It is almost certain that they would not have created an intelligent civilization
Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid hit Earth with the force of 10 billion atomic bombs and changed the course of evolution. As a result of climate changes caused by dust in the atmosphere, a huge percentage of all species disappear. Dinosaurs – the then “masters” of the planet remain in history. The place of dominant species is occupied by mammals, and man stands at the pinnacle of evolution today.
But what if the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct?
Imagine an asteroid misses our planet 66 million years ago and the dinosaurs survive. Could it be that in time they will plant their flag on the moon and hypothesize a world where mammals have become the dominant species?
This may sound like bad science fiction, but it touches on some deep, philosophical questions about evolution. Is humanity here by chance, are we the only ones able to evolve towards an intelligent civilization, or is this the inevitable course of life’s evolution?
In the 1980s, paleontologist Dale Russell did a thought experiment in which a carnivorous dinosaur evolved into an intelligent, tool-using species. This “dinosauroid” has a big brain, opposable thumbs and walks upright.
It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. An animal’s biology limits the direction of its evolution.
While the bones and body structure of the dinosaurs helped them grow toward 10-meter, multi-ton predators, the remains discovered so far indicate that they did not evolve toward larger brains.
After tens and even hundreds of millions of years of evolution, the heaviest dinosaur brain is that of T. rex. It weighs 400 grams. For comparison, the human brain is almost 1 kilogram heavier. Meanwhile, human and T. rex sizes are almost incomparable. In other smaller dinosaurs, the brain weighs as little as 15 grams.
Today, several descendants of dinosaurs – birds such as crows and parrots – have complex brains. They can use tools, talk and count. But mammals such as monkeys, elephants, and dolphins are the ones that have developed the largest brains and the most complex behaviors.
Nicholas R. Longrich is Senior Lecturer in Palaeontology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Bath. He is certain that if Earth had not been hit by an asteroid 66 million years ago, dinosaurs would still be walking on it today. However, they would not have evolved in the direction of an intelligent civilization.
According to the scientist, even the appearance of humans was not so certain and our species had a significant amount of luck in its evolution.
Photo by José Luis Photographer: