Back | Next


The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
When thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile his work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

—William Blake


The roots of kzinti culture, language and history.

The kzinti culture is both more homogenous and richer than human culture. In a very real sense there are not one but many human cultures, since civilization arose not once but several times on Earth, each time in complete isolation and independence, separated by insurmountable geographic barriers. By contrast, both linguistic, historical and (where available) genetic evidence indicate that civilization arose on Kzinhome only once. In geocultural terms, this can be explained by Kzinhome's relatively small (~50%) percentage of water cover and proportionally larger contiguous continental area, combined with the smaller range of climatic conditions over the non-polar regions of the planet. This is caused by the denser atmosphere and the tropical wind belt phenomenon, which acts to pump heat from the equator to the mid-latitudes. This arrangement can be expected to have facilitated the movement of trade and technology over isoclimatic lines with relative rapidity. At some point relatively early in the civilization cycle the primary kzinti culture was established and thriving planetwide. On genetic evidence it is certain that the kzinti species passed through a population bottleneck approximately ten thousand generations ago for unknown reasons.

Given the evidence of a single start point for kzinti civilization, we can argue that an evolutionary stress caused the bottleneck and triggered runaway sexual selection of intelligence with resultant rapid and concurrent development of bi-quadrupedal posture, language, and tool use as species traits. It seems likely this stress was a massive climatic shift brought about by the slight eccentricity in Kzinhome's orbit caused by gravitational interactions with the gas giant Hgrall. This posited orbital shift, occurring approximately 200,000 years ago, would have increased average solar flux, in turn increasing the average surface temperature as much as 3 degrees Celsius, extending growing seasons and accelerating the rate of water circulation through the atmosphere and hydrosphere. The combination of these effects formed extensive rainforests throughout the tropical and temperate zones. Simultaneously large sections of the continental interiors were reduced to desert. The higher rate of photosynthesis has led directly to the high (~30%) oxygen levels seen in Kzinhome's atmosphere today. A general rule of planetary evolution states that the average mass of animal species increases with increased solar energy flux. This is due to both the greater availability of food through increased plant growth, which supports a heavier food chain, and the greater availability of oxygen due to increased photosynthesis, which allows the high metabolic rates necessary for large, active animals to exist.

Although humans are accustomed to seeing the two-meter kzinti as large predators, in their native ecosystems they are small in relation to most high order fauna in their ecological range, small with respect to their primary prey species and small with respect to other predators with which they compete. Typically, large land predators take prey no more than twice their weight, and usually less than their weight. By contrast, lone kzinti will stalk and kill zerkitz up to ten times their weight, and hunting parties will take a'kdzrow of up to twenty-five metric tons. In most cases where evolutionary forces lead to an increase in prey species size we expect to see the predator species increase along with them. However, in the case of the kzinti the large predator niches remained occupied by competitors such as the v'speel stalker and the pack hunting grlor.

This suggests that the kzinti were forced into the intelligence niche because their customary prey animals increased in size with the climate change but they themselves could not because the large predator niches were already occupied. As their prey grew larger the large predators flourished at the expense of the smaller early pre-kzin, driving them to the edge of extinction. This would have pushed the pre-kzin toward the cooperative hunter niche, which requires the development of complex signaling and a basic social structure. These developments set the stage for the evolution of intelligence. This picture is plausible but incomplete, and it is important to understand that while the individual links in this chain of reasoning have all been verified, to the extent possible through kzinti documentation, the actual proof of the cause and effect relationships asserted will have to await detailed research on Kzinhome itself.

Regardless of the root causes of the genetic bottleneck event, the effects on kzinti development are clear. The kzinti speak a single language, although there are many dialects, and extremely separated dialects have difficulty communicating. Given the limits imposed by speed-of-light communications in an interstellar empire, identical linguistic groups have had ample time to diverge but have not. It could be argued that this lack of linguistic flexibility is evidence of a more instinctive, less flexible language facility, hinting that kzinti are less intelligent than humans. However the Hero's Tongue is a fully combinatorial language in the sense of Gödel, i.e., a formal system capable of making statements of arbitrary complexity. There is therefore no thought that cannot be expressed in the Hero's Tongue. Further, kzinti are gifted mathematicians, which again requires thought processes capable of handling problems of arbitrary complexity. In addition, both the language areas and visual cortex in the kzin brain are highly developed and both larger and more finely structured than in humans.

This last fact may provide an answer to the puzzle of the Hero's Tongue's strange cohesion. It is known that the kzin population is richer in telepathic adepts than the human population, and it is known that the brain processes used in telepathy make extensive use of both language and visual circuits in humans. In the visual system this is known to correspond to the high demands of the active predator ecological niche. The low genetic diversity of the kzin race may have facilitated the emergence of a telempathic sense due to the high degree of correlation of thought and emotional processes between individuals. There is then a natural evolutionary pathway toward making use of the processing power of both visual and language brain circuits in order to extract increasingly detailed information from the telempathic sense. This development can in turn have locked in those brain circuits to the demands of telempathic processing. In the visual cortex these effects may not be noticeable, since the visual cortex is also locked into processing patterns that correspond to a verifiable external reality; however, there is no single "correct" combinatorial language system, which leaves the language centers of the brain free to select any of an infinite number of equally valid symbol systems.

This is the case in humans, and human languages drift and evolve rapidly. However, in kzinti we may conjecture that the telempathic sense has effectively locked in the language centers to its (still poorly understood) demands, which would go far toward explaining both kzin linguistic homogeneity and telepathic prowess. As a side note, hallucinatory experiences are common in human telepathic adepts, which may be due to the telempathic and other senses competing for the same brain processor resources. Kzinti telepaths also suffer from numerous cognitive difficulties, and this may explain why telepathy evolves rarely and is seldom a highly developed sense in any species despite its obvious evolutionary advantages: Its cognitive costs simply outweigh its survival benefits. The largest exceptions to this rule, the now extinct Slavers and the sessile Grogs, both show clearly the cognitive drawbacks of a highly developed telempathic sense.

Kzinti share with humans the ability to form hierarchical mass societies, but they are orders of magnitude less social. Any society can be seen as a series of opportunities to cooperate or compete, and in kzinti the balance falls more heavily on competition than in human society. This fact imposes strict limits on the forms of society that the kzinti can successfully use, and in fact we can see that kzinti culture shows much less variation than human culture does in terms of structure. The reasons for this are complex, but ultimately, for any evolved organism, the final measure of success is the number of offspring injected into future generations in relation to the number of offspring injected by competitors. There are two basic strategies available to achieve this, and we may categorize species as K (named because the population total is characterized by K, the carrying capacity of the environment) and r (named because the population total is characterized by r, the reproductive rate). K species are characterized by a small number of large offspring, long lifetimes with late maturity, and high levels of parental care. Type r species have a large number of small offspring, short lifetimes with early maturity, and low or no parental care.

In species with sexual reproduction we see two strategies, individuals who produce a small number of large gametes (females) and those who produce a large number of small gametes (males). This tendency usually generalizes so that we see females invest a large amount to ensure the success of a small number of offspring, and males invest a small amount in any given offspring in order to maximize the total number of offspring. Since the child-bearing capacity of females is the ultimate limit on the reproductive potential of any given generation, we see usually see a situation in which males compete for females. In a species like the Wunderland gagrumpher, males invest no parental care in their offspring, and as a result we see a large sexual dimorphism, with males averaging five times the weight of a female and possessing specialized neck dewlaps, which serve both as an intimidation mechanism in male/male conflicts and as a sexually selected attractant to females. There are exceptions to this rule. In some bird species the male and female form long-term pair bonds and there is very little (although not zero) mate competition. As a result males and females are nearly identical in body plan and require an expert (or a con specific) to differentiate them. In a few fish species the technical details of reproduction dictate that males provide all or the bulk of parental care, and in these cases females compete aggressively for access to males, reversing the normal pattern.

In almost all mammalian species, males compete for females, but humans are an extreme case of the K strategy and this changes the equation. Due to the limitations of the female pelvis and the human specialization of large brain size, human infants are born almost completely helpless and require two decades to reach full maturity. This tremendous reproductive burden requires the dedicated assistance of the male to ensure the survival of the offspring in a primitive environment, and the males best able to provide this assistance then become objects of competition for females. Because of this almost unheard-of female competition, the degree of male competition is reduced. As a result male humans mass only about 50 percent more than females and females possess secondary sexual attractant displays that are almost universally confined to males in other mammals. Under these conditions cooperative, coalitional behaviors in both sexes are cost effective, and it is these behaviors that make human society possible. Through this process intelligence itself has become a sexually selected characteristic as well as a naturally selected characteristic. At this point in human evolutionary history it seems likely that sexual selection has become the dominant driving force behind the development of human intelligence, as witnessed by the tremendous costs involved in bearing large-brained infants (including a significant death-in-labor and infant mortality rate under primitive conditions) and rearing them to adulthood. Such high-cost evolutionary features, like peacock tails and moose antlers, are generally only seen in cases of runaway sexual selection, where a trait evolves until the evolutionary cost of displaying it counterbalances the tremendous reproductive advantage it confers.

The kzinti are even more extreme K strategists than humans. Kzinti kits are normally born as brother/sister twins from a single egg, although there are rare cases of quadruplets or single births, and are typically nursed for eight to twelve (standard) years, during which time the female remains infertile. A fertile female kzin may have only three or four estrus cycles in her lifetime. As a result kzin population growth is extremely slow and kzin males compete strenuously both for females and for the resources to support them. A high proportion of kzin male deaths are due to challenge duels resulting from this competition, and in the adult population females outnumber males in a ratio of between two to one and three to one. In other words, between 50 and 75 percent of male kzin kits can expect to die in combat. Of these, most can expect to die at the hands of older and more established kzin, although among those Great Prides involved directly in the Man/Kzin wars almost 50 percent are killed in combat with humans or other species. Combat death among males begins in late adolescence and rises to a peak in young adulthood, declining steadily thereafter. This single fact dominates the entire kzinti social structure, and in fact the entire Patriarchy is built around the requirement to redirect the aggression of young males outward to prevent them from completely destabilizing the hierarchy. It is this high death rate that allows the extended polygamous mating structure that is the core of kzinti social life. Paradoxically this system has given the kzinti 50,000 years of cultural stability and an interstellar empire unmatched in Known Space. Unfortunately these achievements are little comfort to any particular adolescent kzin who, regardless of station of birth, can only look forward to a lifetime of status-driven combat with a better than even chance of violent death.

Kefan Brasseur
Senior Fellow for Nonhuman Studies
Kardish University
Alpha Plateau


Back | Next