Friday, November 24, 2017

What would "human-smart" dinosaurs look like?

Assume the asteroid misses, the K-Pg event never happens, and evolution nudges dinosaurs toward smarter and smarter forms, until their descendants have (for better or worse) human intelligence.  Writers of fiction and speculative paleontology assumed for a long time that this would produce an animal that looked like a reptilian version of ourselves, with bipedal locomotion, an atrophied tail, and so on.  This didn't seem too unreasonable back when we thought of dinosaurs and birds as very distinct lineages, with only the birds having feathers.  

Most scientists find the whole idea silly.  The evolutionary pressures faced after a missed asteroid event would be very different from what mammals faced,  and evolutionary neurobiologist Lori Marino (who has made major discoveries about dolphin intelligence) speaks for many when she says, "The notion that some subset of dinosaurs would have evolved into human-like creatures is absurd." We don't know what would have happened: would technology, or intelligence itself, have enough survival value to drive such evolution?  (Paleontologist Brian Ward, quoted in a cool article by Brice Dorminey in Forbes entitled "Why Dinosaurs Would Never Have Built Spaceships," argued the oxygen levels 65MYA simply would not allow for a very large, oxygen-hungry brain to  appear,

"Dinosaurid" by John Sibbick for 1985 book Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs by David Norman. Reduced here under nonprofit educational exemption to US Copyright. 

But let's assume it did happen.  In this blog post for his always-excellent Tetrapod Zoologypaleozoologist Darren Naish reviews some of the more recent efforts to depict such creatures in documentaries, movies, and TV and finds them wanting. Dr. Naish is much more enamored of the idea the dinosaurs, some of which we know have evolved into very intelligent birds (crows and ravens), and many of which sported feathers, would have evolved a much more birdlike intelligent species: Indeed, Aviosapiens saurotheos (designed by Cevdet Kosemen and one of several such recent concepts) keeps the idea of a body mass similar to humans but looks a good bit like a chicken. 

The image of social dino-birds bonding over a bucket of Kentucky Fried Primate is a bit unsettling, but it's fascinating to think about.  As to the spaceships specifically, here's a thought: We didn't build spaceships because we had to for survival.  While many spacecraft, like remote-sensing satellites, do a lot to make human life better, we didn't build spaceships for humans because we needed to/ We built them because we wanted to.  Would Aviosapiens have the exploring instinct?  Another one for the "we'll never know" pile.  

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