Everything Everywhere All At Once has received 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. This is great news. It is not often that a science fiction film is in the running for this level of Academy acclaim, still less one that asks such big questions. Questions like: “Do we have free will?;” “how can our actions have meaning within the context of an infinite universe?;” “how can we reconcile our love for our families with the intergenerational trauma they inflict?;” and “what if humans had evolved giant wobbly hot dog fingers?”
Among the many alternate timelines Everything Everywhere All At Once shows us is a distant dimension where the human race evolved into having giant wobbly hot dog fingers. It’s also the world that served as a backdrop for the love story between Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ Deidre, an alternate timeline variant of Evelyn’s tax auditor.
But if you’re anything like us, as you watched these poignant scenes in this richly layered and interweaving narrative, you were also thinking, “How scientifically plausible is all this?”
A Natural History of Giant Wobbly Hot Dog Fingers
Not content to simply wonder, we talked with concept artist and illustrator Alex Ries. Ries specializes in work around speculative evolution, creating imaginative creatures by extrapolating from the known science around evolution. His work has appeared in the Subnautica: Below Zero game, the movie Warriors of the Future, and Two-Sky River: The Birrin Saga, an in-progress book covering the evolution and history of his own fictional “Birrin” civilization.
When we asked Ries, he was able to point to a surprisingly plausible-sounding process by which humans might evolve giant wobbly hot dog fingers. For giant wobbly hot dog fingers to evolve, they must have an inherent trait that natural selection favors, causing the genes for wobblier, more hot dog-ish fingers to be passed on. The most easily explained advantages would be through sexual selection.
“Wobbly hot dog fingers could have evolved as humans went from tree-dwelling to plains-walking apes, thus freeing the hands from locomotory use,” Ries points out. “Natural selection at this point would start to work on hands in new ways, one possible route being social or sexual signaling. The larger, wobblier hands could become attractive features in a mate.”
Ries argues that at this point while the hands might become impractical, they would still serve as signifiers that were attractive to a mate, like a peacock’s train.
“Sexual selection has seen even more improbable behavior and physical traits appear on Earth,” Ries says. “The fingers would essentially become display structures such as deer antlers, which regrow each year, or the huge crests on some extinct pterosaurs.”
As wobbliness becomes an increasingly attractive trait in sexual displays, natural selection would lead to the bones atrophying and retreating from the fingers over the generations. But Ries goes further, pointing to the scenes where characters in the hot dog timeline actually appear to eat each other’s fingers, and suggesting how that too might happen.
“Part of early human reproductive rituals involved attempting to bite at the fingers, causing damage,” Ries speculates. “Individuals with the ability to best resist this were selected for, and the ability to regenerate any damage only enhancing fitness. Eventually, this evolved into actually eating portions of the fingers during mating rituals. This regenerative soft tissue contains hormones to enhance pair bonding when eaten.”
Ries argues that to avoid blood loss, these fingers evolved to grow continuously from a point nearer the hand. These growth zones immediately withdraw the already limited blood supply to the soft tissue at the commencement of courtship.
Planet of the Giant Wobbly Hot Dog Fingers
This branching timeline of natural selection would affect more than just the way people look, however. How our physical form has evolved also has a huge impact on our civilization and social structures. For instance, it is no coincidence that most mathematics tends to use Base 10, using the same number of numerals as most people have fingers. The giant wobbly hot dog fingers timeline would see a human civilization that would be different in many ways, obvious and subtle, from our relationship with technology to fashion and social mores.
“With the wobbly hot dog fingers evolving in place of modern human hands, a technological society would only be possible using the feet and mouth-parts as primary tool manipulators,” Ries tells us. “This would mean most control and interface systems would likely be on or nearer the floor, with others closer to head height. Clothing would be different and in various cultures either hide the hands entirely or work to show them off, depending on any social taboos.”
Even our diet will have changed in the giant wobbly hot dog finger timeline, as Ries points out, “Without hands to hunt using spears, we may have relied on foraging even more, collecting fruit and shellfish with mouths or feet. There thus may be less large animal meat in the global diet, with culture developing around fruits, plant materials and shore-based seafoods.”
Our art and culture would also look drastically different in this world, beyond the “actors eating each others’ fingers” scene Evelyn spots on the launderette TV.
“Visual art would follow various paths, perhaps even more of an emphasis on handprints in caves to show power or social status,” Ries suggests. “Painting using the feet would result in galleries lower down the walls of caves, while holding applicators in the mouth and entirely different form of art higher up, or used to refine the work done by the feet.”