What Paleontology Teaches Us About Our Own Future

We’re literally learning as much about the evolution of life on Earth by looking at what happened in the past as we are at looking at the breakthroughs in genomics and DNA of living things. 

Paleontology is an amazing field because there’s this curious fact that our planet buries its dead.  That didn’t have to be the case but it does turn out that in many parts of the planet when an animal or plant dies it can be buried by things like landslides or mudflows or river mud or tar or ice. 


If buried rapidly enough that organism or the remains of that organism remain in the ground until later erosion exposes it for paleontologists to come along and find.  What we didn’t know before is that things go extinct.  Before we knew about fossils we didn’t know there were things that lived that don’t live now.  So it’s framed not only our understanding of evolution but of extinction. 

We’ve discovered extraordinary things. We’ve discovered things like snakes with legs and whales with legs and dinosaurs that are 90 feet long and things that we would have never imagined had ever lived but did live because they left their bodies buried in the Earth’s outer layers.  

What that means is that Darwin’s insight that all things are related is deeply relevant to the genome and our understanding of how our bodies work. This is also recorded in depth in the Earth’s past.  

Since we’ve only been digging fossils for the last couple of hundred years and there haven’t been that many paleontologists digging. The amazing thing is that most of the amazing fossils are yet to be found.  They continue to show up in construction sites and roadways and excavations or as the result of focused expeditions to various places where people dig and look for fossils. 

We’re literally learning as much about the evolution of life on Earth by looking at what happened in the past as we are at looking at the breakthroughs in genomics and DNA of living things. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

Pixabay
Mind & Brain
  • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
  • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
  • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
Keep reading Show less

4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

Moon Landing Apollo
popular
  • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
  • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
  • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
Keep reading Show less

Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions

The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.

Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino. Painting by Adolphe Yvon. 1861.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
  • Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
  • Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
Keep reading Show less