2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:25 AM


PARCELL, William C., Department of Geology, Wichita State University, 1845 Fairmount Ave., Box 27, Wichita, KS 67260-0027, william.parcell@wichita.edu

The historical development of geologic thought is intrinsically viewed through the lens of our modern understanding of the Earth System and our current notions of how the discipline fits within a modern definition of “science.”

The communications theory of semiotics provides a framework to examine the development of geologic thought while retaining an appreciation for historical context. Semiotics investigates how an observer recognizes signs (or clues) pointing towards a hypothesis and how the observer explains their presence and relationships. The key to the semiotics approach is its use of objects, signs, and interpretants. Objects are things identified by understood common, shared characterizations or classifications. Signs are the meanings of an object within a particular context based on education, prior experience, conceptual model, hypothesis, or theory. Interpretants are the implications of sign, including how knowledge of the object expands understanding.

Through semiotics, by considering the meaning of the concept “Earth” in ancient times, we can adjust our understanding of the thought processes that led early scientists to explain and interpret natural symbols. For example, when examining the ancient Greek and Roman world, one must adjust the modern meaning of the word “Earth” to the context of the ancients. In addition to a geocentric universe, Aristotle's four elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire were jointly physical and metaphysical concepts. Earth described interrelated processes such as mineral formation, earthquakes, volcanoes, and some weather patterns. Through the framework of semiotics, an earthquake (the object) might be understood as a collapsing subterranean caves (sign) attributed to a higher order, or astrological events, in the cosmos (interpretant).