Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time

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Harvard University Press, 1987 - Science - 222 pages
2 Reviews

Rarely has a scholar attained such popular acclaim merely by doing what he does best and enjoys most. But such is Stephen Jay Gould's command of paleontology and evolutionary theory, and his gift for brilliant explication, that he has brought dust and dead bones to life, and developed an immense following for the seeming arcana of this field.

In Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle his subject is nothing less than geology's signal contribution to human thought--the discovery of "deep time," the vastness of earth's history, a history so ancient that we can comprehend it only as metaphor. He follows a single thread through three documents that mark the transition in our thinking from thousands to billions of years: Thomas Burnet's four-volume Sacred Theory of the Earth (1680-1690), James Hutton's Theory of the Earth (1795), and Charles Lyell's three-volume Principles of Geology (1830-1833).

Gould's major theme is the role of metaphor in the formulation and testing of scientific theories--in this case the insight provided by the oldest traditional dichotomy of Judeo-Christian thought: the directionality of time's arrow or the immanence of time's cycle. Gould follows these metaphors through these three great documents and shows how their influence, more than the empirical observation of rocks in the field, provoked the supposed discovery of deep time by Hutton and Lyell. Gould breaks through the traditional "cardboard" history of geological textbooks (the progressive march to truth inspired by more and better observations) by showing that Burnet, the villain of conventional accounts, was a rationalist (not a theologically driven miracle-monger) whose rich reconstruction of earth history emphasized the need for both time's arrow (narrative history) and time's cycle (immanent laws), while Hutton and Lyell, our traditional heroes, denied the richness of history by their exclusive focus upon time's Arrow.

 

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Review: Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures)

User Review  - Christy Porter - Goodreads

Wonderful complement to studying the Romantics and Deep Ecology. Read full review

Contents

The Discovery of Deep Time
1
2Thomas Burnefs Battleground of Time
21
A Machine
61
Charles Lyell Historian of Times Cycle
99
Boundaries
181
Bibliography
211
Index
217
Copyright

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About the author (1987)

Born in New York City in 1941, Stephen Jay Gould received his B.A. from Antioch College in New York in 1963 and a Ph.D. in paleontology from Columbia University in 1967. Gould spent most of his career as a professor at Harvard University and curator of invertebrate paleontology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. His research was mainly in the evolution and speciation of land snails. Gould was a leading proponent of the theory of punctuated equilibrium. This theory holds that few evolutionary changes occur among organisms over long periods of time, and then a brief period of rapid changes occurs before another long, stable period of equilibrium sets in. Gould also made significant contributions to the field of evolutionary developmental biology, most notably in his work, Ontogeny and Phylogeny. An outspoken advocate of the scientific outlook, Gould had been a vigorous defender of evolution against its creation-science opponents in popular magazines focusing on science. He wrote a column for Natural History and has produced a remarkable series of books that display the excitement of science for the layperson. Among his many awards and honors, Gould won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His titles include; Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. Stephen Jay Gould died on May 20, 2002, following his second bout with cancer.

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