Dr. 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.
In 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.
For 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.
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.