Anonymous asks:

Thoughts on the Pokemon Tree of Life? (Search on Reddit.) I just spent a good half hour marveling at how much work must have gone into it!

I’ve seen an earlier version, I think in generation V or VI. And, well, I can certainly appreciate the effort, and it is a beautiful thing in its own way. Sort of artistic, really. The trouble I have is that it almost certainly doesn’t work like that. Two kinds of animal that can breed to produce viable offspring (e.g. horse and donkey) almost have to be more closely related to one another than two that can’t (e.g. horse and goat). But here we get Pokémon that can breed with each other despite being from distant parts of the tree, like Tangrowth and Venusaur, and Pokémon that can’t breed with each other despite being adjacent on the tree, like Gardevoir and Medicham. Pokémon clearly don’t follow the real world’s rules of genetics, heredity and speciation; they can breed across species lines and they can inherit at least some acquired characteristics (Lamarckian evolutionists represent!). What that means is that, if it’s even possible to come up with a schema that represents the evolutionary relationships of all Pokémon in a consistent and meaningful way, it probably looks nothing like a real-world “tree of life” or cladogram. It’s… probably more of a Venn diagram situation. Or, like, a spirograph or something.

Jeffthelinguist asks:

What is the distinction between animals and Pokémon within universe? Granted they rarely allude to real animals in recent games, but canonically animals due exist in the Pokémon universe, so what do humans use to determine the difference between the two? Some Pokémon are pretty unremarkable and there are animals that are conversely more fantastical than Pokémon. Intelligence seems to not be a defining trait either. And I’m not really referring to game mechanics like “moves” and “abilities”, as surely a real bird can do things like peck and a real elephant could do things like stomp and tackle… heck archerfish can essentially use water gun and could probably splash which is already more moves than Delibird learns.

I… don’t like that word, “canonically.” I think Pokémon has been around long enough, spread itself across enough different media and subjected itself to enough retcons that the idea of “canon” oversimplifies to the point of meaninglessness. References to real animals almost always predate the introduction of Pokémon that would be able to supply those references – cows only exist until Miltank turns up, mongooses stop being a thing when they’re superseded by Zangoose, etc. Continue reading “Jeffthelinguist asks:”

Anonymous asks:

Based on your answer to the Ultra beast question, WHAT IS A POKÉMON??

Well, I think the Ultra Beasts (and Deoxys, for that matter) suggest that it’s not actually a biological distinction, or even anything scientific at all.  I think they just call something a Pokémon if it can battle and take orders.  Pokémon moves and types are categories invented by humans to describe what different creatures can do; they don’t necessarily indicate anything consistent about physiology.  So it’s not clear whether Ultra Beasts are Pokémon or not, until someone catches one and uses it in a battle, and that fact is formally recognised by one or more Pokémon Leagues; after that, they definitely are.  I suspect it’s almost more of a legal/rules issue than anything else.

Anonymous asks:

What would you study if not Classics/archaeology?

Well, when I was a kid I wanted to be a palaeontologist.  I sort of wrote that off as unrealistic when I was in high school, but actually, now that I’m a real archaeologist and dig stuff up and do proper scholarly research, honestly I do think I probably could have pulled it off if I’d kept going with biology and geology.  Evolutionary history is a fascinating rabbit hole.  I’m not sure I’d have the patience for taxonomic debates, though.  I mean, people can literally spend years arguing about whether a single jawbone represents a new species or not.

Anonymous asks:

“I am a fish”, is this due to the fish ancestry of tetrapods with very similar bone structure? The gills became the modern ear…I believe. Fins became limbs with digits, we did lose the lateral line system but we gained access to land.

Ding ding ding ding DING!  We have a winner!

‘Fish’ is, strictly speaking, not a taxonomically meaningful category.  Tetrapods – that is, all amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals – are descended from lobe-finned fishes, an incredibly ancient class of fishes that includes the coelacanth.  This means a) that the coelacanth is actually more closely related to humans than it is to salmon, goldfish, etc, and b) that, in the same way as all birds are dinosaurs, all land-dwelling vertebrates really should be considered fish.  The fact that they’re not is really just due to the scientific community choosing to bow to common sense in this instance.

If that paragraph made sense to you, you should probably be able to appreciate why asking “are Pokémon animals?” is actually a fiendishly intractable question.