your Euoplocephalus weren’t nearly that aggressive in the beginning, and your Iguanadon had camouflaging abilities in the beginning that grew more developed over three generations.”

“That may be true, but–”

“Speaking of which, three generations is a good number. Slight adaptations have taken place and been passed down to the young, species are cooperating with each other, which will help in any coordinated effort, and enough time has passed that these animals have learned all about their environment. It’s a little earlier in the process than normal, but it’s still occurring. This system is acting exactly like the ones I’ve seen in my experiments, and if it keeps going this way, which I have no doubt it will, there’s no way around the fact that this place is about to go crashing down. Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’d like a little more of that coffee, please.”

Emma makes an aggravated noise and orders more tea and coffee over the phone. “What about human involvement? And didn’t you say something about compliance? You have to account for every possibility, not just the ones you want to see.”

“Compliance,” he says, “is what I call the condition of a natural system that seems like it will operate indefinitely within its habitat. To summarize, animals will depend on the food given to them, they’ll obey their human handlers and they won’t make any escape attempts whatsoever. That usually only happens when a generation of animals lives their lives under certain conditions—lots of human interaction, lots of food and no influence telling them that the conditions they live under aren’t natural. That happens with animals that are born in captivity and kept there, without anything telling them that escape is a possibility—for instance, an animal that hasn’t had any opportunity to learn behavior from its parents or other wild animals. The other way it can happen is after enough failed escape attempts that the system is starting to do irreparable harm to itself; a system like that will operate within its habitat because it won’t last long if it doesn’t. But neither of those applies to the system I saw today, because at least some of the animals are definitely still hostile, and as far as I know, there hasn’t been any large-scale escape attempt, so they can’t have been trying long enough to give up.”

Emma bristles. “What about when humans are involved?”

“They change things,” Ian explains, “but no more than would normally change. Actually, they might help to speed the process along. In a normal environment—thank you–” he says when the man in the vest reappears, Emma mixes more sugar into his coffee and hands it to him, and the man disappears again, “the world around a system is always changing. The temperature rises and falls, plants die out, there are natural disasters, you know. In something like a zoo, the environment is static. The world the animals live in doesn’t change much, and they don’t have to adapt too much, so that keeps them away from the edge of chaos. I explained that, right?”

Emma seems a lot calmer now. “No, but I’m familiar with it.”

“An unchanging environment slows down the rate at which organisms need to adapt, and sometimes, stops them from adapting at all. It pushes them away from the edge of chaos, which is bad for them. But when humans interfere, it’s a whole new animal that comes into their territory, and a force that changes the plant life and conditions in their habitat. Humans cause changes, and animals need changes to adapt.” He finishes his coffee; it’s surprisingly good. “Humans help the system, ah, adapt faster, which helps it escape faster. Simple as that.”

“So you’re saying that you don’t see any way that the animals at Pangaea won’t escape,” Emma says. He shakes his head, and they’re both silent for a moment. “Doctor, are you all right?”

Ian has closed his eyes and let his head fall onto the back of the chair. “Lots of talking, ah, wears me out.”

“I see,” she says quietly. There’s another pause.

He remembers something. “Oh, yeah, and now that you have lots of human interaction with the system—both of them, I presume—you’re speeding up the process even faster than you think you are. I wouldn’t be surprised if an escape began very, very soon. We can wait for it to happen, or we can shut down the park before… before…” He’s lost his train of thought.

“Before what?” she asks, leaning forward inquisitively.

He opens his eyes and frowns; everything is too blurry, it’s hard to think straight, and his head is starting to swim a little. “Before something awful happens. Another San Diego Incident. You know… something like that.”

“Don’t want another one of those,” she says, smiling a little.

“That would be bad.” He’s starting to get a little lightheaded; it would be so, so nice to go to sleep. He remembers something all of a sudden. “The more often you interfere, the faster the animals can adapt to your presence. All the interfering you’re doing–”

“What interfering?”

“I have proof that you’re going into those habitats more often than you say you are. And that makes the environment not authentic. Not like it would be in the Cretaceous.”
“All right,” Emma says. “What proof?”

“I… um…” He can’t remember what it is; it’s there, on the tip of his tongue, but what was he going to say? “This is important. Proof they’re interfering too much. Think…” “Oh,” he suddenly says out loud. “Anna and I were talking about population. Something about population… How do you keep it in check?”

“Well, we don’t need to. Enough animals die on their own or in fights with other animals that population size doesn’t need to be kept in check. It self-sustains.”

“Oh. Okay.” He wonders if he should object to this, as it doesn’t seem entirely right somehow, but he decides against it—he’s starting to lose his ability to concentrate for too long, and sleeping would be such a relief. The room is tilting a little, and everything only seems stable when he closes his eyes and lets himself sink into the chair, that incredibly comfortable chair…

“What about… what about Sorna?” he asks, trying to sit up but not lasting long in the effort.

“What about it?” Emma asks. Her voice is distorted, almost rippling in a strange way, but Ian barely hears her.

“You made more dinosaurs,” he says; talking is a straining effort, like being underwater and holding something heavy above the surface while treading water, and he wishes he could stop, but what he’s saying is important somehow, it must be. “There… there are already dinosaurs on Sorna. That was a bad idea… Why did you clone—clone more dinosaurs here?” Another question floats to his head, something even more important, but as soon as he’s aware of it, it floats away, unable to be grasped again, like a thread drifting off in the wind.

“To learn about them.” Emma’s voice seems to come from a long, long distance away. “That’s the only way to really learn about dinosaurs– by observing them. And isn’t that the most important thing a person can do with their life, Dr. Malcolm? Learn, and advance knowledge?” He nods, thinking vaguely, “Dammit, she’s right.”

“Open your eyes, please,” she says; he does, and he can’t see well, everything is blurry, twisted and surreal. He can vaguely make out a paper being pushed across the desk, in front of him, and something being pushed into his hand—a pen. “Just sign this, and you’ll have done all you need to do.”

“What? Why?” He’s irritated; why can’t he just go to sleep? Nothing makes sense anymore.

“To help us learn,” she tells him, and points to a line at the bottom of the paper. “Everything is already written for you. Just sign and initial, right on this line.” He fumbles with the pen and writes his name in cursive, followed by the letters IM; they probably aren’t too well-formed, but who cares? “Thank you very much,” Emma says, smiling and withdrawing the paper.

“Can’t I just rest,” he mumbles; he’s lost all sense of objects and defined edges, everything is just a big blur.

“Yes,” she tells him calmly. “Rest all you want. You’ve done a lot for me, Dr. Malcolm. Go ahead and sleep.” Relieved, he closes his eyes, and instantly, everything goes black.

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