27 April 2006

Right... but wrong... but right....

Some years ago I had a strange dream... well, quite a few of my dreams are very strange in and of themselves, but this one was a bit more than ordinarily unusual for me.

I saw myself sitting in the kitchen of the townhome I live in. Now already some folks are saying: 'You see YOURSELF in your dreams? You aren't, like, living in them?' And that is true. Very few of my dreams have ever had me as first personage observer and interacter within the dream itself. Instead I am third person observer and rarely director of actions. Sometimes I can influence things, but mostly I cannot. My dreams play out in and of themselves with me observing the activities of which I am one actor within them, but not the active participant from my observer's viewpoint. What I can do is shift my observational viewpoint to see around things and sometimes through them and have other knowledge given to me on what the background of the happenings are. Don't ask me how that latter is imparted, it is given as a part of the circumstances themselves. So do understand this and this is true of this dream I am about to relate.

As I shifted my viewpoint around myself, I observed myself sitting, the table I sit at, the floors, windows, kitchen layout and other such things. The layout was generally familiar but... different. The configuration was the same but oddities were abundant: the linoleum floor was of a different pattern, the walls were not beige but of a somewhat lighter hue and color closer to eggshell white, the kitchen table while being the same was neat and orderly and uncluttered, the cabinets were in the right position but of a different wood and a bit different grain, the counter top was white bordered stainless steel, the sink and stove had switched positions, the refrigerator was larger and somewhat beige instead of white, the microwave cabinet was present as it should be but there was a clock over it, phone exactly the same as the chair under it... as to myself within the scene, I was wearing standard clothing for myself, a dark navy turtleneck, light blue jeans, black belt, gold rimmed glasses, longer than normal hair but well trimmed, beard and mustache blended together, same height and skin complexion, white socks, blue Nike Oceania 2's that I still have from the 1980's. My love of my life was there as she should be, but strangely and slightly different. Clothing generally the same, but not her usual colors nor those of anyone I know, but not out of the ordinary considering our thrift store and Salvation Army purchasing habits.

In this scene I was explaining that I had realized that I had come from an alternate timeline due to circumstances I didn't understand and could not control... and that I had swapped places with the myself and could not say where that other self was or his condition. I was sorry for that, but the evidence had built itself up... I had stepped sideways in time.

The dream ended and I awoke, in this life, in my body with a cold sweat.

For there are times, before I had my recent problems come upon me that the universe did, indeed, feel slightly out of place, awkward, not fitting together as past information had led me to believe it was. Little things show up, and I pass them off as a trick of bad memory or something misremembered or something I had just learned that was plainly wrong. We all do that from time to time... and we explain it as part of the trickery of our minds. Of knowing without proving the wrong thing is true as the evidence plainly points otherwise.

In the realm of science many things are given a possible explanation, a conjecture or hypothesis if there is some founding for it. Some call that 'theorizing' but realize that the concept of Theory, in science, means that you have cold, hard and demonstrable proof of the things that theory purports and that it is capable of some level of predictivity within its conception. For something to gain the lofty title of Theory, there must be proof. So to all of those who equate scientific Theory with theorizing, realize that you are trying to move the verbiage from the scientific realm to the philosophical and give it the lower meaning of the philosophical and ditching its scientific meaning.

Now in science a Theory can also be proven to be wrong or to have limitations. It can be demonstrated as 'right' and provable within its conceptual confines, but at the edges oddities that it can not explain or encompass may and often do show up. Science is limited by its foundations and when you get to the edge of the foundation one needs examine the landscape to plan a new structure. Often that structure may have apparently good foundations but then sag and fall under the weight of the problems it encounters and need be torn down and re-built taking into consideration the problems encountered. Time and again older Theories are given add-ons, supports, braces, and all sorts of other odd accoutrements until it becomes obvious that the old Theory needs a radical overhaul. Newtonian physics had reached that point in the 19th and early 20th Centuries and the braces and supports and other additional work was pointing to a break with Newtonian physics within areas of physical reality. While still 'right' and applicable within its conceptual confines, it was not workable beyond those confines and something new needed to be built... and was, by a number of scientists until Einstein was able to wrap up all the pieces in a conceptual framework that kept Newtonian physics as a subset of the larger Relativity framework. And, needless to say, that framework is showing its wear and tear today, because it could not reconcile itself with Quantum Physics... and so it goes...

In my field of Geology there is this idea that there is a continuous and understandable process of events that remain relatively stable over time. Days come and go, the moon goes around the Earth, the Earth moves around the Sun, weather changes, rivers flow down slope (save in a place or two where they have sufficient energy to overcome areas of increasing slope), gravity is stable, and things tend to go on just going on. All of this is called Uniformitarianism. Until then the idea had been that large scale, sudden changes had happened and that things were so chaotic that there was no real ability to predict what would go on next, and the next big change could be right around the corner. This was called Catastrophism, and seems to drive many people to this day.

Uniformitarianism had problems and lots of them. First and most obvious is that when the globe was finally mapped to show the Earth was, indeed, a spheroid, and that any child given such will say: the continents all fit together! Just look at it and its obvious! But, there is no demonstrable *proof* that it was so and no *process* to say how they got there. Just breaking them up and putting them in place without process is Catastrophism. But other oddities also showed up, the largest being sedimentary rock, itself.

If the point you are standing on was, millions of years ago, underwater, then there was *no* uniformity of process and place. And so all sorts of ideas on overburden and erosional subsidence and build-up and re-thrust and such were invented. Suddenly Uniformitarianism had a number of inexplicable add-ons with only vaguely understood processes to explain physical evidence. Even worse, one could walk along a continuous series of strata and then find a sudden break within the context of physical contact and have all sorts of different things on the other side of the break. Faulting was invented and helped in many instances to explain such things, and it does serve quite well in most instances once you start doing a further examination of the strata and find the displacement. But there were some instances where there was no continuity at all and something completely different in historical context was abutting a well structured set of strata with NO equivalent anywhere on the other side of the fault.

And then there was further weirdness showing up in similarity of strata between continents that were unconnected! Yes, you could trace stratigraphic continuity all the way up to an ocean and pick it up on the other side of the ocean on the next continent. Uniformitarianism was having great problems by the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. There was also this nasty jumble of volcanoes, earthquakes, overlaying of igneous rock on sedimentary rock in places that should have had uniform processes, large areas of the land scoured by *something* and generally lots and lots and lots of little things pointing to the fact that things in the past were very different than they are today.

Animal populations show radically different distribution across continents, not only in recent times but into far deep history. Land bridges were invented as a theory and they would arise willy-nilly to allow passage of animals for some time and then disappear, thus isolating the animal populations. And somehow climates would alter radically from what it is today so that one could find a period of time in which one continent was tropical and the other arctic and they are joined, today, in a temperate zone.

All of this was brought together and purported to show that the continents did, indeed, move. The foremost and almost lone voice in the wilderness was Alfred Wegener, who pushed hard on the hypothesis that the continents moved. But even with all the evidence to show that, he lacked one basic thing that is necessary in Geology: process. Without process to *explain* then there is no capability of backing the hypothesis and making predictions upon it. The process gives a theory underpinnings and foundations that can be tested. Physically tested via chemistry, physics and all the other sciences. And so Wegener was *wrong* by lacking the process and the evidence that points to support that process.

What changed, however, was the evidence and capability to do deeper examination of the Earth itself. World War II yielded strange magnetic striping on the ocean floor as found by submarines. This striping was mirrored along a ridge in the Atlantic Ocean floor so that exact duplicates of the stripes were found east and west of the ridge. Further, deep oceanic trenches were found that no one could easily explain. But many of those were associated with volcanic island archs, which was also odd. But the seismic data took the cake: the Earth had a thin solid crust, a large layer of molten rock that was plastically moving under high pressure, another more liquid and hotter layer and a solid nickel-iron core. And the continents were much, much thicker than the seafloor and made of a generally less dense crustal material.

Continents 'floated' on the plastic layer just beneath them while the ocean floors 'floated' less high due to their density. And when this was added into the trenches, ridges, global 'ring of fire', magnetic striping and the first actual continent to continent distances measurements a suddenly apparent thing was given a process. The Earth's crust was broken into many pieces called 'plates' and these 'plates' moved on the plastic currents beneath them.

The continents moved! And the theory of Plate Tectonics was born.

So Alfred Wegener was right... but wrong... but right. Once the process was married up to the hypothesis, the entire geologic history of the planet could start being painstakingly pieced together and all of the oddities put into perspective. By realizing that the Earth's Mantle had a flowing plasticity to it, ocean ridges could be married up with upwellings in that densely plastic layer. And where they came together and moved downwards, the plates would push together and there would either be buckling or subduction: mountain ranges would form where continents met or more dense crustal material would move under less dense crust. And as plates get subducted, by the action of friction and getting to hotter material further down, those crusts would melt, and their less dense melt material would push aside rock and slowly move up to reach the surface. Volcanoes are an expression of that.

This theory has become a bit more refined to include hot spots as places where particularly hot but very small uprisings in the Mantle reflect even deeper hot spots in a process not entirely understood, but understandable within the context of temperature variations due to changes in Mantle material and deep radioactivity of same. All of the crustal movement and dynamics now have a 'fit' due to the understood process. And, although the process has variations over time, the concept still works.

And Uniformitarianism itself? Well, with an understood process it still holds as a conceptual framework at a larger scale. But it no longer holds for a statically positioned set of continents. With new process uniformity gives way to understood and more or less uniform process. But there are other indications for Catastrophic events. The Scablands in Washington, Oregon and Idaho show large floods, but those are now understood to be part of glacial retreat and lake formation, are as many other such smaller events across the continents. The biggest hit was a literal big hit, however.

The Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction, 65 Million Years Ago that wiped out all life forms above 15 kg. and a large number below that. Nothing like the huge Permo-Triassic extinction that took 95% of all species on the planet, but still a biggie. Examination of the KT boundary had yielded a number of things, but one thing was overlooked and rarely reported because it was... well... odd. There is a boundary layer that marks the KT, and wherever there is continuous sediment deposition across that time, the layer is present. It is about an inch thick, and is totally discontinuous with the preceding, lower layer and the younger upper layer. It was seen, remarked upon, noted but little examined for, well, over a century. No one understood it, it was just 'there'. Yes, scientists can, will and do ignore things. This was one of those things.

Then in the 1970's two things brought about sudden change. The first was Mariner 9 arriving at Mars while a global dust storm was raging across the planet. So, not wanting to have a total loss on their hands, the scientists imaged... the global dust storm. Luckily it was in the infrared and something interesting was shown: while the storm raged, the albedo or reflectance of the atmosphere changed so as to reflect more sunlight. Mars got very cold while the dust storm raged across.

The second was an actual examination of the KT boundary layer chemically and physically. It contains a high percentage of rare-earth metals not normally seen in normal volcanic depositions, in fact an extremely high concentration when considered on a global scale. Also it has in its upper portion a large amount of sooty carbon, indicating large fires, and this is not globally distributed evenly, but has local high distributions. The kicker, however, is 3-axis shocked quartz. Quartz is a tough little mineral and present in a large number of rocks, so it is not surprising to find it there. And even shock patterns running through quartz crystals is not uncommon due to metamorphic pressures and volcanic eruptions. But even the most violent of eruptions rarely, if ever, produces more than 2-axis shocking. 3-axis shocked quartz for the globally distributed amount either indicates the mother of all volcanoes with the damned strangest concentration of rare-earth metals in the weirdest proportions going off or...

A large metallic asteroid hitting the planet. A nickel-iron asteroid with some fair amount of rockiness to it. Asteroid impacts regularly produce 3-axis shocked quartz and the chemical signature is nearly an exact match to the KT boundary layer. Suddenly Catastrophism returned with a vengeance. But the Uniformitarians pointed out that there is a uniformity of process, even with that if you change the scale to that of the entire Solar System. On those planets with little or no atmosphere, the evidence is plain of regularity of process. The Earth, being a planet within the Solar System, is subject to this cosmic pinball where asteroids hit and shift orbit and move and impinge upon it. Tons of dust burn up and float down on a daily basis and the larger the pieces the less often they impact. Look at Mars or the Lunar surface and it is evident that very large pieces of rock will every so often wander into the inner solar system.

So, even with an irregular result, the process, itself is regular though chaotic.

And as for my dream?

Well, who knows what we say is wrong in physics and mathematics and probability is actually wrong due to lack of process, but may be right once a process is known and understood? I leave that for another day and more energy.

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