The fall of the dinosaurs

they_walk_among_usWhen I was young, dinosaurs captured my imagination. What thrilled me was not so much the fossils, the categorization of bones, the reconstruction of the skeletons or the various hypotheses surrounding how they lived or how they became extinct. It had nothing to do with the science behind it and surrounding it.

My fascination did not exist in paleontology, taxonomy, or biology. It was to know that these strange thunder lizards actually walked this earth. It was to imagine what it must have looked like when they were actually alive. The illustrations in books, with flesh on their bones, with leathery skin, with horns, claws, spikes, razor-sharp teeth, and armor, were always preferable to the reconstruction of a mere skeleton. The thrill was to imagine that actual fearsome showdown between the Triceratops and the Tyrannosaurus Rex. It had nothing to do with any sort of scientific discovery or explanation.

During this time, mystery obscured the extinction of the dinosaurs. The popular theory was that an asteroid did it, and that sounds likely enough to be assumed for now to be true.

When the asteroid hit the earth and killed the dinosaurs, the earth was not completely innocent of the collision. The asteroid was on its trajectory, but the earth was also moving according to its path. From the perspective of the asteroid, it was just minding its business, and the earth was in its way. Rather than blame the asteroid, we could simply say the earth was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

These are semantics, but what this implies, is that what we consider to be deciding causes or deciding factors, is not what we expect to happen, but what we do not expect to happen. We say the asteroid caused it because we are speaking from the perspective of the earth, so the deciding factor was the foreign influence. The pivotal factor is always what we consider to be the impossible and unexpected.

However, supreme objectivity does not privilege one perspective over the other. It takes two to tango. It took both the earth and the asteroid to cause extinction. Furthermore, the asteroid may have kicked up an immense dust cloud that blanked out the sun. The lack of sun caused a number of things, which caused a number of things, which caused extinction. It was not merely the asteroid, in and of itself, that caused extinction. Let us also not forget that some species of animals did in fact survive this cataclysm!

So because there is no ultimate and perfect explanation of why the dinosaurs became extinct that can be isolated to any one factor or even several factors, we basically created a narrative and likely story. Similarly, with regard to understanding reality, isolating factors gives no account. When enough factors are correlated, and an aspect of the unknown is acknowledged, then we are free to make up stories, using our imagination, which gives us an accounting or narrative.

Just like the extinction of the dinosaurs cannot be reduced to any one factor, the mythology of the dinosaurs operates on more than one level. It is not merely digging up bones, taxonomy, and enhancing our scientific understanding of the universe. The dinosaurs capture our imagination.

The dinosaurs are like real life dragons and monsters. Not only are they supremely fantastical, they actually existed! Dragons, orcs, and trolls don’t seem that crazy when you consider the reality of the dinosaurs. When you consider the dinosaurs, you realize that there is no reason to scoff at fantasy or the imagination. And he that does so is the sadder for it. The realm of the imagination connects us as much to reality as does the rational faculties.

The imagination is captured not when everything is discovered, explained in detail, and catalogued. The imagination is captured when we move in the opposite direction. An underlying element of mystery is acknowledged, the unexpected is expected, blanks are filled in to the best of our logic, and a story is created.

We must not stop at cataloging and rebuilding the skeleton of reality. We must add flesh, blood, tusks, talons and teeth. Reality is not merely a spectacle to be “figured out” and gawked at in a museum. Once upon a time the dinosaurs literally roamed this land. The only fitting ending is a fearsome showdown as they terrorize and mystify our imagination once again.

10 Comments

  1. Vigilance says:

    There really hasn’t been much philosophy worth considering that has come out anywhere near or after the start of industrial society. People live too isolated from the world. It’s that funny picture on the wall that dims with the day. That mild unpleasantness that chills your bones between the walk from the regulated environment of your car to that of your home. I see more of a need to break down what we have spent centuries building up than cluttering our minds with more fantasy.

    Or go live in the woods for a week. Spend a whole day under a tree. Either way, things appear more vivid.

    1. Owl says:

      I agree with this 100%.

      There’s this silly idea in humanity that if you put a gorilla in a cage, you are now better than the gorilla and it is impotent despite its ability to easily lift thousands of pounds one handed.

      You are the master and it is your plaything.

      Modern normals seek to have everything on the whole earth boiled down to something highly analyzed for the sole purpose of displaying in documentaries and classroom slideshows.

      Normals want to remove reality and replace it all with token versions of itself, easily exchanged by hipsters in coffee houses for the purpose of making themselves look smart and well traveled.

      1. Vigilance says:

        “But they are better in here, otherwise they would go extinct from poaching.”

        OK.

        So why not put the poachers in the cage instead?

        “That would be inhumane.”

        I don’t like this word you are using. “Normals” I’m not a fan of caste warfare. Every caste has a place. If these Normals are out of line, by way of their own ideology, it is the place of the upper tiers to put them back in line. Such as it has been throughout history. Failing to do that? Maybe they are being poached into extinction?

      2. It’s not that different from junk food: they want the complex converted into the simple so it can be consumed without the mind having to leave its own borders to understand it.

        1. Vigilance says:

          And they’ll get it as they always have. Folk religion is a fantastic example. However, as it often goes, the greatest truths are inherently simplex. It is their dissolution that creates complex systems. I would say that the average man lacks the mental faculties required to reach beyond these complex systems. As a result, he requires their simplification. I suppose that is the great irony inherent in all Truths.

  2. RiverC says:

    Amerikers, I recently stumbled upon a great book RE: the mystery of order and life itself. These books have been out for a few years (2005 is the year for the first of the four) but everyone who manages to stumble on it and read it seems to love it or at least acknowledge something profound is going on.

    The book is called ‘The Nature of Order’ by a long time architect / philosopher Chris Alexander. It can be found on Amazon for like, 80 bucks (or 60 if you spring for a used copy.) There are four books, but I think the first (‘The Phenomenon of Life’) is where I’m going to stop until I digest it. The others are ‘The Process of Creating Life’, ‘The Vision of a Living World’ and ‘The Luminous Ground’.

    The website itself (natureoforder.com) has a very John-Taylor-Gatto feel to it, but the whole approach strikes me as mystical in the right way.

    1. NotTheDude says:

      The website looks as though it is describing something akin to what we all are saying on this site. That there is something very special about it all. But I would have to read the books to ponder and know it’s meaning. Thanks for the info.

    2. Ted Swanson says:

      Nice.

      Architecture is a good analogy. Some measure of imagination must necessarily be employed by the architect. The same with writing music.

    3. We’ve always been a big fan of Alexander’s “Pattern Language” around here.

  3. [...] greatest threat to reality is not a vivid and active imagination but a dull and banal imagination. When the imagination is neglected and sacrificed in the name of [...]

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