Scottish geologist and writer Dougal Dixon is an authority in dinosaurs and one of the pioneers in the field of speculative biology.
This actually means that based on well-accepted theories and principles, he speculates and describes a potential future of evolution. In his books, After Man: A Zoology of the Future he explains the theory of evolution, writing about animals that will come of age 50 million years from now, in New Dinosaurs he elaborates on the aspects of dinosaur life if they hadn’t perished, while in Time Exposure (in collaboration with the wild nature photographer Jane Burton) he depicts prehistoric/extinct species on dramatically realistic photos. On the interview he gave to us he talks about the first time he ever saw a dinosaur in a comic book, about his amalgamation of science and fantasy and, also, about the distant future of mankind.
Did you like dinosaurs when you were a child? Why?
At 5 years old I saw my first dinosaur in a comic. Took it to my father for explanation. He took down an old natural history book off the shelf and showed me the pictures of fossils, of dinosaurs, of animals that existed long before people were around. And that was it. I was hooked! At that time there were no children’s’ books on dinosaurs - dinosaurs were not part of the culture - not something anybody was interested in. It was fifteen years before the world caught up with me!
What is the weirdest/most surprising thing you have learned about dinosaurs?
That our knowledge is changing all the time, with new discoveries and new ideas on the subject. Every time I write a dinosaur book, it is out of date before it gets on to the bookshelves. The information that I was getting from my father’s ancient natural history books was fifty years out of date then. But there was no-body around me who could point this out.
Do you read sci-fi books? If yes who is your favorite writer and why?
I am still reading science fiction from the “golden age” - Brian Aldiss, Robert Silverberg, Clifford Simak, Arthur C. Clarke. All yesterday’s men, but there is a whole new generation of authors out there. The trouble is that whenever I try to access them, in the library or book shop, all the books I find are “part 3 of the trilogy” or “part 5 of the on-going series” - I can never seem to get into the beginning of anything!
How would you explain what you do for living in simple words?
I am a populariser. In writing information books I try to put over the information in a new or unusual form. So, I talk about evolution by speculating about what animals may evolve in the future, I talk about zoogeography as if the dinosaurs were still around and subject to the same restraints of zoogeography as the modern animals are, I talk about changing conditions on the Earth’s surface by looking at them through the eyes of human beings genetically engineered to adapt to them . . .
What got you interested in speculative biology?
A mixture of a fascination for science and an appreciation of fantasy and imagination.
How difficult is for a scientist to speculate possibilities?
What I do is an exploration of possibilities. I do not state that “this is going to happen”. There are scientists (I shall not name them) who are so restricted by the rules of their science that they cannot let their imagination run when it comes to speculation, and their imagined future is dull and unexciting.
In your opinion are people afraid of the future?
I don’t think many people worry about the future beyond their lifetimes and the lifetimes of their immediate families.
Do you believe in (let’s say) 500.000 years from now the current world as we know it will have more in common with the prehistoric era?
It would depend on mankind’s influence.
Do you think pollution will affect the evolution of the species?
Every environmental change will affect evolution to some extent.
Will there be men in 10.000 years for example? Are we going to be like we are now?
This is anthropology and not really my field. In AFTER MAN I had mankind become extinct because I wanted to talk about the natural processes of evolution - and mankind has too much of an influence on the natural world at the moment. Evolution, as we know it, has ceased to apply to human beings. The basis of evolution is 1) mutation, and 2) natural selection. Because of our civilization and our medical technology we have removed natural selection from that equation and so whatever happens to mankind in the future will be different from what would be expected through the natural processes.
As a scientist you have to think a lot about the future. How has that affected the way you see your life/present?
In common with most people, as mentioned earlier, I only look at the future from a practical point of view as regards my immediate family.
Do you believe in god?
Not as far as evolution is concerned.
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