Digital tools in the service of Paleontology
and Natural Sciences

William Riedel, Stefan Bengtson, Roy Plotnick

Key Points

William Riedel began this session by explaining that a paleontologist's job is to understand the relationship between biota and the world in which they exist through geologic time.

Bill stressed that we are here at Digital Burgess to build bridges between disciplines which usually do not communicate. Each participant should abandon jargon and declare where he or she stands on the spectrum between vision and physical reality.

Bill is starting a multi-authored electronic showcase to act as a bridge between paleontologists and other disciplines represented here.

Stephan Bengtson showed us that we only see evidence of evolution through two keyholes: extinctions and preservations.

He also said that time puts a filter on our vision of the fossil record. Through this filter, we see a pattern of extinctions. More than 99% of species that lived in the past are now extinct.

Stephan stressed that we need more than just the hard parts of creatures to understand organisms. Very recently he has discovered fossilized embeyos in eggs of several totally different groups of organisms that casts even more light through the keyhole.

Roy Plotnick places himself on the midpoint of the spectrum from visionary to empiricist. He introduced Gould's ideas that paleontology is an investigation into what drives evolution, whether evolution has a dimension, and into the pace of evolution

Current issues in paleontology include what causes extinctions and whether change or stability is the naural sate of communities. Computer models let us study these problems. He believes that an appropriate metaphor for life's history is improvisational theater.

He concluded with a line from Top Stoppard's play Arcadia "The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is."

Bruce Runnegar describes himself as a reductionist, who believes in the power of imagination. He believes more involved modelling techniques are needed for understanding the history of life. Often, the building of accurate models are better served in a virtual format.

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