Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/293

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Reality of Geological Catastrophes.—In a review of the history of the theories of the development of the earth's crust—that of uniformitarianism and that of catastrophes—in his address at the British Association, Prof. Archibald Geikie spoke of a modification or enlargement of the uniformitarian doctrine which has been brought about by continued investigation of the terrestrial crust and consequent increase of knowledge respecting the history of the earth. "Though Hutton and Playfair believed in periodical catastrophes, and indeed required these to recur in order to renew and preserve the habitable condition of our planet, their successors gradually came to view with repugnance any appeal to abnormal, and especially to violent, manifestations of terrestrial vigor, and even persuaded themselves that such slow and comparatively feeble action as had been witnessed by man could alone be recognized in the evidence from which geological history must be compiled. Well do I remember in my own boyhood what a cardinal article of faith this prepossession had become. We were taught by our great and honored master, Lyell, to believe implicitly in gentle and uniform operations, extended over indefinite periods of time, though possibly some, with the zeal of partisans, carried this belief to an extreme which Lyell himself did not approve. The most stupendous marks of terrestrial disturbance, such as the structure of great mountain chains, were deemed to be more satisfactorily accounted for by slow movements prolonged through indefinite ages than by any sudden convulsion. What the more extreme members of the uniformitarian school failed to perceive was the absence of all evidence that terrestrial catastrophes even on a colossal scale might not be a part of the present economy of this globe. Such occurrences might never seriously affect the whole earth at one time, and might return at such wide intervals that no example of them has yet been chronicled by man. But that they have occurred again and again, and even within comparatively recent geological times, hardly admits of serious doubt. How far at different epochs and in various degrees they may have included the operation of cosmical influences lying wholly outside the planet, and how far they have resulted from movements within the body of the planet itself, must remain for further inquiry. Yet the admission that they have played a part in geological history may be freely made without impairing the real value of the Huttonian doctrine, that in the interpretation of this history our main guide must be a knowledge of the existing processes of terrestrial change."

Physiological Action at a Distance.—Discussing the cause of physiological action at a distance, in the British Association, Prof. Errera, of Brussels, said that most vegetable organs were sensitive to the influences of the environment, and responded to these stimuli, as long as they were