Paleontology

How the Dinosaurs Died



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"How the Dinosaurs Died"
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My twelve year old son; Reid, recently handed me his theory about the extinction of the dinosaurs. It wasn't that original (any kid with access to old EC Sci-Fi comics, reruns of Star Trek or the works of Douglas Adams could have done it just as well) but what he did present to me was doing what any good scientific theory does; it answered more than one question.
Okay Reid. What killed off the dinosaurs?
Not "what" Dad. Who?
Who? Please don't tell me it was big game hunters from the future.
No Dad that's stupid. It was big game hunting aliens.
-Yes, imagine my relief. He had picked the lesser of two improbabilities.-
Okay, your big game hunting aliens come down and turn Earth's dominant lifeforms into rec room trophies and every fashionable female on Arcturus just "has to have" a Stegosaurus hide coat. What exactly is the advantage to this theory?
It answers Fermi's Paradox, Dad.
Maybe you haven't heard of Fermi's Paradox; it goes like this. Enrico Fermi one of the many fathers of the atomic bomb was listening to two colleagues go on about intelligent life in universe. They had been at it for some time, yakking about interstellar travel, communication strategies, the number of technological societies, etcetera, etcetera. Enrico turned to them and said;"Guys if any of the things you're saying is true or possible then why aren't your aliens here, right now. Where are they?"
Fermi reasoned that if even one society somewhere in our Galaxy had achieved interstellar travel and given the known age of the Galaxy then they would have colonized the entire Milky Way dozens of times over, without resorting to science fiction stuff like warp drives and wormholes, just traveling at sub-light speed.
So why aren't we literally tripping over our alien neighbors? Where are they?
In Reid's theory the answer is simple. The aliens wiped out the dinosaurs and the Galactic Alliance of Alien Civilizations Environmental Protection Agency stepped in fined the big game hunters and declared the Earth "off-limits" for the next quarter billion years or until such time as the Earth has restored it's natural ecological balance. The only aliens allowed into our solar system are park rangers with ultra sophisticated cloaking devices.
What could I do? One goofy theory deserves another so I handed him my favorite dinosaur extinction theory; egg eating rodents. Imagine tiny sharp toothed mammals smaller than the modern mouse like shrews or voles. These little guys exist for thousands of years in parallel with the dinosaurs. Sometimes taking up space right inside the dinosaurs' very nests. A strain of this ancient mammal develops a taste for dinosaur egg whites and yolks. Gnawing into the egg shells our flea infested ancestors gorged themselves on cheap protein while the huge mother dinosaurs tended their emptied eggs. Too small to be sensed by the dinosaurs the feasting continued with fewer and fewer of the large animals successfully hatching. The extinction of the dinosaurs meant little to the rodents. They just changed their diet and evolved.
Now this is not "my theory"; it's just my favorite.
The serious work that's been done on this question brings together all manner of knowledge; astronomy, biology and geology all contribute to creating theories and counter theories. The most popular theories are often the ones that reflect our current anxieties; disease, ecological collapse, rocks from outer space. The dinosaur becomes a weird stand-in for humanity. The dinosaur hall is a place of excitement for children but for a thoughtful adult it is a kind of secular "Memento Mori" - like the skull that an ancient scholar would keep at his desk and contemplate as he reminded himself of life's transient nature. The dinosaur fossil is both real and imaginary; it's "bones" are real but the flesh we put on them and lives that we imagine them having says a lot about what we know and far too much about what we fear.

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