Dinosaurs do matter to our future. Of course, I am not suggesting that there will be a time machine where a bespectacled parasaurolophus jumps out and yells, “You must plant Okra, before it’s too late!” … although that would be cool. But thinking about dinosaurs could be helpful to us, as explained in a fascinating little book by Kenneth Lacovara called Why Dinosaurs Matter.
I highly recommend the book, or at least Lacovara’s TED talk on YouTube, but let me debrief you. Consider this a book report that might contribute to saving the planet. It’s the scientific variation of the saying:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Dinosaurs Are a Metaphor for Abundance, Not Failure
So what lessons can dinosaurs teach us? If you see an 8.5 mile wide asteroid heading for your neighborhood, bend over and firmly place your head between your knees… or something a little less primitive?
Lacovara’s strongest point is that dinosaurs were an incredibly successful branch on the tree of life. They had zillions of species, ranging from smaller than a chicken to bigger than a Boeing 737. Their reign covered nearly a third of the span of time that multi-celled life has been on earth–three times as along as us mammals. The biggest irony, in fact, is that the word “dinosaur” is used as a metaphor for being outmoded or incapable of change because the dinosaur kingdom’s capacity to diversify and adapt is still unparalleled. They didn’t really “go extinct” as much as being extinguished by an extra-terrestrial bolt of lightning. Besides, technically, they’re not extinct–but we’ll get to that.
“Why is my phone telling me the weather in Seattle? I didn’t ask for that!”
My long-suffering spouse looks at me, sighing, and says, “That’s Google Assistant.”
“I didn’t turn on Google Assistant. I didn’t give it permission. Why is it doing this?”
She shouts towards my phone, “Hey Google….” Nothing happens. “It must not recognize me.”
“Why would it recognize you? It’s not on.” Ignoring my own retort, I bark at my phone. “Hey, you Google…”
Nothing, of course, happens, other than a cheery notification that tells me what the baseball scores are from games that happened seven hours ago. The baseball games which I had already watched and could already tell you who scored what when with runners on base over which pitch count.
Off the Grid Is Impossible
I do not Hey Google. I respect you if you do, but I don’t believe in talking to objects. I don’t believe we should have robots listening throughout the house to our every activity. I don’t have seeing eyes peering out the front door to spy on mischievous-looking passers-by nor do I have glowing orbs in my bedroom, blinking to notify me that there might be a lost dog three miles away.
If you think I’m nuts about the Olympics, you should hear me talk about dinosaurs. All anyone needs to say is “antorbital fenestra,” and I swoon. Or “Chicxulub crater,” which is the impact site for the theoretical asteroid that hit 65 million years ago and wiped out most of life on earth, except for the tree shrews, from which all of us are descended. (We’ll have to save the tree shrews for another time.)
So you can imagine my excitement upon learning of the controversy between the Boltysh crater and the Chicxulub crater. Which came first? Apparently, there’s big money in being first because scientists from India are also claiming precedence.
Also, I learned the word “palynological,” which satisfies my Weird-Word-of-the-Month fetish. It means “the study of live and fossil spores, pollen grains, and similar plant structures,” from the Greek palunein, which means “to scatter” as in dust or “pollen.” Fern spores are very much in play here. And, for those of you with allergies, you now know that they are palynological.
Ok, so these dudes back in 2010 noticed this crater in the Ukraine called the Boltysh crater. The crater was “roughly” the same age as Chicxulub, and when we’re talking 65 million years, roughly can be mean +/- a million years, right? They were trying to be a bit more precise—in the 10,000 year range maybe—to see whether Boltysh came before or after Chicxulub.