We learn geology the morning after the earthquake… Ralph Waldo Emerson


"Why is an Earthquake" Washington, D.C.,  The old question "why is an earthquake," and many other geological mysteries important to man, are being probed by scientific gadgets such as the two pictured here at the Geological Laboratory of the Carnegie Institute. The scientists work and apparatus will be studied by geologists from all points of the country when the Geological Society of America meets in Washington. Dr. J.F. Schairer, physical chemist of the laboratory is shown at the instrument panel of one of the cylindrical electrical furnaces which generate heat up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit, melting artificial rock in the study of crystallization or cooling of rocks from volcanoes.

“Why is an Earthquake” Washington, D.C., The old question “why is an earthquake,” and many other geological mysteries important to man, are being probed by scientific gadgets such as the two pictured here at the Geological Laboratory of the Carnegie Institute. The scientists work and apparatus will be studied by geologists from all points of the country when the Geological Society of America meets in Washington. Dr. J.F. Schairer, physical chemist of the laboratory is shown at the instrument panel of one of the cylindrical electrical furnaces which generate heat up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit, melting artificial rock in the study of crystallization or cooling of rocks from volcanoes.

There is always blame to apportion and the most likely candidate is generally the person or institution currently in authority. It is historically true that the Church was blamed for the Lisbon Earthquake – not that the church was in particularly high regard with the reformation in full swing and authors like Defoe writing that when the plague struck London not a single priest of the Roman Church could be found [not true but perception is the largest part of the battle] – and in reality that blame took the form of believing that if the natural forces involved were studied and understood this sort of cataclysm could be understood and somehow protected against.

The principal square of Arequipa, after the earthquake

The principal square of Arequipa, after the earthquake

Modern geology may date to the 17th century but contemporary geology dates to the end of the 18th century and amusingly enough faced as much opposition for a reformed protestant Europe as so many advocates of the enlightenment claimed they faced from the Church. While the San Francisco earthquake aroused no such large scale intellectual animosities – after all it happened in a country too busy with Mammon to be worried about God – the Kanto Earthquake in 1923 Japan gave the rising militarist something else to blame on the round eyed Yankee devil and was instrumental in their isolationism that ultimately led to the War in the Pacific. And although not quite an earthquake most recently we have been told that Russian leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has blamed Americans for the meteorite scare. “Those were not meteorites, it was Americans testing their new weapons,”  It is so much easier to have a boogeyman and it is impossible to underestimate the damage that can be caused to a society by convincinceing large numbers of stupid people of the “truth” of facts not in evidence.

Survivors of the earthquake, Messina, Sicily, Italy

Survivors of the earthquake, Messina, Sicily, Italy

Geology, like solar astronomy, may have been  with us since before the Greeks but it is still imperfect in the sense that although it may be able to describe forces in a general way it can not predict specific events in a reliable way. Engineering has actually progressed much further in being able to build structures able to withstand mild tremors but there probably have been and will be earthquakes that set their best designs in the same pile of rubble as the mud hut. While I do not look to religion to provide amuletic protection from earthquakes I had rather live in a society where religious people would be part of the relief effort than in one where bewildered scientists walked around muttering and cursing God every time something the didn’t understand happened!

Earthquake, Kingston, Jamaica, 1907]: A fantastic sight, Royal Mail Stemaship's Building, its roof pointing to the sky

Earthquake, Kingston, Jamaica, 1907]: A fantastic sight, Royal Mail Stemaship’s Building, its roof pointing to the sky

Earthquakes in human history: the far-reaching effects of seismic disruptions Princeton: Princeton University Press, c 2005 Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders Earthquakes Social aspects Hardcover. 1st. ed., later printing. xiv, 278 p.: ill., maps; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

Earthquake victims. Costa Rica

Earthquake victims. Costa Rica

On November 1, 1755 – All Saint’s Day – a massive earthquake struck Europe’s Iberian Peninsula and destroyed the city of Lisbon. Churches collapsed upon thousands of worshippers celebrating the holy day. Earthquakes in Human History tells the story of that calamity and other epic earthquakes. The authors vividly explain the geological processes responsible for earthquakes, and they describe how these events have had long-lasting after effects on human societies and cultures. Their accounts are enlivened with quotations from contemporary literature and from later reports.

Los Angeles Earthquake

Los Angeles Earthquake

In the chaos following the Lisbon quake, government and church leaders vied for control. The Marquis de Pombal rose to power and became a virtual dictator and as a result, the Catholic Church lost much of its influence in Portugal. The anti-clerical Voltaire wrote CANDIDE to lampoon the church by claiming that faith was nothing but a philosophy of “optimism,” the belief that God had created a perfect world. With pressure from government and the so called intelligensia the 1755 earthquake sparked the search for reasons for natural disasters the could explain them in terms of a godless universe and a part of modern science was born.

Palestine events. The earthquake of July 11, 1927. Wrecked dwelling house on Olivet. In which three people were killed

Palestine events. The earthquake of July 11, 1927. Wrecked dwelling house on Olivet. In which three people were killed

Ranging from an examination of temblors mentioned in the Bible, to a richly detailed account of the 1906 catastrophe in San Francisco, to Japan’s Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, to the Peruvian earthquake in 1970, this book is an unequaled testament to a natural phenomenon that can be not only terrifying but also threatening to humankind’s fragile existence, always at risk because of destructive powers beyond our control.

Illustration shows an allegorical female figure labeled "San Francisco" being tortured "on the rack" by a cast of medieval-looking executioners labeled "Cement Dealer, Lumber Dealer, Iron Workers' Union, Steel Trust, Bricklayers Union, Building Materials, [and the central figure] Greed" in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed much of San Francisco.

Illustration shows an allegorical female figure labeled “San Francisco” being tortured “on the rack” by a cast of medieval-looking executioners labeled “Cement Dealer, Lumber Dealer, Iron Workers’ Union, Steel Trust, Bricklayers Union, Building Materials, [and the central figure] Greed” in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed much of San Francisco.

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