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Re: Paleontology is science, not art



Honored Person Bonnan said:
<<To quibble with you a little, you use math as an example of a science, but
math is not science. In math you can prove theorems and postulates. You
cannot do that in science. Math is a necessary tool of scientists, but math
itself falls outside the narrow boundaries of science.>>
To which you replied:
<<Then mathematical physics is what? Again, I tend to see continua where you
see boundaries.>>

May I suggest that you might have used this observation to note the
difference in the amount of personality in the paleontological method
compared to paleontological results?

As discussed previously, the work of a paleontologist involves drawing
conclusions about an animal from limited evidence and determining the
relationships among animals.  Both activities involve art (defined as
personal instinctual understanding; some people are able to draw better
conclusions than others) and judgement.  While a chemistry experiment in
high school will produce the same identification of a substance as the same
experiment in a professional laboratory, the same high school kids will not
be able to do as well drawing conclusions from a fossil even after they have
learned the applicable rules.  Let alone find the best cladogram from the
available evidence.
The actions of a paleontologist cannot be defined as mechanistically as some
portions of other sciences because of the type of reasoning involved.  This
discussion is about method, and shows how paleontology depends to a
substantial degree on the person doing the work.

Now, math is rejected as a science because its results can be 'proven' and
those of paleontology cannot.  The reason is that paleontological
conclusions about classification, for example, can be disproved by a new
fossil.  This says something about both method and result.  Concerning
method, how can any conclusion in paleontology be asserted, even
tentatively?  The answer is that it meets certain logical rules better than
other possible conclusions.  How is a mathematical assertion regarded as
proven?  Because it meets certain logical requirements.  The mathematical
process is similar to the paleontological process.  However, the conclusions
of paleontology are not the same because they can be disproved by facts
which can never be part of the logic used.  The method is similar in math
and paleontology, but the results are significantly different.  The ability
to disprove a conclusion connects that conclusion more closely to the real
world, and thus verifies the truth of the conclusions.   (I'm not one of
those people who believe that because something is true in math it must be
true in reality.)

The common thread is the use of the terms better or best.  Paleontology has
a qualitative element which is not present in a part of science which has
recipes and inevitable conclusions.  When you speak about art or
entertainment you are discussing a qualitative, subjective judgement about
presentation.  Science is an attempt at truth without regard to the response
of those who hear it.
That argument you're dealing with has two aspects:  that doing science is
mechanical ('methodological naturalism'), and that the results of science
must be objective, as well as we have been able to define that term.
When you said:
<<I suppose my bottom line is that the standards you use to decide what is
convincing, the nature and scope of the hypotheses you test, the mental
models you use, and the way you communicate your ideas, are not uniquely
determined by scientific philosophy, but are influenced by culture.>>
you have to be met by:
<<a paleontologist is a scientist; as a scientist, when investigating
various hypotheses, they apply methodological naturalism; and finally, the
application of methodological naturalism to questions in paleontology is
vital to objectively as possible understand our relationship to other
organisms, the patterns of evolution, and the "reasons" for the evolutionary
sequence we see in the rock record.>>
because whatever techniques are used, the paleontologist has objective truth
as the goal, not anything as subjective as a response to that truth.
I suggest that a fair meeting ground is that paleontology is not purely
mechanical, that there is scope for all the insight and art which can be
brought to it.  This means science is not determined by culture and science
is not limited to universally replicable discovery.
Respectfully,