Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Craters, Cosmos and Chronicles


Herbert Shaw, another bard in the long tradition of literature emanating from the U.S. Geological Survey (having served there as a geologist from 1959 to 1995), was born on this day in 1930 in San Mateo County, California.

In his book Craters, Cosmos and Chronicles: A New Theory of Earth (1994), Shaw applied non-linear dynamical systems analysis to the study of meteorites and attempted to identify a relationship between the interior dynamics of the Earth and the entire record of each meteorite hitting the Earth since pre-Cambrian times. In the process, Shaw proposed the possibility of synchronicity between physical occurrences as diverse as volcanic eruptions, meteoroids, biochemical genetic changes, mass extinctions and intergalactic dynamics, positing that instead of viewing such phenomena as randomly disassociated from each other, that they are instead a pattern of interactions occurring within what Shaw described as the "Celestial Reference Frame," a "limitless chain of 'resonances' linking terrestrial microcosms to galactic macrocosms," in the words of writer Mike Davis.

Shaw was an incorrigible scientific eclectic, known to cut a swath in such diverse specialties as magma rheology, thermal modeling, experimental geochemistry and even fractal geometry and linguistics (not to mention poetry, sculpting and painting) -- which corresponds with his desire in Craters to recast the many disciplines of earth sciences as essential parts of one whole, a truly interdisciplinary geo-cosmology.

In the world of science, it may be true that the 20th century was the century of the physicist, but at the end of the 21st century, it is quite possible that we will all be in awe at the breathtaking prescience found in the ideas of our 20th century geologists. Or, what the heck -- maybe Shaw was just crazy.

Shaw passed away on August 26, 2002 in Menlo Park, California.

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