Othering Montana's T. Rex and the consequences of Mumpsimus
Smith, Matt Bradly
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The term Othering has its origin in human to human contact; it is based on the perception of differences, creating an in-group and an out-group. Othering can also be projected on to other animals, plants, or the natural environment, living or dead, extant or extinct. To help comprehend the consequences of Othering, Montana’s T. rex, displayed at the Museum of the Rockies, on the campus of Montana State University, is examined through the lens of the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, specifically Gadamer’s hermeneutic circle. The hermeneutic circle proposes that: “one cannot understand the whole until one understands the parts, and one cannot understand the parts until one understands the whole” (Wikswo and Porter 3). The literal relationship humans share with the T. rex is surveyed through multiple methods including osteology, morphology, taphonomy, and forensics. Time, place and space of the paleo-habitat of the T. rex is calculated and compared to the modern equivalent. Concepts of biophilia, attraction to the natural environment, and biophobia, aversion to the natural environment, are examined. Americans historical association with “wilderness and the western regeneration myth is explored. Americans have defined themselves through the naturalization of their nation, while simultaneously objectifying nature as a place to conquer, seeing nature as a resource both physically and metaphorically. By separating themselves from the natural environment a cognitive dissonance, or mumpsimus, becomes engrained. Mumpsimus is an obstinate continuation of an unreasonable behavior. This behavior has created a detrimental relationship with the biosphere and its inhabitants through environmental modifications, the foundation of which is the consumption of fossil fuels. Mumpsimus is examined by investigating cognitive and neurological studies. These studies identify the roots of this behavior and why it continues. Methods for addressing the situation are discussed. These methods can help Americans obtain a deep understanding of their relationship to the biosphere past, present and the future.