THEOSOPHY, Vol. 83, No. 9, July, 1995
(Pages 265-269; Size: 10K)
(Number 5 of a 7-part series)

ANCIENT AND MODERN SCIENCE

GEOLOGY: PART V

THE study of ancient and modern science brings to light just how much the ancients anticipated current scientific knowledge and just how close the modern scientific community has come to rediscover the ancient wisdom. The result is greater respect for the ancients and confidence in the existence of universal and eternal verities. For example, an ancient teaching on the nature of the earth was that the planet was not a lump of gross matter, but rather it was a dynamic entity. Yet, it has only been in the last thirty years that modern geologists have come to acknowledge the dynamic nature of the earth.

The goal of classical geology has been to explore the earth in order to establish its origin, history and structure. In the preface to his book, The Behavior of the Earth, Claude Allegre, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Paris, explains the nature and consequences of the revolution in modern geology:

....the theory of continental mobility is the pivot of the revolution the earth sciences have experienced in the past three decades. Without it modern geology would not be conceivable today.

Continental drift entails the idea of the recreation of the ocean floor, and therefore of dynamism in the mantle and a coupling between the interior and the surface of the earth. In light of this theory the earth becomes a living, changing entity whose "physiology" can only be understood by studying it globally. Traditional geology consisted mainly of rock classifications, the timetable of geological eras, cross sections and maps. Its vocabulary was as barbarous as it was esoteric. Today's geology is much more vivid and less static.

Earth was not a dead planet whose only geologic activity was engendered by the presence of water on its surface, but a dynamic and evolving planet whose constantly changing surface appearance, distribution of land and sea, heights and depths, and archipelagos and platforms were the surface reflections of large scale movements that animated its depths... The earth is now seen as a system in the modern sense of systems logic; its dynamics are regulated by multiple interconnected and interregulated causes, and its behavior is as complex and global as that of a living being.

This modern idea of dynamism of the earth in the birth and rebirth of oceans and continents is actually very ancient. In The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky mentions that the myths of the Hindu Puranas are allegorical of the many risings and sinkings, and the constant alternation of water and land from the earliest to the latest geological periods of our globe (see SD II, p. 252). In the Vishnu Purana, Brahmâ, realizing that the earth was within the waters, incarnates as a boar and raising the earth places her upon the ocean. Then Brahmâ piles mountains upon the earth. He creates on the surface of the earth all those mountains which had been burnt in the previous creations. He divides the earth into seven continents as it had been. Whenever the earth subsequently sinks, Brahmâ takes the form of a boar to raise her up again. The Kalika Purana describes the formation and disappearance of mountains, volcanic eruptions, the emptying of oceans, and tidal waves, all of which are part of the modern theories of continental drift and the birth of oceans.

The ancient idea of the earth "changing its skin" seems to anticipate the modern geological theory of plate tectonics which is meant to explain the formation of continents and oceans. The surface, or crust of the earth, is divided into sections called plates, or continental plates. These plates move apart from one another causing continents to split and drift. As these plates spread apart ocean floors are formed. Continued drifting causes other ocean floors to be swallowed up. Where two plates collide a continent is reformed along with a range of mountains. Geologists believe that the Himalayas were formed by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates. Compare this idea with H. P. Blavatsky's explanations for the other earths referred to in ancient scriptures. One of the explanations relates: "...to the periodic and entire changes of the Earth's surface, when Continents disappear, to make room for Oceans, and Oceans and Seas are violently displaced and sent rolling to the poles, to cede their emplacement to new Continents." (SD II, p. 703.)

The modern idea of earth as an entity is consistent with the ancient conception, and both reflect a basic theosophical principle -- the universality of life. The similarity between ancient and modern geology is striking if one considers them in the light of another fundamental theosophical idea -- the universality of the law of cycles. One such cycle is the sidereal year, which lasts 25,868 years and its relationship to periodic changes in the earth's axis and periodic changes in the global climate. One hundred years ago, scientists would have denied any violent shiftings of the earth's axis and its relation to climate. But modern geologists have changed their mind.

The theory that variations in the Earth's orbit are responsible for triggering the advance and retreat of glaciers was developed by Yugoslavian scientist Milutin Milankovitch. Researcher James Hayes and his associates at Lamont-Doherty Geological observatory in Palisades, New York, have confirmed that the Earth's climate varies in distinct, overlapping cycles of about 10,000, 41,000, and 22,000 years each, reflecting cyclical variations in the shape of the Earth's orbit, the planet's tilt on its axis, and the direction in which the axis points (see The Almanac of Science and Technology, Harcourt).

Modern geology recognizes many geological cycles. There are episodic and periodic cycles. Episodic cycles recur irregularly and periodic cycles recur at fixed intervals. A volcanic eruption is episodic, but glacial periods, sea level changes and ice ages are claimed to be periodic. There are cyclical variations in the deposits of sediments that vary from centuries to a few million years. The main geological cycle that is considered by modern geologists to affect the surface of the earth is erosion, deposition of sediments, and folding and uplifting processes that form mountains.

Another example of the gradual merging of ancient and modern views on geology relates to the age of the earth. One hundred years ago the oldest estimate for the age of the earth was about 500,000,000 years. This rough estimate was primarily based on sedimentation rates and fossil remains. In 1896, Henri Becquerel accidentally discovered radioactivity. Later, Ernest Rutherford showed that every radioactive element had a "half-life." This is the time interval required for any given quantity of a radioactive element to lose half its atoms. Based on the half-life of radioactive elements such as uranium, it is now widely held that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The problem with this method is that it might give the age of a certain strata of deposits to be 6 million years when the actual thickness of the sedimentary deposits in that strata could be accomplished in 100,000 years. So, although the method of dating by radioactive decay leaves some unsettling questions for modern geologists, it does lengthen the age of the earth by a considerable degree compared to the scientific estimates prevalent at the time when The Secret Doctrine was written. Although there is no definite statement in the Theosophical literature on the actual age of the Earth, it is suggested that the Brahmanical figures are approximate. According to these time tables of cosmic and terrestrial events, the beginning of the formation of the planetary chain was about 2 billion years ago (SD II, pp. 68-69).

Standing on the earth, it seems stationary. However, with a different perspective it is known to orbit the Sun every 365 days. That's a journey of 600 million miles. The earth must move at a speed of 66,000 mph in order to complete that journey in one year. From the perspective of millions of years, it is recognized to be a dynamic entity by modern geologists. Similarly, with the perspective afforded by the study of ancient and modern geology, such ideas as the interdependence of life and the universality of the law of cycles are seen to be expressed in the processes that guide the formation and evolution of the earth.


Next article:
Ancient and Modern Science
Anthropology: Part VI




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