[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

A herring is a herring, but a good cigar is a Cuban (was RE: birds are birds, dogs are dogs)

> From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
> King, Norm R
> >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.

Yes.  We try to reconstruct a larger whole from some limited evidence.  This
is also true of sedimentology, astronomy, and oceanagraphy, and subatomic
physics, and more.  The Philosophy we employ to do this is Science.

> 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.

Perhaps we have a difference of definition here.  When I said that
"evolutionary lineages were the only real thing there" (the context was with
regards to "species definitions" vs. "higher order taxa"), I meant this:

Evolution happens.

Or, to put it a little longer, there really has been a billions-year long
history of descent with modification (and loss) of the genome of Biota, and
all those fun little packages (organisms) that contain them.

Does that means that particular phylogenies we recover by various methods
actually match the real one?  No, not necessarily.  We can only glimpse
through the glass darkly.  But, was there really SOME historical pattern of
descent with modification.  Darn 'tootin, as sure as the majority of points
in light in the sky overhead are actually balls of fusing gasses some vast
distance from us, rather than holes punched through a dark dome.  We cannot
directly sample these objects, we can't touch them.  All we can do is read
their light, but the information that that light contains allows us to
develop particular theories of stellar evolution, etc.  These models have
changed over time, as new information is made available.

So, yes: any particular scheme of the evolutionary pattern of life is a
model (a mental construct).  However, this doesn't change the external
reality of some actual history of descent with modification.

                Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                Vertebrate Paleontologist
Department of Geology           Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland          College Park Scholars
                College Park, MD  20742
Phone:  301-405-4084    Email:  tholtz@geol.umd.edu
Fax (Geol):  301-314-9661       Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-405-0796