Dr. Ogilvey’s Exaltation Theory

Lizard dinosDr. David Ogilvey has a bone to pick with other paleontologists. He’s convinced that scientists give dinosaurs less than full due respect. You see, he’s encountered a few too many scientific papers that describe dinosaurs as sluggish, slow, cold-blooded reptilian creatures not fit to consort with us warm-blooded and quick mammalian types.

A bone or two to pickIn response to the continued focus of scientist on why dinosaurs just could not possibly be as crafty and quick as their mammalian counterparts, Professor O has come up with a whole new way of looking at dinosaurs and other extinct creatures. He calls it his “Exaltation Theory.” The basis of his idea is simple: “You have not described an extinct animal fully until you state what its behavior would be like if it made optimal use of its body.”

In other words, instead of sanctimoniously declaring what sort of primitive and inefficient behavior might be expressed by a certain type of fossil animal, Dr. O exhorts his scientific colleagues to at least try considering what the animal might have been capable of if its behavior were “exalted” to the highest level of achievement conceivable.

Keeping afloatFor instance, let’s look at the giant long-necked sauropods like apatosaurus, formerly called brontosaurus. The first paleontologists to dig up this Jurassic beast, Cope and Marsh, decided that any lizard so huge would simply have to get help in order to stand up off its reptilian belly and walk around. So they decided it must have lived in water, wading around in swamps to take the load off its feet. It has taken more than a century and quite a few persuasive arguments for scientists to come around to the notion that maybe the giant sauropods were more like long-necked giraffe-elephants and could, just like modern giraffes and elephants, get around on dry land quite well, thank you.

Stand up!What Dr. Ogilvey is complaining about here is the hole that scientists put their animals in when they describe them in terms that are lowest-common-denominator oriented. It can take decades or more for dinosaurs to have their reputations cleared of suggestions that they were cold-blooded, or uninterested in caring for their young, or cannibalistic, or in one way or another inferior to the mammalian creatures we see around us in the modern world. But the mental connection of dinosaurs to lowly and brutish behaviors persists. Dinosaur scientists and fans alike, seem to want to place the big beasts below our station on the ladder of evolution. But what if that’s not true?

David Ogilvey has long been a strong proponent of the notion that the body forms of the dinosaurs, incredibly varied and intricate, were matched by correspondingly fine and intricate patterns of behavior. Hence, his term “Exaltation Theory.” To exalt is to place someone or something highly, to raise it above others. It is precisely this that has been missing in the study of dinosaurs for centuries, Dr. O claims. In Exaltation Theory each scientist who describes an extinct animal must absolutely and without reservation, discuss in detail the most efficient utilization of the animal’s body form and physical attributes. In no way would Ogilvey’s theory bar a scientist from discussing low traits, like a need for water to stand up, as long as this is balanced with a discussion of the high end of the scale, in which the animal is envisioned as possessing abilities that match or even surpass what modern counterparts are capable of doing.

That’s Exaltation Theory in a nutshell. If ever you get caught in the same room or lecture hall with the illustrious Professor Ogilvey, it’s quite probable he’ll take great delight in filling in every detail and application of his theory.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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2 Responses to Dr. Ogilvey’s Exaltation Theory

  1. Inferdramon says:

    One thing that annoys me when it comes to some palaeontologists and dinosaur fans is when they get ‘conservative’ about dinosaurs. I’ve seen one who referred to feathered dinosaurs as a ‘conspiracy against the scaled dinosaurs’. I’ve seen one who stated that anyone who thinks dinosaurs were bird-like were wrong.

    And in some programs, there were bits that really annoyed me. In one part of…I think it was “Clash of the Dinosaurs”, they said the sauropod was not very smart because of its brain size and would just lay eggs on the go and never stop. In “Jurassic Fight Club”, they stated that allosaurus was smarter than ceratosaurus only because it came into existence after the horned theropod, and in a few episodes, they stated how simple a dinosaur was due to its brain size or something, like with majungasaurus (incorrectly called majungatholus in the show) had a brain that was just an on and off switch, focusing on just one thing at a time.

    And in a more recent program, I forget the name but it involved the notion that maybe all dinosaurs had some feathering on them, they talked about the “poor T-Rex who was now covered in feathers and getting more bird-like”. I remember rolling my eyes and thinking “Just because it is feathered doesn’t mean it can’t rip your head off.”

    But there is one dinosaur program I saw that I was happy with. “Dinosaur Revolution” and it aired on…I think National Geographic. I’m hoping to buy the DVD sometime. From what I recall, the dinosaurs in that 4-part program weren’t treated as stupid; they were given their own personalities and such. I enjoyed watching it. The dinosaurs weren’t treated unrealistically either. One of my favorite stories was the one about the allosaurus getting its jaw broken and then growing up by a watering hole, waiting for easy prey due to its awkward jaw. Such a behavior makes sense for a predator with a weaker jaw.

    My view on dinosaurs have changed over time. I was always interested in new theories regarding dinosaurs and I try to be open-minded and consider the possibilities. I was quick to accept the idea of feathered dinosaurs, though a little slower to accept them as intelligent (as opposed to dumb like people tend to believe). I believe it was your story, the introduction of the idea that brain size does not equal intelligence, that eventually changed my mind about that.

    Though I was surprised when Chase seemed to think a lion was better than a tyrannosaurus (it was hinted at anyway) just because the lion is modern; even when I thought dinosaurs weren’t that smart, I didn’t think that they were completely inferior to modern mammals simply because it was extinct.

    I’ve been working on a dinosaur story myself, though I have no idea if it’ll be published or when. It’s coming along slowly. I’ve been mostly world-building. It’s another “dinosaurs and humans living at the same time” type of story, but I’m doing my best to handle it differently. I’m trying to keep the dinosaurs as modern as possible, trying to avoid any outdated notions, and portraying them with bird-like intelligence. There aren’t any dinosaurs like the Kra in the story, though.

    I’m also avoiding making the conflict one-sided, the dinosaurs-are-more-of-a-threat-to-humans-than-other-way-around, like how it seemed to be in Terra Nova and Jurassic Park. In my story, it’s the other way around, with humans being a bigger threat, but I’m not avoiding situations where a dinosaur is more of a threat either. I’m attempting to keep a balance of it and not portray neither dinosaurs or humans as monsters.

    I did have some expectations for Terra Nova. I thought it would be good. But ultimately I was disappointed in it. I haven’t watched an episode in a long time and I don’t think I will watch another. I wasn’t impressed with how they handled the dinosaurs and the characters weren’t that interesting. Some of the side characters seemed to have more personality. The invented dinosaurs were stupid in my opinion. The slasher was kinda cool, but ultimately unimpressive when compared to real dinosaurs, like the double-sickle-claw balaur.

    I would be quite interested in a movie based on Dinosaur Wars, or even a miniseries like what Dinotopia got. But if they do make an adaptation, I’m hoping it remains as close to your vision as possible. One person I definitely wouldn’t want to be in charge of the entire story is Michael Bay. Knowing him, he would make the story all about the American Army and leave little to no room for Kra characters, like how in Transformers he tends to push aside the robots for humans.

    I’m not sure if there’ll ever be a Dinosaur Wars movie/miniseries, but here’s to hoping. The first book, both the ebook and older paperback book, together gathered over 500 votes resulting in 4 stars out of 5. Maybe, if this keeps up, it may catch the eye of a director.

  2. Tom Hopp says:

    Inferdramon, good luck with the stories you are writing. You’re quite opinionated on things of a dinosaurian nature, so you’ll succeed if you keep on writing. And I agree with your skepticism about those who get conservative when imagining dinosaurs. The recent discoveries of more and more feathered and furry dinos make it pretty clear they were sharp, active, warm blooded creatures. All the better for writing of them as fierce competitors to any humans they might encounter.

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