Physicists are able to see things in a way ordinary mortals can not. I would not like to go on record saying it is absolutely impossible for ordinary human beings to appreciate the import, or the significance, of the musings of a physicist; it is definitely possible. But the probability is rather low; it is as likely as a blind man achieving success in shoving four pounds of butter, by using a hot needle, in the ear of a jumpy cat in a dark room. (This, by the way, was one of P. G. Wodehouse's exaggerations in an earlier novel of his.)

Of ordinary mortals, I am a particularly ordinary specimen, and therefore, I find it even harder to grasp concepts like the triviality of man's lifespan, as seen from the viewpoint of the geological scale. Not that I don't try, but, the degree of success is embarrassingly low. I look at my life as an end in itself; the fact that it is indeed "a mere spec of dust in the vast Universe" fails to impress my mind.

However, Sashi Satpathy, being a physicist, sees all that, and much more. In this brilliant rumination of his, he draws an analogy of sorts between dinosaurs and men. Dinosaurs dominated the planet for quite a while; we are probably doing that right now. They disappeared from the face of the earth, and we are probably ... wait a second. I don't like this idea at all. Why should we have to do everything that dinosaurs did? I disagree with Mr Satpathy on this point. Absolutely.

However, read the article, and decide for yourself! The review is by Ms Bigyani Das, an outstanding writer herself, and an invaluable contributor to ornet in various capacities. Hope you find the article as thought-provoking as I, and undoubtedly Bigyani, did .


Amitabh Mishra, January 12, 1996.

Personal Introduction

Sashi Satpathy

B. Sc. (Ravenshaw, 1975)
M. Sc. (IIT, Kanpur, 1977)
Ph.D. (Illinois, Urbana, 1982)
Scientific Staff Member (Max-Planck Institute, Stuttgart and Xerox, Palo Alto, 1982-87).

Currently: Associate Professor of Physics, University of Missouri.

Originally from Kabisurya Nagar, grew up in Puri and Baripada.

Of Dinosaurs and Men

According to the prevalent views among scientists, the dinosaurs became extinct some 66 million years ago!

I'm sure, we all are aware of the long time passed since the extinction, but I wonder if you have really sat down and thought about the immensity of this time. Not 10,000 years, or 100,000 years, but it was the horrendous amount of 66 mya that the dinosaurs became extinct! An awful amount of time even to imagine, let alone comprehend!

What do you think the village rock or the village river was doing then? Of course, you shouldn't be surprised if your village was under the sea or that the river was not yet born. All continents were together in the Jurassic period, and due to the plate tectonics (movement of the continental plates due to the convenction currents inside the earth) that the continents have drifted apart since then. (It turns out that the central part of Germany, where I happen to be now, was indeed under the sea, resulting in a rich variety of fossils that can be found here today.)

There has been much debate concerning the age of the earth. The first concrete estimate was made by the Archbishop Ussher in the 1600's, who determined the precise age of the universe: The year 4004 BC, October 23, 8 AM. Radio carbon dating, however, performed on the ancient rocks found in Greenland puts the age of the earth much further back: About 4000 mya, much to the chagrin of the church.

An eon is the largest slice of time on the geological scale. There was no sign of life in the first, the Archaean eon, which lasted upto about 2500 mya. The Proterozoic eon that lasted up to 600 mya only saw very simple organisms. Complex organisms were formed only during the following, the present Phanerozoic eon.

The dinosaurs began to evolve around 200 mya and dominated the earth up to 66 mya, i. e., for a period of about 150 million years, a record doubtful that the human beings will accomplish, who are by the way barely newborn on the geological time scale.

Will the human beings follow the fate of the dinosaurs? Most likely so. Not in any forseeable future - not in 10,000 years,I don't think, but on the scale of hundreds of millions of years, most definitely so, if the history of earth is any guide.

An upper limit to our life on earth, unless we migrate to other solar systems, is about 4000 billion years, when our sun will die, turning into a white dwarf. The sun's outer atmosphere will expand, close enough to earth that earth will get hotter, to about 1700 K, and will most likely vaporize. But before that, much much before that, something deadly will have happened, including evolution of some disease-producing bio-organism or a fatal cosmic encounter.

According to one theory, Nemesis, the counterpart of our sun in the star-pair, which is supposed to pass through the solar system every 26 million years, dislodging meteorites and hurtling them as rain showers throughout the solar system, if it exists, will produce major changes to life on earth.

Although theories abound concerning what killed the dinosaurs including the Nemesis theory, nobody knows the precise cause of their death. But, whatever it is, that can repeat. Come several million years, perhaps a hundred or so, some tragedy will strike, obliterating the human existence from the face of the earth. Mother Nature will take over and new creatures will evolve, just as the human beings evolved after the dinosaurs. This is in essence the idea of creation and annihilation according to the Hindu philosophy.

In this grand scheme of things, human life is so trifle, so insignificant, a mere 100 years of life, a time span so small that the evolution of the universe appears frozen. We live at the mercy of nature, and our boastful imagination of having conquered nature is pitiable. Our existence is a mere passing bubble in the grand river of time, and, literally, a mere spec of dust in the vast Universe, the size of which defies human comprehension.

A dinosaur would have considered itself invincible and permanent at the height of the Jurassic period!

Are we any better?

Sashi Satpathy

Comments on "Of Dinosaurs and Men" by Bigyani Das

First I congratulate the author for giving us a very different flavour of thinking in his writting. I would try to comment on his last question
"Are we any better?"

I don't know exactly how far can we take science to understand the creation of this universe. We can just count down in mya. However, at the end of counting down we will reach in the same place where we started. That's where we feel the existence of god; superpower which is controlling everything. Again if we consider all the theories of religion "human being is considered as the "superior creation" or "Shrestha Jiba" among all types of living beings. That's why

"We are definitely better than dinosaurs"

We have better brains. For that reason we can dig the earth and find the theories about dinosauers. But no other living being will be able to do that, not dinosauers anyway. Although our life span is a mere dust in the vast universe, we should just accept it, not regret for it. Accepting the truth of life(every beginning has an end) is the truth behind the eternal happiness.

Your comments are always welcome...

Sashi Satpathy

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