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Re: what's in a name?

JH6669@aol.com wrote:
> I've been reading the messages here for a while, but this is my first time to
> post, so if i make a fool of myself, please, be kind.
> In a message dated 97-08-18 03:05:06 EDT, you write:
> << >Date: Sun, 17 Aug 1997 08:08:32 +1000
>  >From: Dann Pigdon <dannj@alphalink.com.au>
>  excerpt:
>  >(and let's face it, palaeontology is never
>  >going to build alternative power plants or cure cancer)
>  I think you underestimate the power of studying the past.  It's an exacting
>  study of the environment, physiology, and behavior of animals who held
>  'control' of the planet far longer than we have and then  disappeared.  (No
>  offense to our feathered friends).  By neccesity, the detective work
>  consists of sifting for the teeniest of clues, building theories around a
>  tooth or footprint, and arguing the unanswerable.  Add to that the brain
>  power, education, and passion of the folks involved.  What awesome
>  potential for discovery!
>  Who can guess what breakthroughs and insights into the survival of
>  individuals, species, or our battered little home world may emerge from
>  this incredible field!?! >>
> There is a reason dinosaurs went extinct, and if we find out that reason, it
> may help us to hold off our own extinction.  Learning of the past can be a
> great help with the future.
> Jason

All interesting points, but they all depend on the past being known
absolutely (or at least with any great certainty). I can guarantee
that short of time travel we will never know for certain what happened
at any time in the past, which in a way is fortunate since it
helps to stimulate discussion and debate in the present (what a boring
place the world would be if we all agreed on everything). You can
not "prove" a theory about past events like you can with repeated
experiments in a physics lab (and even then "proof" may be too strong
a word).

I am an archaeologist (not a palaeontologist, that's just a hobby),
and I am resigned to the fact that archaeology is mostly just
a means of satisfying human curiosity. As for learning from the past,
why change the habit of an entire species? Archaeological studies
are full of stories of deforestation, salination, and other such
catastrophic humanly-induced changes to the environment, but do we
heed the warnings of the past? Of course not, we're too stubborn
a species for that. I imagine palaeontology is similar in this
respect. One of the lessons the past has taught us here is that
there have been some truely catastrophic extinction events in the past.
And what do we do with this knowledge? We compare our own efforts to
see how we measure up!

Trying hard not to be synical (and almost succeeding)..

        Dann Pigdon
        Melbourne, Australia