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More on "Arbitrary" Paleontology

I've been following this terrific discussion on systematics, taxonomy,
scientific method, and the difference between historical and experimental
sciences.  Can I insert one suggestion from my own field of iconology, the
study of images?  When Matt Bonnan says paleontology can't conduct
experiments because it's impossible to "re-run evolution,"--"Can you really
observe a T. rex alive kicking...?" (Sat. June 5)   Well not REALLY. But you
can do it virtually, hypothetically, notionally, fictionally, and (most of
all) pictorially.  You can (and, let's face it, you must) construct a
picture of the living T. rex, a kind of graphic or sculptural experiment
that can then be tested against new fossil evidence as it becomes available,
or old evidence as it scrutinized in new ways.  The current revolution that
is "laying low" the "high browsers" who have been a dominant figure in the
paleontological images for a century is really the construction of a new
picture.  This picture also involves a new narrative of the way they moved
and lived, so it is not just a static, spatial image, but a moving figure.
Thus we do "replay evolution" in our representations and hypotheses.

So perhaps we need to think of the idea of "experimentation" in a somewhat
different way, and include thought experiments, narratives, and pictures as
hypothetical probes into the real.  Maybe the question is, how do
experiments in the historical sciences differ from those in the so-called
"experimental sciences."

Tom Mitchell