Saturday, January 29, 2005

Geo: So Bad He's Good

"Looking at life from the perspective geology offers, which renders man insignificant, I find it difficult to regard man as anything other than a biological accident," Simon Winchester, author of Krakatoa, an account of the Ring of Fire cataclysm of more than a century ago, told the NY Times Magazine (1/23/05).

Without wasting words Winchester goes to the heart of things: deep time, geology, life--humanity. This from a man who describes himself as a "bad geologist" because he couldn't find copper where there was none.

But geology was never so much about finding copper as it is about grasping time. What Winchester did manage to discover—as did many renowned geologists before him—was that that time runs too deep to ever be properly mined.

It’s a struggle for us to imagine the world one billion years ago, when tectonic events began piecing eastern North America together, much less the vastness of the earth’s 3.6 billion year history.

The last Ice Age of just 20,000 years ago seems impossibly distant, even though the reminders of that time, from stonewalls to sandy beaches, are found in abundance in Connecticut to this day.

Perhaps our near-sightedness is instinctive. It’s difficult to debate whether we’re “biological accidents” or not, as few of us are taught to look back past the end of last week. Attention is given instead to a future we are all racing to meet.