Sunday, November 26, 2017

This is the house that Jack built

"What you see is what you get .."
( .. the Elephant that cannot speak its name .. )

Fig.1.  The Elephant in The Room -  Planet Earth, getting bigger than it used to be.  [Mechanism unknown.]

The edifice of the mind and its structuring of common sense (or rather its 'un-structuring') - the way it goes round-and-round in circles talking around something that everybody knows is there to be talked about, but because we don't know what it is we don't know (or refuse to admit or recognise it), we can't properly talk about it - .. has form of course .

But we can talk around the periphery of it, about what we do know,  so that if the talking is in good faith (and not deliberate obfuscation or avoidance) we do gradually arrive at some better appreciation of what it is we don't know, even though a final answer to the central questions that arise may remain hidden.  [The central question in this case being what it is that is making the Earth bigger. (Nobody knows - on the consensus side of the counter at any rate).]  But it applies to many things. [E.g., the Israeli Palestinian problem again as I write being right on cue.]

In the rhyme, the structured form culminates in a fugue of sorts that provides a rythmic and somewhat  apocalyptic rounding to the story :- "This is the horse and the hound and the horn".  Quite by chance (and because it's years ago since I'd written them) (and because I'd forgotten the rhyme) I discovered  I had already written something to describe this story I had titled, "The Four 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse (thinking at the time along more biblical lines because of the parallels between science and religion).  But the child's variation (which is not at all for children (!) seems a better place to begin retribution on Plate Tectonics (especially since mine are all women, .. and Plate Tectonics is all blokes) (so again, there is form).  ...

Fig.2 The Four Horse-'men' of the apocalypse:-: Boudicca-the-Nutcracker, Sukiyaki-the-Ninja, Mata Hari-the-seductress and Sufi-the-turning/twisting temptress (link)

.. and as everybody knows, woemn [no, .. it's a typo] always get the upper hand one way and another.  And appropriately enough (as often happens when trying to unravel stuff that the cat brought in), right on cue there is a program on the radio to help understanding - on smell, to which women (for some reason) seem to like to cue themselves.  [You need to listen to the end bit about the mother to get the point.  (Serendipity has a way of forcing itself upon mundanity.) ]

The theme (/form) is also very revealing of the way consensus works to incorporate its own demise and continuing resurrection into the floor plan.  It happens as a gradually accumulated body of knowledge that comes to be regarded as 'truth' (possibly even deserving of a Nobel prize) succumbs to gradual cell-death by the unstated and surreptitious appropriation /incorporation /assimilation of ideas that were earlier regarded as outlandishly preposterous, and hubris and ignorance come to be replaced by enlightenment.  [Case in point (on Mtbld.) (mac).]  Thus in turn does an unassailable bastion of 'truth' arise.  And not only one that brooks no contradiction (on its own terms), but one that no-one dares contradict (on theirs) because of their own mendacious complicity in validating that appropriation.  Thus for a time does a consensus come to be presented (if not regarded) as stated fact, immune from the undercurrents of embryonic subversions that are already stirring as "lies of omission", allow naked emperors and their obsequious entourage to strut their stuff with impunity.

Consensus parading itself with impunity. [ Courtesy link ]

In the case of Plate Tectonics the 'cell-death' referred to reflects an attack of the 'not-invented-here' syndrome, namely failure to accept the logic of others (notably S.W. Carey), of what is clearly apparent :-: the great increase in the Earth's size by the extents of the ocean floors. [Link recently posted - 244 views 20171201); (discovered)]

".. By this time (mid-1970's) the global tectonic revolution in North America had routed all opposition to the gross dispersion of continents and had reached what I had been teaching my students in the early 1950's, but I was disgusted that the "new global tectonics" had gone only halfway. It still assumed axiomatically, notwithstanding the patent rapid growth of new oceanic crust, that the size of the earth had remained essentially constant. Hence it had to go back to the mechanism I had adopted in the 1930's and 1940's of swallowing great areas of crust down the ocean trenches, but which, after 20 years of working with it, I had found by 1956 to be unworkable on a global scale. Hence my Elsevier book [1976, The Expanding Earth] set out to quash this subduction myth" (S.W.C., 1989 (Theories of the Earth and Universe, extract, preface, p.x.)

Originally, this 'not-invented-here' was Plate Tectonics' unstated central pillar, it's 'elephant-in-the-room' that mandated invention of  'subduction'. (chiggerslink)  But such is the monolithic consensus that Plate Tectonics enjoys today, the institutional kudos supporting it, and the funding for research accorded it, that nobody on the academic side of the fence is likely to disturb it by critiquing its socio-political roots [however see J. Elliston, 2002. Professor S.W. Carey’s struggle with conservatism, in Instituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Roma – Technische Universit├Ąt Berlin, pp. 97-114] because to do so shortcuts the whole story - which is not the emperor, but his nakedness; to deal with it is considered 'below the belt'.  All effort since has been directed to focussing attention on its proxy ('subduction') and its derivative 'fluff '.

Media science writers too, today mostly the product of new technologies and a culture to suit, are keener to bask in the reflection of teams of researchers discovering for the first time than they are to critiquing history and the 'art of the naked strut'.

As a geologist reasonably practised in peering through the mists of geological time and the processes that accompany them, I find myself arrived at the position where on balance the Earth does look to me very much like it has got bigger, .. very much bigger, .. and very recently too (geologically speaking).  It's just simply how the evidence stacks up.  But in its present form (this blog) this is very much a morphotectonic (/ 'superficial') overview without depth.  How else otherwise?  Countering a monolithic consensus such as Plate Tectonics (the result of half-a-century of cognitive dissonance by a worldful of the best brains in Earth science) is not going to be done overnight by anybody, or by any few people, no matter how competent their credentials nor substantial the facts.  And those who try will mostly be scheduled for oblivion.  But it has to start somewhere and seeds need to be sown before that "surreptitious appropriation" and its incorporation into hypothesis (that no-one dare contradict) can take place.

Some would say the current paradigm of Plate Tectonics has 'arrived' and there is nothing further to talk about. I would say geology is only just beginning, because it is providing a very important clue for physics to address regarding the empirical evidence for how 'mass' (manifest as the material stuff of the mantle) has come into being (the "extra mass" question), and thus needs to be exhaustively researched in order to provide the firmest foundation for physics to reconsider its position. ["Perhaps we need to rethink the whole thing"  (BBC @ 9:12mins)].

The crux that says so is precisely the discovery that Plate Tectonics rests its case on - namely the relatively young age of the ocean floors (/mantle crust) that have broken through the continental crust fragmenting it into retrofittable pieces.  Plate Tectonics whole claim to fame is a denial of this, its own evidence.  Paraphrasing, it posits :-:
"..Yes indeed the ocean floors are young, ..and continental fragments are retrofittable.  But look, .. we don't know how that can possibly be.  Anyway, there is quite a simple answer that precludes any further speculation.  Just assume that the expanse of ocean floors we see today has always existed, but that convection has driven the ancient part, equivalent to what we can see today, down into the mantle so that we only see the most recently extruded part.  In that case we wouldn't see any old ocean floor because it has been destroyed, and the Earth therefore wouldn't have got bigger at all. And that would save us having to think about something we know nothing about."

It's how science works after all :-
  • 1. Make a few observations, 
  • 2. Spin a guess about how they fit (correlation /causation), 
  • 3. Test to satisfaction, 
  • 4. If it fits then go with it and refine to further 'satisfaction'. 
  • 5. That is, temporarily conclude your initial assumption is correct.

And it does satisfy the requirements of the scientific method.

But disappearance is an assumption that contradicts factual observations on all levels.  And the logic is false anyway.  It puts the cart before the horse.   It's not a question of  'oceans', which could be cream cheese for all the difference it makes.  And the mantle down below could be whirling like a cauldron.  It's a question of lithospheric margins and their evolution over geological time.  And hypothetical destruction only refers to the active Pacific margin. There are no remnants of any 'passive' equivalents (of the Atlantic, Indian and Southern Oceans) that could substantiate the above claim.  Also, the continental interiors must be taken into account as well as the ocean floors.  And even if destruction of passive ocean-floor emplacements is posited (somehow) for the continental interiors there still remains the question of "hill-building" (which to the best of my knowledge) doesn't even show up on GPS monitors) (except for the Himalayas).

Of course, it goes without saying that the ocean floors are important, but if the continental lithosphere is retrofittable ('cream cheese' notwithstanding) then axiomatically, and regardless of whatever the mantle does 'downstairs', the Earth must have got bigger.  It can be doing anything it likes down there and we wouldn't know about it until it makes its presence felt (e.g., Mt. Agung on Bali as I write).

"The only mountains that get built are volcanoes"

That is, it's about plates, subduction, continental collision and mountain building - another apocalyptic brace of action heroes, .. but ones that will pale, quail and quake in the face of their nemesis - the relentless imperative of gravity, flatness, and the roundness that ensures there are 'beaches' for women to bask /basque on, thus ensuring the world goes round and sailors get to say "hello", before being drowned in the seaweed.

However it is naive to expect those continental margins to be like jigsaw pieces that snap together.  Some do, to be sure (e.g., the trans-Atlantic fit where the whole notion of continental retrofits and "drift" began), but most don't (for example).  The Atlantic dilation is relatively young and simple compared to the other, more complex margins of which the Pacific is the oldest and most complex dilation.  All of them need far more examination than has been done thus far, or that any smartie-pants proposition of ad hoc disappearing oceans concocted by self-confessed  outsiders ("who didn't have a geological clue") (and "didn't need any") (but shamefully were able to sell it to those who did have a clue) can claim.

"We are masters of the college, what we don't know isn't knowledge."

Just faery rings and toadstools and floss and fluff from the navel.

Many aspects of science (particularly Earth science) don't lend themselves to simple testing in a laboratory.  That 'glass' (Fig.1) is dark and geological time defies conception,  particularly when its span can be punctuated periodically with catastrophe.  We can hypothesise all we like but generally speaking science is a matter of arranging the dominoes of observation according to common sense - getting them in the right order and round the right way.   It's challenging, and complicated by scale and polarity. Not all dominoes are the same scale.  Some are embedded within others and face the 'wrong' way too, .. but if all we are doing is ending up with a series of parallel contradictions (needing ever- "more research") then at some point we must return to the drawing board and determine which domino it was that had the hypothetical big 'IF' stamped on it that led us down the wrong road.

".. A little contemplation saves a lot of perspiration."

This question of 'mechanism' can usefully be approached on two fundamentally different levels, 1. global (addressed geo-logically), and 2. subatomic (the physics of how matter is created).  Personally, I am opposed to mixing the two because even supposing 'mechanism' is resolved at the subatomic scale the global (geological) scale must still be addressed in order to dismantle Plate Tectonics on its own terms.  Coming up with a 'mechanism' for mass increase of the mantle (according to physics) will do nothing to correct the errors of Plate Tectonics.  Likewise geology describing the 'how' of expansion does nothing to resolve the issue of mantle increase.  A line must be drawn between the two in order to clearly delineate their respective 'rings of confidence'.

My understanding of physics is meagre to say the least, but it seems to me even the best of it is virtually on a par with drawing and arranging flowers and leaves in botany,  or with taxonomy in anatomy in the olden days.  Much is known about 'elemental parts' and how they inter-relate, .. and understanding at a certain level can be put to use, but relationships between those parts and the possible 'embediments within' go to still deeper and more elusive underlying questions.  To me, recognising the subatomic world of the atom is a bit like recognising the huge expanse of ocean floors in geology - a relationship of both to their accessible correlatives is very direct, but the clue to understanding that connection - through the atom at one scale and the Earth's crust on the other - is not easy.  The Earth being round (and not flat) was not worked out by geologists peering at outcrops (and hypothesising what they might mean).  But it could have been had proper attention been paid to the scale at which the Earth is getting flatter (and smoother) than it used to be, and rationalising why, after 4.5b.y., the land above sea-level isn't just a great big (decorated) beach. The overview ('context') is (or at least should be but often is not) always the starting point of enquiry.

Which is exactly the question Arthur Holmes begins the opening paragraphs of his book on physical geology - with ruminations on continents, erosion, isostacy and mountains, and is the point to which we too shall return to begin this narrative. (repeat link - AH)


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