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RE: birds are birds, dogs are dogs

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
Oscar Quill
Sent: Friday, December 01, 2000 10:55 AM
To: NKing@usi.edu
Cc: dinosaur@usc.edu
Subject: Re: birds are birds, dogs are dogs

>Is it just me or has anyone else thought that a lot of paleontology is
philosophical? We/palaeontolgist/scientist/amateurs etc are trying to come
up with philogeny's/life histories/life styles/etc of long extinct animals
of which we have no physical evidance for other than fossilized
bones/plant's/ichnology/etc. Just a thought.


My jumping in here shows the obvious--that I can't stay away from a
philosophical discussion.

I once argued, but apparently to no avail (what's new?), that evolutionary
lineages are not real, but rather mental constructs.  That was in opposition
to someone who said that the only real things out there were these very same
evolutionary lineages.  I replied that I could hit you over the head with a
dinosaur bone, i.e., it's real, but the evolutionary lineage is only a
concept, in fact an interpretation.  Just ask George, relative to the
evolutionary lineage of birds.  
I was complaining about the practice of defining birds to be dinosaurs, then
saying, see, that shows that birds are descended from dinosaurs.  I am not
convinced that this proposition has been conclusively demonstrated, even
though I tend to operate as if it has been, and think this scenario much
more likely than the alternatives based on the preponderance of positive
evidence.  Finally, I made some comarison with this and the "science"
practiced by the ancient Greeks, specifically Plato, that got several people
up in arms.  My point here, however, is that Tracy is right.  We have
manufactured quite a world for ourselves that exists now only in our minds.
In fact, it is undoubtedly just a little different from one of us to
another, thereby further showing that it really is a mental construct--it
indeed has no physical existence, and the evolutionary lineages are only

Tracy's musings remind me of the statement by John Noble Wilford, in The
Riddle of the Dinosaur (1988, p. 17):  "The wonder of dinosaurs is not only
that they lived so long ago, grew so large, and then became extinct under
mysterious circumstances millions of years before humans came on the scene.
The wonder also is that the human mind could resurrect the dinosaurs and
through this resurrection begin to comprehend the fullness of time and the
richness of life."  

Do you think George "comprehends the fullness of time and richness of life"
in view of his denial that birds are dinosaurs?  Of course he does!  But
which richness of life is it?  Perhaps it is all exactly as Tracy said,
"just a thought."