The geology of humanity

“Geology” is an attractive word, no doubt about it. Slipping it into the title of a lecture or article – any talk or article – creates a gravitational pull no other scientific discipline can match.

I’d go out of my way to attend a talk entitled, “The Geology of the Human Heart” (Disclaimer: I am not a geologist). But the “the Physics of the Human Heart” leaves me cold. Other substitutes are equally unattractive: “the Economy of the Human Heart”, “the Chemistry of the Human Heart” or the soporific “Geography of the Human Heart.”

Try it for yourself, it works for other lecture titles, too. “The Geology of the Euro-zone Fiscal Crisis.” I’m there.

“Geology” evokes hidden depths. It suggests digging deep and forensic examinations. It hints at peeling back layers and strata, uncovering structures and meaning. Ultimately it offers the intriguing possibility of looking at a subject in a whole new light. And of course it is a search for the truth and, increasingly, clues to the future. Geology is a word rich in meaning. For geologists, the most visible tool of the trade may be the humble pick, but the most important is the mind. Geology may well be the most romantic of scientific disciplines.

The concept that we have entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, is destined to be picked up and adopted beyond the field of geology. Religious organizations, politicians, pressure groups, artists, writers and other academics are prime candidates to latch on to the term. They will undoubtedly define and redefine the Anthropocene for their own audiences and for their own ends.

New definitions and meanings will evolve that are far removed from global sediment flows. But “evolve” may not be quite the right word. It is more like the word “Anthropocene” is being exposed to the elements. Indeed, it will undergo a process of weathering.

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