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I never metaphysics I didn't like...



Interesting and important as the subject is, I suspect we will soon
have to redirect the thread on the metaphysics and the "truth" of
scientific claims.  Here I will try to redirect one aspect of it so
that it remains germane to this list.

Ralph Chapman <Chapman.Ralph@NMNH.SI.EDU> explicitly stated:

> George confuses metaphysical certitude with hypothesis testing. the
> former no one can do, regardless of how hard the science. the latter
> we all try to do and we succeed.

and George demonstrated his confusion by taking the post which
included that quote and interpreting it thusly:

] You must surely recognize that science >is< a religion, that what
] you have written about is your FAITH that scientific inquiry will
] yield the truest picture of the world that can be gotten.

Whether or not science provides the truest picture of the world is
irrelevant to Ralph's message and irrelevant to the charter of this
list.  If you wish to hash out that discussion I'm sure there are
numerous fora dedicated to discussions of the relevant philosophy.
Our aim here is not to dissect science but to apply it.  Specifically
to dinosaurs...

Let's return to the quote that kicked off this phase of the
discussion -- I don't think we should wander too far from the point I
originally tried to make with it:

] As far as I know, there is no skeletal feature or combination of
] skeletal features that is unique to arboreality among vertebrates;

That statement indicates that George had no means to test his
hypothesis.  Contrast that with another example I'll pull out of thin
air.  Dinosaurs had color vision.  Ask yourself how you might test
this idea...  Well, you can analyze the visual capabilities of living
animals and infer what should be true if dinosaurs had color vision.
If you find that, for example, parakeet, anole and goldfish acquired
one of the principal components of color vision from their most recent
common ancestor then you can infer that dinosaurs should have
inherited that component as well.  Therefore it is more likely that
dinosaurs had color vision than that they didn't.  If instead, that
component of color vision was derived independently in each of the
three groups you'd have to downgrade your confidence in the
hypothesis.  As it stands, the hypothesis is supported.  The
hypothesis may not be THE truth, but the approach I outlined is a way
to test it, and that's a way that empirical science is applied to
questions about dinosaur biology.  Somebody should actually look into
this hypothesis and write a paper...*

-- 
Mickey Rowe     (rowe@psych.ucsb.edu)

*Of course, I'm joking.  I chose the example just because I have more
 than a passing familiarity with it at the moment.  Please don't read
 anything other than that into my choice of example.