The Virtual Lives of Extinct Animals

What happens when next nature dreams of old nature? Such is the case with extinct animals that have ever come in contact with humans, particularly the dinosaurs, our own postmodern dragons. Creatures that we layer with a fearful wonderment, dinosaurs are a fantastic lost fauna that emerge through hints and half-glimpses, much like the accounts of dragons passed through fragmented texts or embellished traveler’s tales. As with dragons, our only knowledge of their behavior emerges from our imaginations.

In the Victorian era, dinosaurs were brutal, ugly creatures, as slow-witted as they were slow-footed. They reflected notions of a grand evolutionary hierarchy that gradually, almost purposefully, gave rise to homo sapiens. The contemporary dinosaur would be unrecognizable to the Victorian paleontologist. Smaller theropods are now covered in colorful feathers, the tyranosaurus no longer drags its tail but has lost its vicious streak for the bullying lifestyle of a scavenger.

Yet despite the growing scientific accuracy of these depictions, we cannot help but construct narratives based on the shakiest of evidence. The BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs presents elaborate tales involving dinosaur families, rivalries, and tragedies in the classic style of a nature documentary. Here, the fictional depiction of old nature assumes the trappings of objective truth. Who are we Next Naturists to object? Dinosaurs are wholly cultural contructions: their ecosystem is the collective human consciousness. Now, with humans responsible for the earth’s 6th great extinction event, we are ensuring many more species a rich, resurrected life within Next Nature.

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