Chapter 2: Fallacy of the Single Cause
“Okay, trainers: first step is to bring out your pokeballs.”
Red, Blue and Leaf all stand at the front of a long room made of grey stone.Speakers and cameras are set in the ceiling behind them so Professor Oak andothers can watch and instruct them. Waist high dividers run the length of theroom between the three as they face the far end, where target pokedolls ofvarious shapes and sizes on mechanical tracks stand facing them. Empty lanesstretch out to their sides.
Red feels sweat collecting under his hat, and rubs his palm against his pantsfor the third time, shifting his pokeball around to get a better grip on it.He’s about to meet his pokemon for the first time, and he doesn’t want to makea fool of himself in front of the other two. He wonders how many of the stafffrom the lab are on break to watch, and has to dry his palms again.
“When you call out its name and give it one of the commands to come out, therewill be a two second delay. Throw it forward in as straight a line as you can,red side up, white side down, with a forward spin: the pokeball will open torelease onto the ground, and the energy will send the ball in the oppositedirection. You can release your pokemon from your hand, but the recoil israther strong, and you need adequate empty space around you for the ball toopen. Begin.”
Silence reigns in the long, empty hall, the only sound Red’s heartbeat in hisears, and then-
“Bulbasaur! I choose you!”
Leaf’s voice thunders through the room without echoing, the walls and ceilingshaped to break up sound. Red watches the ball sail forward in a spinningblur, and then there’s a flash of light. The pokeball shoots back toward Leaf,who shifts her hand a split second too late to catch it: her fingers brush thesmooth metal and send it up over her head to clatter against the wall behindher.
In front of her is a four legged, teal reptile with a dark green bulb on itsback. It blinks, sniffs, and begins to explore its surroundings.
Blue’s ball flies in a slower, straighter arc, so that when the light flashesout, he’s able to catch it as it sails back toward him.
“Go, Charmander!” Red yells, and throws his ball, aiming for a slow, easyunderhand.
A flash of light, and then his ball comes back, faster than he’d thrown it,and at a slight angle. He stretches out his arm, but the ball hits the wallbehind him with a crack that makes him wince.
Then all his attention is on the two foot tall orange lizard in front of him,standing on its hind legs with a long tail held behind it for balance. A smallflame burns steadily at its tip, barely noticeable under the strong lights.
The lizard turns at the sound of its name, and Red approaches it, kneelingdown and letting it sniff his hands. He looks to the side to see Blue and Leafdoing the same with their Pokemon.
“When you and your pokemon feel comfortable with each other, feed them someberries.”
Red pulls out a plastic pouch and rolls some berries onto his palm. Thecharmander’s warm, rough tongue immediately snaps out and scoops them up, thenit looks up at him as it chews, bright blue eyes meeting his while he runs hisfingers over the soft scales of its head.
Red’s chest feels tight as he looks down at his first pokemon. As far back ashe can remember he’d dreamed of forming a bond with his very own, a companionfor life, something for him to take care of, that would defend him if needed.Together they’d be able to travel the world, like his father had…
Before he joined the Rangers, and his pokemon had been killed by a wildscyther.
Red gives the charmander one more scratch between its eyes, then stands. Heknows the next part of the drill, and sure enough, the target pokedolls aresliding forward along their rails. The one in front of Red is shaped roughlylike a Beedrill.
His pokemon goes rigid, and then it spins around. When it catches sight of thepokedall, it growls, stepping in front of Red. Red feels a bit absurd for asecond, being protected by a creature that doesn’t even rise up past hisknees, but one glance at the sharp claws extending from its hands does awaywith that. A closer glance also shows that the flame at the end of its tail islarger than it was a second ago.
By the time the foam-clad figure stops a few feet in front of his charmander,Red hears Blue and Leaf give their own pokemon the battle command. All threepokemon stand ready to defend their trainers. Red sees that the bulbasaur hastwo vines extended from under its bulb, held poised above it at the ready.
Oak’s voice breaks the silence. “Begin.”
In a blink the charmander dashes forward and swipes at the pokedoll. Strips offoam fly off it, and the force of the blow spins it, an arm coming around tohit the charmander from the side.
Red’s pokemon hops back, dodging the counter attack and planting its feet infront at the ready.
Red grins. His pokemon is fast, and clearly well trained. Not that he had ahand in that of course, but it’s still good to know. Now to see what else itcan do… He pulls out the sheet of paper Professor Oak had given him with hispokemon’s trained commands on it.
The charmander’s flame doubles in size, and with a growl it spins, taillashing out. Some of the fire detaches itself and sails onto the pokedoll. Itsfoam is clearly fire retardant, but the ember still melt into the material abit before being snuffed out.
The blue turtle rears its head back, then spits a short jet of water at thepokedoll hard enough to spin it around. Leaf’s bulbasaur extends its vines farenough to whip the pokedoll with loud thuds_._
“Good,” Oak says. “Most pokemon are smart enough to learn a number ofcommands. As yours grow and become stronger, their abilities will expand, andyou will be able to teach them more powerful and complex attacks. Over timethe old commands will be forgotten if they are not reinforced. For now, keeppracticing until your pokemon begin to show signs of tiring. Physical attackstend to be less tiring than their more unique abilities. As their trainers,you will need to learn how to judge your pokemon’s health and withdraw them ifthey are too hurt or weary. Continue.”
They continued drilling with their pokemon for another couple of minutesbefore Red begins noticing the signs of weariness. The squirtle’s shots ofwater are smaller and less powerful. Bulbasaur moves slower, and his vinesstrike with less force. And charmander…
Red kneels down and rubs the lizard’s head. It looks up at him, pupilsdilated, chest rising and falling with its harsh breaths. Red feeds it somemore berries, looking at its tail flame with some concern. It’s definitelysmaller than it had been before.
Red gets up to approach the target pokedoll, and Charmander growls from behindhim. Red looks back and smiles as the lizard moves to stand between him andthe pokedoll again. “It’s okay Charmander.” Red goes and retrieves thepokeball from where it hit the wall, and points its lens at his pokemon. “Youdid great. Return.” A red beam hits the charmander, spreading over it in aflash of light that returns to the pokeball faster than a blink.
Red approaches the pokedoll, fingers feeling the pits and holes where hischarmander’s fire had melted the foam. What had his pokemon done, exactly, touse its tail flame as an attack? Fire needs something to burn, like wood or acandle wick. When he and Blue had practiced wilderness survival, they hadfound some materials better than others for catching fire and burning longer,but while bits of flaming debris sometimes fell off the burning material, thefire itself always clung to what it was on.
Not being able to burn the foam, Charmander’s embers guttered out. But whatsustained it in the air along the way?
Fire isn’t something that can be thrown…
Red walks away from the pokedoll and pulls the pokeball back out, pointing itat the floor in front of him. “Charmander, go.”
Too late he remembers Professor Oak’s caution about the recoil: the flash oflight that brings Charmander out sends his arm snapping back with a wrenchingpain. Red grimaces and rubs his elbow, which feels as though he’d pulled themuscle.
Note to self: work on upper body strength so I can summon pokemon withoutthrowing the ball. Until then, brace arm.
Charmander stands waiting, exactly as he had before Red had withdrawn him,flame low and breathing hard. Red kneels beside it and feeds it more berries,then bends his head to examine the fire at the end of its tail.
No matter how hard he strains his eyes, he can’t make out what the fire isburning. It seems to simply flare from the end of its tail, blue at its base,then white and red above that. Red moves his hand above the fire until hefeels its heat, then snatches it back.
Red looks to the side to see Leaf smiling at her pokeball. He frowns, rubbinghis elbow again. Why wasn’t there any recoil from withdrawing a pokemon likethere is in releasing it?
Red looks back at the charmander’s tail flame. One mystery at a time. Hepulls a pocket notebook out and detaches a sheet of it. He holds it over theflame.
Red blinks and looks at the charmander, who’s watching over its shoulder as heburns the paper. Red smiles and rubs its head, and they watch together as helifts the paper away so it can burn on its own. When it’s burned almost downto his fingers, he blows it out.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna do that to you.” Red feels along the burnt edge ofthe paper.
What else burns?
Wood, paper, cotton, cloth… none of which are at the end of the charmander’stail. He knows some forms of gas are combustible, but you can’t throw burninggas either. Which leaves…
“Oil.” Red says. “You produce some kind of oil, don’t you Charmander? Maybe asa form of waste?”
Charmander just stares at him. Its breathing is lighter now, its pupils lessdilated. It nuzzles his hand, and he scratches the soft scales under its jaw.Red laughs as its eyes slip half closed, and it begins to sway left and right,its tail bobbing in opposite directions.
“Squirtle, return.” A flash of light, and then Blue clips the pokeball to hisbelt and examines his own target pokedoll, a soaked nidorino.
“Professor Oak,” Leaf calls out. “What gender are our pokemon?”
“Bulbasaur and Charmander are males. Squirtle’s a female.”
“Professor,” Red says. “Is it okay if I perform a quick experiment?”
“You tell me, Red.”
Red runs through the checklist of guidelines for Safe and Ethical PokemonExperimentation:
1) Will it cause harm to a human?
2) Will it cause permanent harm to a pokemon?
3) Will it damage potential relationships between the pokemon and humans?
4) Does it violate the trainer’s priority in deciding what is best for theirpokemon?
As Red was the trainer in question, 4 was fine, and he had no intention ofdamaging his relationship with his charmander, so 3 was too. It wouldn’t harmthe charmander either, so he was clear on 2, and as for 1…
“I might get burned a little, but I’ll be very careful,” Red says. “I’ve got afew burn remedies in my bag.”
“Then you may proceed with caution.”
Red smiles. “Thank you Professor.” It’s the first time he’s being trusted toperform an experiment on his own. He rethinks what he has in mind to ensure hedoesn’t screw it up, aware that Professor Oak other researchers are watchinghim.
Finally, Red takes his notebook out of his pocket and tears out a handful ofpaper. He places them on the floor in a pile, then goes over to the pokedolland digs his fingers into one of the slashed lines in the foam. With a pullthat sends a warning pain through his elbow, he rips a section of foam off thepokedoll.
Judging it big enough, he walks a few feet from the paper pile. “Charmander,”he says, and the lizard looks at him. He points to the paper with one finger.“Ember.”
The charmander looks at the paper pile, then back to him. “Rawr?”
“Ember,” he says again, jabbing with his finger.
Charmander looks back at the paper, then spins without warning. Flames lashout onto the paper pile, and Red rushes to slam the foam down on the smallblaze.
When he lifts it up, there’s little but charred paper under the foam. Heexamines them, but feels and sees nothing.
“That proved what, exactly?” Blue asks, leaning on the wall dividing him fromRed.
“That I didn’t do it fast enough, I think.” Red takes his notebook out againand this time leaves the entire thing on the floor. Red points at it again.“Ember!”
This time Red slams the foam down within a second after the fire hits it. Whenhe lifts it up, the notebook sticks to the foam. He peels it off and sees itstill smoldering, the acrid fumes making his nose wrinkle. He dabs at thesmall flames with the edge of the foam until they go out, but when he runs hisfinger through the hole, it comes out dry.
“Dammit,” Red mutters.
“What’s the problem?” Leaf asks from beside Blue, folded arms hanging down thewall.
Red frowns at the fire on Charmander’s tail. “Are you aware of the scientificmethod?”
“Sure, grandpa and mom taught me. Ask a question, guess an answer, predict arelationship, test your prediction, analyze the results.”
Red smiles. “I was taught it a bit differently, but that’s the gist, yeah.”
“How did you learn it?”
“First comes the question: how does the charmander sustain the fire at the endof its tail? By asking that question, I’m committed to acquiring data toanswer it.
“So that’s step two, which I did earlier: research. The pokedex is no help inthis case, but I can observe to gain information too, and what I observed ishow it does its ember attack.” Red points to the pokedoll. “The fire wentthrough the air to hit that. Well, fire needs fuel to be sustained: it’s not aphysical thing, like a piece of wood.
“Which leads to step three, my hypothesis: the fire is fueled by the steadyrelease of some kind of oil, which it slings forward to hit whatever it wantsto burn. But how to prove it without hurting the charmander? The hypothesisneeds something I can test, a prediction: I thought if I can put out the firefast enough, it’ll leave behind some of the oil that it uses to fuel it. Thisfoam will put it out, and the notebook was there to give it something else toburn besides the oil.”
In the silence that follows, Blue, who seemed to have spaced out somewherearound step two, looks at Red. “And?”
Red sighs. “Step four was the test. Step five is to analyze the data and seeif it supports the hypothesis…”
“And does it?”
Red looks mournfully at his ruined notebook. “Inconclusive.”
“That means no, right?” Blue smirks.
Leaf smiles. “Well maybe the test wasn’t good enough. What if you don’t usethe notebook? Have him ember onto the ground. Without something else to burn,the fire might not go through the oil as quickly.”
Red scratches his hair beneath his cap. “Does that make sense?”
Leaf shrugs. “Maybe not, but if the fire jumps to the paper, then there’s morefire, which needs more fuel, right? And the best fuel is the oil. Or maybe thepaper is absorbing the oil, so you can’t see it.”
Red nods. “Okay. I’ll try that then.” Red stuffs the notebook in his pocketand points to the ground. “Charmander.” The lizard looks at him. “Em-”
“Wait,” Blue says. Red and the lizard both look at him. “You should tell himto throw it farther.”
Red is about to ask why, then he gets it. “You think more oil will beproduced?”
Blue shrugs. “It has to be, to go farther.”
Leaf looks thoughtful. “So Charmander knows how much oil to throw when itstarget is farther away?”
“Maybe not as a calculated measurement, but on an instinctual level or as alearned behavior, sure.” When Blue notices Red staring at him, he looksdefensive. “What? You think only people who spend all day reading can know bigwords?”
“No, I just… well, you don’t use them normally.” And Red’s a bit impressedthat Blue had thought of that. It’s so easy to recognize when Blue’s ignoranceof science leads him to bad conclusions that Red often forgets that ignorantdoesn’t mean dumb.
Blue rolls his eyes. “When you live with a professor you tend to pick somethings up.”
“Right. Well, it’s a good idea.”
“Unfortunately it brings up another problem,” Leaf says. “If Charmander knowsjust how much oil to release to send his fire as far as he wants it to go, howwould there be any substantial amount left where it lands?”
They’re all silent for a moment, then Red grimaces. “Ok, let’s hope I’m betterat this than I am catching pokeballs.” He takes a few steps back from hischarmander, then points at the pokedoll. “Charmander! Ember!”
The lizard stares at him, then looks at the pokedoll, then back to him.“Rawr!”
“I’ll be fine.” He takes a step to the side, moving farther out of the line ofsight. “Go on. Ember!”
Charmander spins, and Red jumps at the flame, trying to hit it with the foam.It flies past him, and his charmander growls.
“Dammit.” Red steps to the side again. “Ember,” he says, pointing at thepokedoll.
His charmander doesn’t move, merely growling again. “Charmander, ember!”
Instead, the lizard walks in front of him, and only then flicks fire at thepokedoll.
“Aww, he doesn’t want to hurt you!” Leaf says. “That’s so sweet.”
Red frowns. “Yeah, great, only now I can’t test my prediction.”
“Oh, move aside.” Blue hoists himself over the divider and takes the foam fromhim. “At this rate we’ll be as old as gramps by the time we get out of here.”
Red steps back, and Charmander comes with him. Blue, standing to the side,lifts the foam, and Red points at the pokedoll from safely behind his pokemon.“Ember!”
Charmander flicks fire, and Blue slaps the foam down on it, quenching itagainst the cold ground. “Ha!”
Red rushes forward, and when Blue lifts the foam, he kneels down and seessomething glisten on the stone for the space of a heartbeat: then it suddenlyignites. Red pumps his uninjured arm in the air with a whoop, and Bluecrouches down to look too.
“What happened?” Leaf asks, joining them. The fire burns down to nothing,leaving a small scorch mark on the rock. “You see some oil?”
“Not anymore,” Red says with a grin. “I saw it though, just before it burnedaway. It must catch fire when it gets air. Let’s do it again, I’ll show you.”
“Hey!” Blue says. “I thought we were leaving Pallet sometime today?”
Professor Oak’s voice comes from behind them rather than the loudspeaker,making everyone jump. “Don’t worry, repeated experiments won’t be necessary.”
“Professor!” Red points at the scorch mark. “They produce oil to make thefire, that’s why it goes out when they die! At least, I think it is,” Redsays, suddenly doubtful. “I guess this doesn’t conclusively prove that theydon’t also rely on keeping their tail lit, but…”
Professor Oak is smiling at him. “Yes, so I saw. Well done, all of you. Thatwas a very, uh, innovative experiment you pulled off. It took me much longerto isolate the oil, though I didn’t risk immolation to do it.”
Red blinks, then his heart sinks. “You already knew. That entry in thepokedex… it was one of your tests!”
The professor nods. “I changed the pokedex’s data to match what the rumorsabout charmander had been when I was your age. I wanted to see if any of youwould notice the problem, ask the right questions, and figure it out… though Ididn’t expect it to happen quite this quickly. Go ahead and check.”
Red pulls his pokedex out and navigates to charmander’s page, which nowbegins:
Charmander: The Lizard Pokemon. Charmander prefer rocky, mountainous terrain,and hatch from their eggs when their tails ignite and crack the shell. Theysecrete an oil from the end of their tail that combusts when exposed to theair. The flame varies in strength and size based on their mood and health:when agitated, they produce more, but when their vitals are low, the oiltrickles to a near stop.
Red’s chest feels empty. “So I didn’t discover anything new.” Professor Oakoften gives Red incomplete scenarios or bits of data to solve hypotheticalproblems, but Red never suspected he would mess with the pokedex.
Blue elbows him. “You expected to get your Researcher license before evenleaving the building?” he says, not unkindly. “At least give yourself a fulltwenty-four hours.”
“And it was still an original discovery,” Leaf says with a wry grin. “Just afew decades later than someone else made it.”
“She’s right, Red,” Professor Oak says. “You did a decent job of tackling yourfirst problem scientifically.”
Red smiles. “Well, I had some help.”
“Remember, all of you, that no matter what the pokedex says, it might bewrong. Not a day goes by that we don’t learn something new, or learn thatwhat we think we know is false. That’s why journeys like yours are soimportant: fresh eyes gathering new data will ensure we constantly update ourknowledge and think in new ways. I have every confidence now that your journeywill be one full of new discoveries.”
The three stand a bit taller, and Red feels his excited energy mirrored in theother’s expressions. He puts his pokedex away and heads for the door. “Comeon, let’s get going. There are a ton of pokemon to study between here andViridian City!”
Blue sighs. “As long as we get there sometime this century.”
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