One Long Experiment: Scale and Process in Earth History

By Ronald E. Martin | Go to book overview

Epilogue: The Nature of Nature

One of the principal objects of theoretical research … is to find the
point of view from which the subject appears in its greatest
simplicity
. —J. Willard Gibbs

Seek simplicity … and distrust it. —Alfred North Whitehead

The present is the key to the past. —Geologic dictum based on the
writings of Charles Lyell

The present may be the key to nothing at all. —Anonymous

I have attempted to accomplish a number of tasks in this book. For one, I have attempted to show that what we measure in the stratigraphic record depends on the scale we use. There are undoubtedly processes that are recognizable only in the context of geologic history because they act at different levels with different rates that are otherwise imperceptible to us. It does make a difference, for example, whether the dinosaurs died out with a bang or a whimper (Gould, 1992). Species are dying out with a bang right now because of the human race, but many of us, based on our species’ limited perception of time, do not perceive that anything is wrong. The geologic record demonstrates that much larger—and virtually imperceptible—climate change can lead to sudden (even on geological timescales) climate change, not just at, say, the close of the Permian, but perhaps eventually at the end of the Holocene because of us (Kerr, 1995a, 1995b). Of course, the geologic record of extinctions and other processes is imperfect, but perhaps taphonomic filters and stratigraphic resolution would prove less problematic if we were more aware of the limitations they impose on the rock record.

-212-

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One Long Experiment: Scale and Process in Earth History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Prologue - Methodology and Proof in Historical Science 1
  • 1 - Scale, Measurement, and Process- An Introduction 9
  • 2 - The Nature of the Stratigraphic Record- Curds and Whey 24
  • 3 - Random Walks in Muck 53
  • 4 - Time and Taphonomy 72
  • 5 - Biological Processes Inferred from the Fossil Record 95
  • 6 - Cycles and Secular Trends 132
  • 7 - Energy and Evolution 163
  • 8 - Extinction 186
  • Epilogue- the Nature of Nature 212
  • References 217
  • Index 253
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