What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

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mdistancerunner
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What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby mdistancerunner » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:10 pm UTC

http://what-if.xkcd.com/105/

The first citation got lost... I spent 10 minutes looking for it.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby al-Mundane » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:17 pm UTC

I keep searching for it thinking maybe it's a white-on-white Easter egg.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby rhomboidal » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:25 pm UTC

I'll be severely disappointed is this isn't the plot of the next Hunger Games.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Mikeski » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:57 pm UTC

I'm impressed he got through the whole thing without using the word "soylent".

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby appleatti » Wed Jul 16, 2014 11:29 pm UTC

Can somebody explain what I'm looking at in that last "final match" image? For some reason I can't wrap my head around what that's a picture of...

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby edo » Thu Jul 17, 2014 12:06 am UTC

I sooo submitted this on 14Jan2014... litterally my submission was

edo wrote:Ooooh, I didn’t know humans were so nutritious! How long would the human race last if we became 100% cannibalistic? (i.e. Zombie apocalypse, assuming zombies burn energy at the same rate as normal humans)

[emphasis added afterwards]
Just after the dinosaur one came out

Not to take anything from Quinn... I'm just saying...

I was tempeded to post my other submissions... But I really want Randall to answer them... don't want to jeopardize that.
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Klear » Thu Jul 17, 2014 12:11 am UTC

to keep a tiny breeding population alive for millions of years.


...except that linked article says that decrease in genetic variation
would not be a significant factor as long as the space travellers come home or interact with other humans at the end of the 200 year period

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby phlip » Thu Jul 17, 2014 12:40 am UTC

appleatti wrote:Can somebody explain what I'm looking at in that last "final match" image? For some reason I can't wrap my head around what that's a picture of...

It's one of these, scaled up to 7 billion people. With the appearance based on one of these.

Code: Select all

enum ಠ_ಠ {°□°╰=1, °Д°╰, ಠ益ಠ╰};
void ┻━┻︵​╰(ಠ_ಠ ⚠) {exit((int)⚠);}
[he/him/his]

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby flymousechiu » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:43 am UTC

loved the bifurcation diagram of death.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby flymousechiu » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:45 am UTC

mdistancerunner wrote:http://what-if.xkcd.com/105/

The first citation got lost... I spent 10 minutes looking for it.

You know you can just Ctrl+F (a little bit different across OSes) + "1" to search for it?

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby flymousechiu » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:52 am UTC

I'm a little bit concerned about biomagnification, but again, not your primary concern when your 2.28400% body mass is expected to be eaten every day.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby keithl » Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:37 am UTC

The first reference "a tiny breeding population" is to a 2002 New Scientist article: "Magic number" for space pioneers calculated. Another "we'll be travelling to the stars in a generation ship, but we won't use any technology at all for diversifying genomes" article. Anthropologists shouldn't have imaginations, or they will invent too much of their subject matter, but that means they aren't well suited to thinking about the future. The article proposes 160 (some 80) people are enough for for a "century long journey in space".

Feh. I can't imagine any place in the solar system or Kuiper belt that takes a century to get to, so we must be talking about star travel. 4 light years in 100 years is 0.04C, and moving 5600 kg of humans (70 kg x 80 ) at that speed requires 4E17 joules, 1.11111E11 kW-hr (a wonderful number!), a couple of days of global electric power production. Their space ship, and all the Big Macs and Dove Bars they will eat for the next 100 years, will require a bit more energy to send along with them.

There are about 7 billion people. The human genome is 3.2 billion base pairs. A base pair weighs 660 daltons, about 1.1 e-21 grams. So one copy of every human DNA put together would weigh 25 micrograms. Keep 1000 copies stored in different places around your space ship. 25 milligrams. Compared to a live human being, it is a hell of a lot easier and less risky to send DNA, and systems to turn some of it into humans at the end of the trip, and keep the rest around "just in case".

Sending 25 milligrams of DNA at 0.5C requires 330 Gigajoules, about 90 MW-hr. Not sure what it takes to reconstitute a human being, but that will be a tiny fraction of the work necessary to make a planet habitable for people, whether 80 or 160 or 7 billion.

This suggests an interesting form of cannibalism. Make 7 billion copies of the set of all 7 billion genomes at 25 micrograms per full copy (175 grams of DNA total), put each full humanity copy in a pill, and have everybody on the planet swallow one of the 7 billion pills. Thus uniting all humanity in one supreme act of universal cannibalism. Kinda touching, that.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby skeptical scientist » Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:49 am UTC

xkcd wrote:I wanted to write the odds of predicting a perfect bracket--in the form of 1/[number]--here, but I guess a 2-gigabyte mouseover text would be a bit of a pain.

He couldn't just have written 1/2^(7.2 billion) and saved the 2 gigs? (Actually it would be 2.7 gigs with commas, and good luck reading a 2.2-billion digit number without separators.)
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby johnfrye3 » Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:55 am UTC

keithl wrote:4 light years in 100 years is 0.04C, and moving 5600 kg of humans (70 kg x 80 ) at that speed requires 4E17 joules, 1.11111E11 kW-hr (a wonderful number!), a couple of days of global electric power production. Their space ship, and all the Big Macs and Dove Bars they will eat for the next 100 years, will require a bit more energy to send along with them.

There are about 7 billion people. The human genome is 3.2 billion base pairs. A base pair weighs 660 daltons, about 1.1 e-21 grams. So one copy of every human DNA put together would weigh 25 micrograms. Keep 1000 copies stored in different places around your space ship. 25 milligrams. Compared to a live human being, it is a hell of a lot easier and less risky to send DNA, and systems to turn some of it into humans at the end of the trip, and keep the rest around "just in case".

Sending 25 milligrams of DNA at 0.5C requires 330 Gigajoules, about 90 MW-hr. Not sure what it takes to reconstitute a human being, but that will be a tiny fraction of the work necessary to make a planet habitable for people, whether 80 or 160 or 7 billion.


It is my understanding that the two proposals are not at directly odds with each other. While we currently do not have the capability to harness such massive amounts of energy, we surprisingly already have systems to turn genomes into new humans. (As xkcd #387 rightly shows . . . ok it is not really surprising.) I have heard the ballpark number for a perpetual stable population is around 500; one reason a one-way generation ship can be lower is precisely because you can send up other genomes for use at their destination, should that be other than Earth.

True, we could apply the same logic to using the genomes in flight and reduce the necessary number to a minimum of 2 persons, no more, no less--a mother and a daughter, or, if you prefer, a master and an apprentice. This would ensure that a womb is available upon arrival, and then the women can begin steadily increasing the population for quite a while using stored embryos. (Come to think of it, why are guys needed again in this scheme? Right, as embryo replenishers once the initial stock runs out.)

It might seem silly to believe that we will figure out interstellar travel before mastering completely artificial reproduction, but then, we would also need to figure out artificial nurturing, education, survival training, colony building, indoctrination (at least into the frontier mentality of going forth and multiplying, otherwise what's the point?), etc. While there might be a market-based incentive for completely artificial reproduction (birth mothers can make bank, and well do they earn it), any technology for child-rearing that is not mission-specific will almost certainly rely upon cultural, environmental, and technological resources unavailable to the new colony. Of course, the technology for interstellar travel will be a huge undertaking, dwarfing the biological task in terms of resources necessary, but interstellar travel is (relatively) straightforward compared with going from embryo to adult without parents in a completely alien environment, at least in terms of being able to plan for various contingencies.

Starting a human colony from a bunch of babies decanted from an artificial womb is going to require the equivalent of at least one humanoid robot, which admittedly is (potentially) simpler than 2 women, but not by several orders of magnitude. And the 80 persons who could be sent would at least have back-up human-producing equipment should the very, very unlikely happen, like the artificial equipment failing in the new environment, leaving one frustrated robot, lonely and despondent.

Of course with the two women approach, cannibalism would be a decent way to save resources (once per generation, after the master has passed on everything of value to the apprentice), and certainly the placentae would have to be eaten following every birth (and the umbilical cord, etc.). However, unlike this week's What-If question, the women would (mostly) not dine on each other, but rather their own reconstituted feces (perhaps with an algae intermediary).

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby peregrine_crow » Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:42 am UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:
xkcd wrote:I wanted to write the odds of predicting a perfect bracket--in the form of 1/[number]--here, but I guess a 2-gigabyte mouseover text would be a bit of a pain.

He couldn't just have written 1/2^(7.2 billion) and saved the 2 gigs? (Actually it would be 2.7 gigs with commas, and good luck reading a 2.2-billion digit number without separators.)


Sure, but that doesn't quite get across the sheer magnitude of the odds though. We read 2^(7.2 billion) but our mind just parses it as "really big number", no different from 7.2 billion to begin with. But stating that writing it out takes 2 Gigabyte of data triggers something in our brains because we are used to text (certainly written out numbers) being completely negligible amounts of data.
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby jaap » Thu Jul 17, 2014 8:30 am UTC

Why does the link with the text "2002 article" link to another google ngram rather than an actual article?

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Klear » Thu Jul 17, 2014 8:54 am UTC

Citation 1 is back. Yay!

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby sibtrag » Thu Jul 17, 2014 12:31 pm UTC

narrower range of mammal skeletal muscle and fat in the typical western diet


Can't believe you missed an opportunity to point out that many (most) non-vegetarians include dinosaur meat in their diet. I suppose it would be cool to think about that while eating fried chicken, but I am not a non-vegetarian.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby cellocgw » Thu Jul 17, 2014 12:39 pm UTC

Scarily enough, my imagination produced a new grocery store concept, where you can select your dinner cuts from the Euro, Asian, African, Oz, Latin, etc. gourmet sections of the Cannibal Dinner aisle. The question "Who's up for Chinese tonight?" suddenly has a rather different meaning.

ETA: bring on the old jokes about the relative cost of a pound of brain extracted from Profession A vs. Profession B :oops:
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Whizbang » Thu Jul 17, 2014 12:57 pm UTC

So... Who eats the babies? Do other babies eat the babies? Or do we just assume that, if the whole world turns cannibal, that all our morals and instincts to not eat each other and our babies goes out the window? Who eats the old people? Ew, gross.

That squirrel has shifty eyes. I don't trust that squirrel. I say we eat him first.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Burton » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:11 pm UTC

Nuclear briefcase? I don't get it...

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby vortighast » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:32 pm UTC

Burton wrote:Nuclear briefcase? I don't get it...


If only a small handful of the current population is going to survive an every-man-for-himself scenario, you don't stand much chance against someone who can launch nuclear weapons from the back of their armored vehicle.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Moose Anus » Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:09 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:So... Who eats the babies? Do other babies eat the babies? Or do we just assume that, if the whole world turns cannibal, that all our morals and instincts to not eat each other and our babies goes out the window?
I think babies would have to eat babies, because a baby probably couldn't sustain an adult for 1 month. Mmmm, baby food!
Lemonade? ...Aww, ok.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby jgyou » Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:23 pm UTC

Nice touch here, with the Logistic function bifurcation diagram as a tournament bracket :)

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:38 pm UTC

The first to be devoured are the elderly and infirm, followed by the obese. Kids aren't worth much but they will be next. While a large human would have an advantage in 1 on 1 fight, they need a lot more of them. And people are very quickly going to pair up and form larger groups for mutual protection.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Silhalnor » Thu Jul 17, 2014 4:21 pm UTC

He claims that the phrase "variety meats" appears suddenly in US books but not in British books but his sources clearly show a weird 7 year spike in British books that occurs during the decline of the phrase in US books. I can't tell how many actual books this is but it's about the same amount percentage wise. What happened during these years, did the rebranding effort make headlines one day in Britain and nothing more interesting happened until 1991? Must have been a bad news slump. Or all their reporters suddenly died and there was nothing to put on the news but reruns.

But really, what is that?

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby jpvlsmv » Thu Jul 17, 2014 4:23 pm UTC

johnfrye3 wrote:True, we could apply the same logic to using the genomes in flight and reduce the necessary number to a minimum of 2 persons, no more, no less--a mother and a daughter, or, if you prefer, a master and an apprentice. This would ensure that a womb is available upon arrival, and then the women can begin steadily increasing the population for quite a while using stored embryos. (Come to think of it, why are guys needed again in this scheme? Right, as embryo replenishers once the initial stock runs out.)

But how would two women survive the hundred-year journey to arrive in childbearing condition?

I suppose you could have generations of women artifically implanted from the stock of embryos while en route, and reduce the support requirement to 1.3 persons (on average -- 10 years before the mother stops being able to be implanted, start the next generation, then there are 2 women for 10 years, then back to 1) But that sounds lonely. Drug-induced coma for a couple of years at a time?

I wonder how old the mother could be... the ship isn't relying on her ovaries, so the usual biological clock concerns wouldn't apply. Just has to be fit enough to carry the child to term and raise her to self-sufficiency.

On the other hand, you'd probably want more than one mother for redundancy.

On arrival, should the repopulation be accelerated by encouraging multiple births/fraternal twins+?

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby rmsgrey » Thu Jul 17, 2014 4:47 pm UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:
xkcd wrote:I wanted to write the odds of predicting a perfect bracket--in the form of 1/[number]--here, but I guess a 2-gigabyte mouseover text would be a bit of a pain.

He couldn't just have written 1/2^(7.2 billion) and saved the 2 gigs? (Actually it would be 2.7 gigs with commas, and good luck reading a 2.2-billion digit number without separators.)


With multi-billion numbers of digits, simple separators just won't cut it. If you have a hundred years to read 2.2 billion digits, you have an average of just over 1.4 seconds per digit - or at 1 digit per second, about 70 years.

And just taking in a number equivalent to a lifetime (every digit corresponding to a moment) is going to be functionally impossible anyway - the whole point of inventing scientific notation is so that we can handle numbers on that sort of scale at all...

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Zassounotsukushi » Thu Jul 17, 2014 4:50 pm UTC

I was honestly surprised to not see a continuum solution. Isn't this effectively the same problem as the rocket equation? The "1 month" approximation certainly contains the relevant information about the rate at which we eat ourselves. The only units you need for the time constants are time, or the inverse of time.

But in the initial phases, humans could be modeled kinda like a continuous fluid. Once you kill a man, he stops burning calories. Well, not right away, but soon enough. Plus, the time difference between the murder and the eating can be reduced significantly. If the cooks are ready and the cafeteria is waiting with fork and knife in hand, I imagine the entire process could be accomplished within 30 minutes or so. That's much less than the half-life of a human. Add to that the fact that multiple people will dine on a single corpse, the only limitation related to imperfect division is meal size. In addition to that, not everyone will be dining at the same time.

That means that, until we whittle ourselves down to a small population, the solution (of population size over time) could be expressed in an exponential form.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby cerbervs » Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:05 pm UTC

keithl wrote:There are about 7 billion people. The human genome is 3.2 billion base pairs. A base pair weighs 660 daltons, about 1.1 e-21 grams. So one copy of every human DNA put together would weigh 25 micrograms. Keep 1000 copies stored in different places around your space ship. 25 milligrams. Compared to a live human being, it is a hell of a lot easier and less risky to send DNA, and systems to turn some of it into humans at the end of the trip, and keep the rest around "just in case".


To weigh in on that...
Firstly, DNA will weight a lot more than that - there are plenty of DNA modifications (such as methylation) which add extra weight, and it's normally wrapped on multiple levels around proteins (such as histones) which weigh a lot more than DNA itself.
Secondly, you don't just want one copy. Not only would that be very difficult (I'm not sure if even possible) to separate but also unreliable for storage.
Thirdly, DNA isn't just stored by itself - solvents are needed to preserve it, not to mention that you can only get that pure DNA isolated to start with.
Fourth(ly?), you probably want separate containers for each copy, adding more weight and volume.
And, it's pretty difficult to insert entire genome chromosome by chromosome (assuming you're storing it as chromosomes) to create an embryo. Much better idea would be to store sperm and eggs. Again, with whatever solvent are needed and in separate containers. Let's say you can keep pretty small amounts in small containers taking up just one gram per person - that's 7,000 tons you're sending. I don't know how much weight is needed per live person on this space flight (counting food and other supplies, life support, belongings, etc.), so this may or may not be a better idea purely on weight basis. I would bet that astronaut selection and training and placement on the ship would be easier and cheaper than going around the planet trying to collect a sample off of every single person though.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby rmsgrey » Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:52 pm UTC

appleatti wrote:Can somebody explain what I'm looking at in that last "final match" image? For some reason I can't wrap my head around what that's a picture of...


It's the bifurcation diagram for the logistic map (or a closely related diagram).

Okay, it's two copies, without labels or axes, and with one copy rotated 180 degrees, but the basic image is pretty distinctive.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Soup » Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:59 pm UTC

Moose Anus wrote:
Whizbang wrote:So... Who eats the babies? Do other babies eat the babies? Or do we just assume that, if the whole world turns cannibal, that all our morals and instincts to not eat each other and our babies goes out the window?
I think babies would have to eat babies, because a baby probably couldn't sustain an adult for 1 month. Mmmm, baby food!

Is that "baby food" or "baby food?" Anyway, I've heard the Irish used to eat their children in order to make them beneficial to the public.
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby NotAllThere » Fri Jul 18, 2014 5:03 am UTC

I suppose that once the prions kick in on the final (well fed) survivor, he'll have the last laugh. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuru_(disease)
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Rodinio » Fri Jul 18, 2014 9:41 am UTC

This always reminds me of the great Flanders and Swann song "The reluctant cannibal", where son cannibal refuses to eat people because it's baaaad and his family tries desperately to make him appreciate roast leg of insurance salesman...

Search for it on youtube, putting the link in resulted in spam warnings. (watch?v=bGW-qnlrMjs)

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby The Moomin » Fri Jul 18, 2014 1:50 pm UTC

Would the proportion of the populace that became Wendigos not alter the results?
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby mdistancerunner » Fri Jul 18, 2014 2:06 pm UTC

flymousechiu wrote:
mdistancerunner wrote:http://what-if.xkcd.com/105/

The first citation got lost... I spent 10 minutes looking for it.

You know you can just Ctrl+F (a little bit different across OSes) + "1" to search for it?


But I had already started my very precise timer to make sure I could report precisely how long I spent looking for it! At that point, Ctrl-F seemed like cheating.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby edo » Fri Jul 18, 2014 8:48 pm UTC

cerbervs wrote:Much better idea would be to store sperm and eggs. Again, with whatever solvent are needed and in separate containers. Let's say you can keep pretty small amounts in small containers taking up just one gram per person - that's 7,000 tons you're sending. I don't know how much weight is needed per live person on this space flight (counting food and other supplies, life support, belongings, etc.), so this may or may not be a better idea purely on weight basis. I would bet that astronaut selection and training and placement on the ship would be easier and cheaper than going around the planet trying to collect a sample off of every single person though.

(yes, I made an account to correct people on the internet. see comic #386)


You are correct, Sperm and Eggs are the way to go. To conserve space, you probably want to have the maximum genetic diversity in the sperm (millions of sperm fit easily in 90mL) and perhaps only 1000's of eggs...

In short, the biodiversity of the entire human race could be stored in a single IVF lab... Collection will be the hard part.
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby mathmannix » Mon Jul 21, 2014 3:48 pm UTC

I wonder how many sane people would rather eat another person than be eaten by another person? I'm not sure I could do it, so I would be eliminated in the first round I suppose. Would the tournament work, though? Would half of the current population be willing to advance to the next round? (Of course, if the tournament were forcibly run by kill-bots, then it would work better...)
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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby Maxsimal » Tue Jul 22, 2014 10:18 am UTC

I wish he'd stop using the tapatoCo T-shirt as a reference. The math on it is clearly wrong.

It lists an 80kg person as having 20kg of fat - 180,000calories on its own - more than the 110,000 calorie total listed for that 25% body fat human. Add in the protein and carbs and you're up at 240k.

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Re: What-if 0105: "Cannibalism"

Postby thomaskcd » Tue Jul 22, 2014 4:39 pm UTC

phlip wrote:
someone wrote:Can somebody explain what I'm looking at in that last "final match" image? For some reason I can't wrap my head around what that's a picture of...

It's one of these, scaled up to 7 billion people. With the appearance based on one of these.


Nonono... it's something much more geeky!
Search google images for "period three implies chaos" (no link sorry) or wikipedia for Chaos_theory and then read and read.

The diagram in fact has nothing to do with a playoff or knockout round, but instead plots the one, two, four or more states of a dynamic system as some constant is changed. For example, it could plot the population of rabbits and foxes, as the rate of breeding is changed. Someone discovered and proved that a stable 3-period repetition can only occur in a chaotic system.

Come to think of it, it would be chaos with everyone eating his neighbour every few days....


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