Category Archives: 4-dimensional biology

Wait…you do what?

Author: Kelsey

Over the winter break I took three weeks to visit my family and friends in Portland, OR. I think I saw pretty much EVERYONE I usually promise to see on such holiday visits. Usually I have a 50% attrition rate, but by staying for a prolonged period of time I met all my people, rest, and work goals.

However, meeting so many people made me realize how few people knew what I was doing and, more importantly, WHY I was doing it. They were usually not asking about the larger philosophical reasons why I am in Paleontology or a Masters program in Texas (let’s save that for a later post), but why, as a paleontologist, I am studying the skulls of modern lizards. Good question. Let’s get into it.

I am studying Australian agamid lizards (heretofore referred to as ‘AA lizards’), specifically the osteology (skeleton, bones) of these lizards. These lizards are highly variable and some are crazy enough to appear on popular nature shows. If you’ve ever seen a frilled lizard running upright (i.e. Chlamydosaurus kingii) or a spiky lizard that slowly walks and gorges itself on ants (Moloch horridus), you’ve seen one of my study organisms.

File:Dilophosaurus (Jurassic Park).jpg

Fun fact: Jurassic Park’s Dilophosaurus has more in common with the frill-necked lizard (C. kingii) than the actual reconstruction of the dinosaur. Represent!

Agamids are part of Squamata, the largest living order of reptiles (a group of animals long thought to be the domain of naturalists and 8 year old boys, which is, in fact, a myth). The ancestors of modern agamids differentiated pretty early from the rest of Squamata. Agamids, iguanids, and chameleons form the Order Iguana (appropriately named). Iguanids and chameleons are probably more closely related to each other than to agamids. After that… the picture gets rather hazy.

Like most of the current dominant orders, squamates are thought to diversify during the Jurassic. After this the agamids die off in the Americas when Pangea splits, but they slowly invade Africa, Asia, and, eventually, Australia. Recent genetic analyses1 have shown AA lizards have been in Australia for much longer than their slow invasion would have allowed. Remember that.

Behold, Pangea! If ever there was time for a road trip… 

The fossil record? Sparse and mostly jaws, which is actually pretty cool. Agamids and chameleons have teeth that literally fuse to their jaw bones (acrodont dentiton)2
. They literally can’t lose their teeth. Instead, they are worn down gradually and eventually the jaw is used as a cutting surface if no tooth is left. For chameleons, all teeth are irreplaceable, whereas for agamids only the side teeth are irreplaceable and the front teeth are replaced with wear (pleurodont dentition). So, their teeth are pretty cool, but that means most of what is known about the osteology of agamids centers around the jaw (or the ribs, if you are Draco volans, but I digress).

So what is the problem? Currently, most of the work on modern agamids is genetic, which is awesome, but it means there is no way to directly compare what we know about modern agamids with their fossil ancestors (which lack genetic data). Fossil DNA has been sequenced, but only for fossils that were well preserved and only thousands of years old. In other words, the babies of the fossil record. Babies. DNA duplicates and changes easily, which is how evolution can occur, but that means it also easily degrades once death occurs. What paleontologists are mostly left with is bones.

BonesFox

Genetics can overestimate the divergence times of different groups of animals, and accuracy decreases the farther back in time you go. Often, fossils are used to calibrate or check phylogenies, but if no one knows what a fossil agamid would look like… And that’s where I come in!

 

What I have done so far: collected all osteological characters used to describe agamids, rewritten characters, coded characters on my lovely AA lizard skeletal collection*, and recorded all the weird stuff I’ve noticed along the way.

*skeletal collection not actually mine, but we’ve bonded a bit

Currently: I am running tree analyses, taking pictures through a microscope to definitively record these characters (you’re welcome, five interested people), and writing.

In a few months I will be able to tell you what makes the skeletons of different species of AA lizards unique, what these characters can contribute to a phylogeny, and one of the many critical gaps between the past and the present will be a little smaller. I am adding information not only to the past, but the current state of these lizards, which is becoming more and more critical in our extinction-centric world.

What more do agamids have to offer? That, my friend, will have to wait for a later post…

 

References

1. Smirina, Ella M., and Natalia B. Ananjeva. “Growth layers in bones and acrodont teeth of the agamid lizard Laudakia stoliczkana (Blanford, 1875)(Agamidae, Sauria).” Amphibia-Reptilia 28.2 (2007): 193-204.

2.Hugall, Andrew F., and Michael SY Lee. “Molecular claims of Gondwanan age for Australian agamid lizards are untenable.” Molecular biology and evolution21.11 (2004): 2102-2110.

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The importance of interpretation (or what Telephone-Pictionary can teach us about the past)

By: Kelsey

In-class activities are very popular among progressive educators and it’s easy, intuitive even, to understand why. Instead of sitting and letting someone lecture you (the student) for an hour or two about the Incas or linear regressions or the Mesozoic you get to DO SOMETHING. Maybe you get to chat to your neighbor about a reading or write down your thoughts or even discuss a contentious subject with the entire class. It’s taking the communication skills honed by Twitter and Facebook and using them to critically think about class materials.

My favorite in-class activities involve games. Whether it’s the infamous finite resource candy games (there are a variety) or the great clade race, games engage the brain on a social level with classmates AND on an intellectual level with a theory or process. So, not only is the student engaged, they are having fun while learning and they are much more likely to remember the content.

Backgammon, back in the day!
Timeless fun! Source: Heidelberg University Library

One subject easily missed by students in archaeology, paleontology, and anthropology classes is bias – specifically, how interpretation of artifacts (or remains) is dependent upon the person, time period, and accuracy of any measuring device used. These processes do not discredit previous or all interpretations of a fossil or archaeological site, but illuminate the importance of knowing your discipline’s history and the strength of many viewpoints.

To get these points across, I suggest using the game of Telephone-Pictionary, specifically the version I played Saturday night at a colleague’s eighth annual cheese party. In this version of the game you each have a stack of cards equaling the number of people in the group. For a class this means dividing the class into groups of 6-10 people. It is easier if the numbers are even, but not essential. Each person writes a phrase. The phrase should have something to do with the class material. Each person then passes his/her stack to the next person, who reads the sentence, puts the card in the back of the stack, and then DRAWS a representation of the sentence. After everyone has done this, the cards are passed again; the next person sees the picture only, puts that card in the back of the stack, and then WRITES a phrase interpreting the drawing. The rounds continue, alternating pictures and phrases, until each person gets back their original sentence.

Finally, everyone goes around sharing the sequence of sentences and pictures. Some will be surprisingly accurate (e.g., “The unicorn loves going to the cheese party” stayed the same), whereas others will be way off the mark (e.g.,  “the frog waited for the party” turned into “the giant frog was slayed by the mailman in front of the apartment”).

This game can reveal the importance of going back to the original source and how a small error of interpretation can be conflated into something completely different. You can then ask students about “real world” examples. There may be silence at first, but when someone points out the latest dead celebrity rumor or health craze or scientific “fact” that was proven to maybe not be as true as people thought, you’ll easily run out of time to explore all the examples.

And, perhaps, next time one of those students throws a party and is preparing the cards for Pictionary, they’ll remember your lesson on bias and tell their friends. This is helpful step towards creating an educated society. All it takes is a couple games.

A Gift Guide for Paleontologists & Other Science Nerds

Author: Brianna

Well, it’s that time of year! The end of fall semester, the spices-in-everything (we are a fan of spiced hot cocoa or cider), the snowstorms that dump a ton of snow on cities unsuspecting, the deliberating about what kind of gifts to bestow upon friends and family in the spirit of holiday consumerism. If you are having trouble deciding what to get the paleontologically-inclined among your loved ones, look no further! We have collected a series of gifts for people into science in general, though they may or may not reflect our own particular tastes.

Science Prints and Other Paper Things

Everybody needs beautiful wall art. This antler print would look great in any room, because headgear is awesome.

Antler Print

This shop has an amazing array of science prints. For particular inspiration, how about this Women of Science set? They also have t-shirts, if you were wondering.

Card: Irish Elk with a very sweet thought. Sure, it’s not holiday-y, but you could draw a Santa hat or whatever accessory will make it appropriate for the holiday you celebrate.

Cards: “Science is Magic that Works.” A Kurt Vonnegut quote printed beautifully with a hand-carved block.

Card: Cuttlefish. “Wanna cuttle?” Is adorable and just the kind of terrible pun that amuses anyone who is a child at heart. Like most of the scientists we know.

Games

Bone Wars! Classic, easy to learn, and great for parties. It plays on the epic story of the Bone Wars between Cope and Marsh, which you need to go read about if you haven’t done so recently.

Bone Wars card game

Often (though certainly not always!), a fondness for science overlaps with a fondness for videogames. Why not some Portal earrings or a beautiful “fossilized” Handheld Portal Device?

For a board game, try Dominant Species: survive the next Glacial Maximum! (If you don’t get sidetracked by arguing over who gets to be the mammals or the reptiles.)

Gifts for Kids Who Like Science

Things to get for the children in your life!

A cute “When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Paleontologist” print. Never mind everyone pointing out the lack of paleontology jobs! It’s still great fun. Too bad they don’t have a mammal on there for the less dinosaur-inclined…

Trebuchet kit!!! Need I say more? I need not say more. TREBUCHET. KIT. Take your pick – or, if you’d prefer to go the even cooler route, why not print off some plans, go buy the materials, and do it all yourselves? See here and here for some good starting points for small trebuchets.

Ichthyosaur plushie! Maybe not the most cute and cuddly, but cute and cuddly enough…

For a cuter and cuddlier one, how about a custom trilobite plushie?

Science Jewelry

This category is definitely influenced by my interest in making silver jewelry with lost-wax casting. Keep an eye out for my biologically-inspired work at some point, but for now, here are some awesome gifts!

For some lovely earrings and other jewelry made from Alaskan caribou antler, take a look at fellow paleontologist Amy Atwater’s Borealis Bones.

Caribou antler earrings from Borealis Bones

Here’s a beautiful silver trilobite necklace.

On the (much) less expensive side, a tiny pewter velociraptor skull necklace!

The Lost Apostles etsy store is full of absolutely gorgeous bronze jewelry, much of it skeletal in nature. Paleontologists love bones! How about a bronze antler necklace, lovely wolf skull pendant, or just a nice silver femur pendant?

Random

For things that didn’t categorize well.

A lovely throw pillow with line drawings of the occlusal surfaces of nine different horse teeth! (For a more colorful version, check out this mug of similar design.)

A Roomba! Kelsey is obsessed with these at the moment. Who doesn’t want a trainable robot to clean their house for them? Just, you know, take good care of it. That way you might be spared when the robots take over.

A Darwin’s Finches t-shirt, showing different birds and things they like to eat.

BONE WARS SHOES. Yes, really. Like Cope and Marsh. My mind is blown.

Cope and Marsh shoes

Nothing says “I love you” to a field scientist like a virtually indestructible, waterproof (and beer-proof, as it turns out!) notebook like Rite in the Rain.

If your friends are as strange as mine, they will probably love muscle leggings (no, like actual images of leg muscles printed on them).

For science-types who actually work with chemicals or whatever, how about a beaker coffee mug?

Trilobite rubber stamps, so your nerdy friends can mark everything from books to letters to their foreheads! These two are Triarthus and Cheirurus.

More on the plushie front: really adorable giant plush microbes! Because who doesn’t want to say they got malaria or the common cold from their friend?

And, finally, a Smilodon skull keychain!

Have fun and happy gift-giving! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cats to snuggle. Being home for the holidays is awesome.

Conference Wrapup: SVP 2013, Los Angeles

Authors: Brianna and Kelsey

We’ve just returned from our third time at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting, and our first as graduate students. What a wonderful, exhausting, exciting experience! SVP is always a great meeting, and it gets more fun every year. The first year or two were much more stressful because we didn’t know many people (more thoughts on conference-going as an undergrad in a future post), so it was nice to relax a little more. This was also the first time we really looked forward to reconnecting with our undergrad friends and mentors, the UO Paleontology crew. It was a bit like an early, very scientific Thanksgiving.

Instead of trying to sum up the whole conference, we’re planning to share a few highlights: our favorite talks and posters, how our presentations went, things we really enjoyed about this year’s venue, and a few bits we think could be improved in the future.

Favorite talks
Brianna: It’s tough to choose. One that really impressed me was Paul Koch’s investigation of network structure in Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions. He argued that extinctions have two main components- external factors, which trigger extinction, and internal factors, which are system properties that allow the effects of those triggers to operate. This second component is often overlooked, so he (and coauthors Pires and Guimaraes) set about investigating whether Pleistocene assemblages were in some intrinsic way more likely to collapse. They compared megafaunas from modern Africa and Pleistocene North and South America, looking at networks of relationships between animals. They modeled the probability of two animals interacting as a function of predator-prey body mass ratios. Essentially, the model specified that every time a large predator runs into a prey animal, it’s going to be bad for the prey; every time an animal runs into a conspecific, it’s going to be bad (because intraspecific competition); every time a smaller predator runs into a prey animal larger than itself, nothing happens, and so on.

They then examined the stability of these community matrices and found that modern Africa is no less susceptible to perturbation than the fossil assemblages. However, they did find that the probability of stability decreased with predator richness and increased with the average body mass of the prey. Koch suggested that large predators have a wide diet breadth, increasing connectivity in the web, whereas large prey are more controlled by bottom-up effects (temperature, food availability, etc) and thus decrease connectivity. In a tightly connected web with strong interactions, effects propagate faster, like motion that comes from hitting a tightly stretched sheet of fabric as opposed to a loosely draped one. Pleistocene North America had many large predators (sabertooth cats, cave lions, dire wolves, regular wolves, bears of several sorts…), so perhaps this contributed to the demise of our megafauna. A complex talk with much more nuance in methods and conclusions than I’ve described here, but very cool.

Other talks I really enjoyed: Tseng on skull morphology convergence both within and between bone-crackers and bamboo-eaters, Miller’s investigation of how well a death assemblage captures community ecology of the living assemblage, and Holroyd’s eye-opening talk on identification bias in collections, where she pointed out that specimens can only get studied and published if they are identified. She also quantified the probability of “losing” a specimen via lack of identification.

Kelsey: There were too many mind-expanding talks to cover here, but some of the ones that bent my world a bit (in a good way) were the ones that looked at the historical and identification biases of data sets. Pat Holroyd’s talk was nicely complimented by Matt Mihlbachler’s look at Cope’s rule as a product of historical collection bias. Specifically, brontotheres initially appeared to consistently increase in size throughout the Cenozoic. Matt pointed out that this conclusion was reasonable during Cope’s era, because this is what the available data were saying. However, greater sampling has shown there are multiple lineages that dwarf or just never increase in size over time. Compound this with the multiple migration events between the Americas and Eurasia and you’re looking at a much more complicated, nuanced relationship between the evolution of body size in lineages and time.

This is the vibe I got from many of the phylogenetic and systematic talks as well. It’s as if we are realizing that many of the “ground rules” of paleontology are not as solid as we thought. Now we are looking through the cracks and finding some very interesting mysteries. Perhaps it has always been this way and it’s my own assumptions that are beginning to crack.

Favorite posters
Brianna: I think my favorite was Poster #1 on the very first day, by Sadleir and colleagues. It was a reconstruction of body mass and related characteristics in an ornithischian dinosaur where the analysis drew on information from a gastrolith that stayed with the fossil through preservation. From a new CT-scanning algorithm originally designed for distinguishing metal-metal surfaces (led to much clearer imaging of the rock-rock bits, as fossils are!) to an interesting argument for massive tail muscles in this particular dino (perhaps needed to counterbalance gastrolith position, and supported by tail vertebral morphology). Had a great discussion with the author and am really interested to see where that project goes.

I also had a great time getting the poster-talks from current undergrad students in the UO Paleontology group. They were just revving their research engines as Kelsey and I left, and it reminds me of the fun and anxious times we had at our first conference. Plus, they are doing really cool work and I enjoyed hearing detail about their projects for the first time. Warm fuzzies all around.

Kelsey: I’m a sucker for bone histology, so I found myself discussing bone growth and function a great deal. This is a nice connection for me to the dinosaur world. There is an unfortunate schism between the “Mammal People” and “Dino People” (with neoaves falling somewhere in the middle and fish people partying on the side), and it’s easy to stay with your own crew. Hopefully I can find more connections in the future.

I also enjoyed the less-finished project posters, where I could really talk to the presenters about the structure of their future projects and why the label on the y-axis of their graph was missing. We’ve all been there…

Our presentations
Brianna: I gave a talk titled, “Identifying isolated postcrania using discriminant analysis.” In plainer language, that’s: “How to use some pretty simple data analysis to figure out what kind of horse/camel/whatever those ankle/toe/hand/foot bones belong to.” You know, the ones that are sitting all unloved in drawers in your museum. This was my first big conference talk, so while I usually do well with public speaking, I was a bit of an adrenaline-rushed mess for the two hours before I spoke. Happily, my nerves settled as soon as I started presenting and the whole thing went very well. My time slot was in the morning session on the first day of the conference and it was great to get the stress out of the way. I got some excellent feedback and ideas after the talk, including some fun new collaborations.

I’m really fond of this work. One bit of it will come out soon as a paper in Palaeo Electronica with my former advisor Edward Davis; I’m currently writing the second paper, which deals more specifically with the stuff I talked about at SVP. Both will get the blog post treatment when finished, but if you’re interested, shoot me an email (bmchorse at fas dot harvard dot edu) and I will happily explain how you, too, can get IDs on your postcranial fossils.

Kelsey: This was year #2 for presenting a poster on osteopathology in Rhinocerotidae, and never have I been more grateful to present an updated study. I’ve been looking at population-level osteopathology in rhinos from 50 mya to the present, a project that has motivated me to learn the intricacies of pathology, bone growth, large mammal evolution, and systematics. Being able to display my constellation of data and questions led to at least six firework moments (what some would call eureka moments) during my two hour poster session. This year I also kept a notepad and pen nearby so I could write every suggestion down. Paper, here I come!

Good things about the meeting!
The welcome reception at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was really, really lovely. Everyone got to wander around the exhibits before eating some impressively tasty food. The dueling T. rex and Triceratops in the main atrium are beautiful, the brand new Dinosaur Hall is spectacular, and Brianna particularly enjoyed some very skeptical looking mammals:

Skeptical zebra and tiger at the NHM Los Angeles
Skeptical striped mammals are not impressed.

What else did the Society do well this year?

They added a family room for the first time, which is an important step in making the meeting more friendly to those of its members traveling with children.

The awards ceremony was quite enjoyable as well, particularly because it came complete with a tour through several films portraying paleontologists (including The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, The Lost World, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bringing Up Baby, Lost Horizon, Lake Placid, and, of course, Jurassic Park ).  The food was also wonderful, though the vegetarian option ordered by our labmate was literally just white rice with steamed vegetables. That needs some definite work, though props for the gluten-free option, which Kelsey reports was delicious.

The costume contest at the student round table was also amazing (did you all get to see the two-man Quetzalcoatlus costume?) and we almost wish it could happen every year.

Finally, the coffee quality and tea selection in the mornings leveled-up from last year. These are important details for scientists with varying severity of jet lag and sleep deprivation.

Things the meeting could improve…
Speaking of all those things the meeting did nicely, we have suggestions for even more improvement on a few of them. We’ll do this in a nice numbered list.

  1. Offer childcare. Yes, it’s probably a pain to deal with; yes, liability and stuff; we get it. But not having available childcare (it doesn’t even have to be free!) can be a problem for many would-be participants. This is not something we have personal experience with, because neither of us has reproduced, but you can read more about it in many other places. Plenty of other conferences do it (e.g., Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, American Political Science Association , American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology…), and SVP should too.
  2. Free wifi for conference attendees. People have been begging SVP for this for years, and still nothing! Heard much unhappiness about this, verbally and online, during the conference this year.  We’re pretty sure that offering free wifi would drastically increase the number of people live-blogging and live-tweeting the conference, thus increasing visibility for the Society itself. 3G was only an option for a few people who are from the US, have smartphones, and weren’t worried about a data cap; it’s not good enough. This post has many curated links about live-tweeting and conferences, if you’re interested.
  3. Can you keep the coffee out all morning, please? Remember what we said earlier about sleepy scientists? You already bring it out at 7:30am and again at 10am – just leave it out til lunchtime. Or better yet, leave it out until the poster session starts at 4:15. It’s one of those keep everyone happy, keep everyone awake things. We are such sad pandas when we straggle down at 8:30 and the coffee/tea has been whisked away.

    Might as well have two cups, it's disappearing soon...from flickr user chichacha

  4. Give some serious consideration to venue with respect to pricing. We acknowledge there are probably many, many interests to balance when selecting a conference hotel, but please add this one. SVP 2013 was in the middle of the financial district in Los Angeles, meaning a very expensive hotel and limited (+ expensive) dining nearby. This is hard on students! And postdocs! And anyone without a lot of extra cash!
    Consider, for example, booking two smaller hotels together next time (maybe even with some cheaper hotels available nearby – the Raleigh meeting last year had lots of nearby, inexpensive choices). This would let you put it in a friendlier place, with affordable options for everyone. You can still have all the sessions in one hotel; it’s not like walking across the street is that much different than trying to navigate the Halo-level-like maze of the Westin Bonaventure in LA.
  5. On the expensive note: you know you’ll make more money at the bar in poster sessions and whatnot if we don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for the alcohol, right? We don’t know if the pricing was SVP or the hotel, but man, it was bad enough we didn’t even want to bully our coauthors into buying us a drink.

Criticisms aside (which we hope are constructive – and yes, we’ll be sending an email to relevant committees, as soon as we figure out who they are), this was a well-run conference that we enjoyed. As we said, SVP is an excellent time every year and it’s well worth going.

We really enjoyed live-tweeting some talks and posters this year, thanks to our phones. There weren’t many people doing so – again, see wifi situation – so we got to feel useful! Getting to experience little bites via tweet of talks we weren’t attending was really nice, so we hope we were able to provide a similar function to others for the sessions we attended. It’s a bit difficult sometimes because in the really interesting and complex ones, you want to take notes, but you can’t take notes if you’re tweeting. We tried to strike a balance. Meeting a bunch of people at the tweetup was great, too.

In all it was a most excellent conference (not least because the two halves of fossilosophy were reunited for five days!), and we are looking forward to the next one. We’ll both be at SICB in January, Kelsey will be at NAPC in Febuary, and we are definitely looking forward to SVP 2014 in Berlin, Germany!

It’s Complicated, And That’s OK

Author: Kelsey

As an undergraduate, I usually only go to museum or department talks if someone I know is talking or another undergrad coerces me into going with them. Mostly it’s a time issue. I’d honestly rather catch up on homework or research than be trapped in a lecture hall for another hour when I already have a full course load.

That being said, I am beginning to think I should go to more talks. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but the last two talks I’ve gone to have been important for me in learning not about specific projects, but about the scientific ideas and processes that shaped them.

The first talk I went to emphasized finding the simplest equation to predict the movement of blood through the cardiovascular system. The researcher’s goal was to take a complicated set of variables and get the most straightforward equation possible with an acceptable amount of error. Using this technique, variables could be dropped if they did not contribute significantly to the simulated cardiovascular system. This is a reductionist or “good enough” approach as far as I can tell that favors functional answers over the possibility of overly complicated or unknown factors.

The second talk I went to favored a holistic approach, where one method or answer didn’t necessarily have to be appropriate for the entire system. This was a paleoclimatology talk that examined comparisons between modern climate and species change and the way climate and species had changed in the Cenozoic. This four-dimensional system (the three dimensions of space, plus time) was divided into two parts, one part where humans were directly observing the system (shallow time) and the second part where humans could not (deep time). I may go into all the gory, glorious details in a subsequent post, but the talk concluded with the statement that “the present is only sometimes the key to the past.”

What? At first this viewpoint seems like a major letdown, kind of like waiting to see what Frankenstein’s Monster looks like, only to realize when he steps into the light that he’s just a guy in green makeup (or worse, just mediocre CGI). If we can’t tell what the past is from the present, I used to wonder, what good is it to compare the past to the present and are we even making appropriate comparisons? If past and present systems are only analogous some of the time, then what was happening the rest of the time?

Whenever I get into this frame of mind I am prone to fall into the black pit of philosophical debate that will get me to question my career and life choices. After about an hour or so one can then find me under a table in the lab, where I will have to be coaxed out with promises of coffee. (My own research projects, like my study of taphonomy, have done this to me more than once.)

It was one such time under the computer table that I realized I was looking at this supposed “problem of holism” the wrong way. These questions of past and present time that kept running through my head were not paleontology’s undoing, but its future. Take, for example, that second talk. The analysis of species change over the Cenozoic revealed trends that could not be explained by recent time because humanity (much less rational thought) had not existed long enough and in all places at once. Evolution was working at a pace beyond what could be directly observed by the human race in any meaningful manner. If deep time was not considered, evolution as it is understood would not exist.

I don’t go under the table much anymore. My mind is still swimming with questions, but these questions bring possibilities. With possibilities comes the promise that in the future we may understand a bit more here and there. To simplify this system would be to turn a blind eye on the beautiful and incredible complexity of paleoecology and evolutionary biology. Deep time in general would probably be rather boring if viewed only through reductionism, but we can’t look at all the components of the system at once… at least not yet.

So I will go to more talks, fill up my notebook, and, most importantly, think. As a scientist it drives me crazy and excites me to know there are ideas and viewpoints being shared out there right now that could help me with my research and rock my world.