The novel begins discussing the concept of extinction and how Baron Georges Cuvier and Charles Darwin both helped prove the fact that animals had gone extinct in Earth's past, which ran contrary to mainstream beliefs at the time. Specifically in regards to dinosaurs, palentologists and scholars argue over whether or not the extinction of the dinosaurs was a swift calamity that overwhelmed them swiftly (such as an asteroid impact) or if environmental changes or disease killed them off slowly over time. Mathematician Ian Malcolm, one of the survivors of the disaster on Isla Nublar in 1989, is giving a lecture at the Santa Fe Institute. Malcolm postulates that a change in behavior signaled the end of the dinosaurs and states that its entirely possible that humanity could suffer a similar fate.