In the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh chapters of The Science of Discworld, I FINALLY GET TO YELL ABOUT DINOSAURS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I don’t know how much I believe the theory that dinosaurs are so interesting because of power and sex. I certainly wasn’t thinking along those lines when I was a kid. No, I viewed dinosaurs almost as if they were fantasy creatures, each with their own features that benefited them with offensive or defensive moves. I remember playing with my dinosaur figurines with my brother and treating them like a puzzle. The tyrannosaurus was a great offensive creature but was terrible at defending itself. Stegosaurs were like tanks in RPGs, able to take high amounts of damage. Pterodactyls could dart in and out of a fight with great ease. And it’s clear to see how this lie-to-children slipped into our lives, even as young as we were. The time of the dinosaurs was one of violence and brutality, and we truly couldn’t conceive of it as anything but.
Was that based even a little bit on the truth? For a long time, I believed so, and even right up to now, I still had mistruths or lies-to-children in my head. I learned untrue information about dinosaurs, but never had any of it challenged for a long, long time.
And then Jurassic Park happened.
As far as adventure-thrillers go, I still think it’s one of the best. I love that movie, so much so that we actually had a liveblog of it a few years back because WHY NOT. (I also think it has some of the most terrifying sequences in film, but that’s another blog post for another day.) I also know that it helped to frame our understanding of numerous dinosaur species, and lots of that information is completely wrong. Like, I definitely thought a lot of these dinos all lived during the same era! NOPE. Granted, I knew the film was speculative fiction, but it was presented so believably that I certainly internalized a ton of it. And the book!!! It all felt so real and so meticulously researched that I accepted that it came from a real place.
But my interest in dinosaurs as an adult is based on my appreciation for our Earth’s history. Like much of the stuff I’ve learned in this book, it’s hard to conceptualize the vast periods of time that have passed since these creatures roamed the planet. Yet this is our past! And through the many innovations in science – from the technology to the techniques – we’ve been able to slowly piece together what life might have been like. How these creatures interacted with one another. What features and qualities may have helped them thrive. And yet, I never really asked myself the question that opens chapter thirty-six: What was life like for the dinosaurs?
As much as we do “know” about dinosaurs, this chapter made me realize just how little we know. We don’t have average temperatures for that time. What was the climate generally like? Do we fully understand the food chain or are we mostly guessing? What if all the species we don’t even know existed because they got wiped out?
It’s a little overwhelming to think about, but it’s also something that I do love learning mode about. Like, dinosaur fossils at museums make me EMOTIONAL. They’re so old!!! I WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH THEM!!!
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