Public lecture by Adrian Currie (philosophy of historical sciences; University of Exeter)
Thylacoleo carnifex was the size of a small lion: the largest marsupial predator to have ever lived. It existed during the Australian Pliocene and Pleistocene periods and, so it is argued, hunted large prey (sub-adult Diprodoton, rhinoceros-sized marsupial herbivores) by dispatching them with an extremely powerful bite. How do paleontologists get access to the ecological and behavioural features of critters long extinct? Historical scientists are in the business of reconstructing events in the deep past. Their evidence is often degraded, experiments are of limited value, and observations of contemporary systems sometimes provide little guide to past systems. And yet, historical scientists often provide rich, well-confirmed windows into the deep past. How do they do this? I argue that a sufficient explanation of scientific success in this arena must include at least two things. First, a recognition of the flexible, adaptive and opportunistic strategies historical scientist adopt: they are methodological omnivores. Second, understanding the evidential role that narrative plays in linking our picture of the past together. Via examining the science of T. carnifex, I’ll analyse these two notions and demonstrate their importance for successful historical science.
The lecture is part of the practice-based philosophy of science workshop "Science and the Deep Past" (18-21 March 2019).
This event is supported by the University of Tartu ASTRA Project PER ASPERA (European Regional Development Fund).