A few days ago, Jacqueline and I were walking along a road in Vineyard Haven, on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. We had heard that wild turkeys roamed around, so we were not surprised to see one. It was about 50 feet away, under a tree.
To appreciate what the turkey did next, you need to know the 1970s television show The Six Million Dollar Man. In it, a man is retrofitted with “bionic” technology that gives him superhuman abilities. When he does a standing jump, he starts with a normal jumping motion, yet he keeps going up. It looks wrong because it violates what we know humans can do.
Since Jacqueline and I thought turkeys don’t fly, we had a Six Million Dollar Turkey moment when the one we saw launched itself straight up to a branch fifteen feet above, wings flapping. It’s a testament to the power of mental models that our initial thought was, “How did the turkey do that?”
And only after, “I guess turkeys can fly.”
Subsequent research showed that wild turkeys can fly, not particularly far or high, but they can fly. The idea that turkeys are flightless comes from domesticated turkeys, the larger versions of which cannot fly.