“I’d like to stop having to explain whether or not each new feathered dinosaur specimen we discover was a bird.”  Don’t we all, Julia Clarke. Don’t we all.

What Julia is actually getting at is that, as an archeologist, she’s tired of getting pushed against a wall of explaining new discoveries in terms of old discoveries. Every new fossil with a feather may have been a bird (or an Urvogel), it may have flown, or it may not have flown or be related to birds. But everyone wants to immediately put the discovery in a known box.

Julia states in her essay in This Idea Must Die:

Across science we have many Urvogels–lingering evidence of similarly strong collective cognitive investments in the existence of classes of entities we consider intuitive and natural. These can hold us back.

As a scientist, I love asking questions. As a biologist, I love that the human body is so full of mystery that almost every single day one of my professors responds to someone’s question: We don’t know the answer to that. Yet. Or maybe ever. My favorite part of nutrition science is the gray area: every single food will act slightly differently in every single body. It gives the field room to make mistakes. It provides constant dynamicism. And maybe it will help prevent us from completely boxing ourselves in.

It’s hard, as scientists and as humans, to just accept something new without a way to quantify it in terms of something already known. But if we are constantly looking for similarities of the past, we’re likely to miss something.

Maybe Ms. Clarke is right. How much time we’ve put into discoveries in the past shouldn’t determine how we classify the new ones. Maybe we try to keep them all out of the box.


On another note: last week I read 291 pages (a mix of mostly scientific papers and reports and little bit of this above mentioned book). This week so far I’m at 195! Working my way towards 2018!


2 comments on “Urvogels”

  1. Thanks, Jennie. It’s good to keep in mind the ways in which we’re wired. This made me think of confirmation bias. So dangerous.

    Urvogel. I’m adding this to my “word cloud” which I use for poetic inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am with the author– it’s boring to just talk about how things fit in with ‘the way things are’. I’m always looking to break a pattern, myself.


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