Thursday, October 23, 2008


Last week I submitted a cartoon caption to a contest over at Nova Geoblog (which I also mentioned yesterday). Today I received my "Geology Rocks" Sticker from Mr. Bentley. Unlike a lot of cartoonish versions of this classic line, this one is starkly elegant, and I'm really liking it. I have it on the outside shell of my laptop, so I won't see it as often as visitors to my favorite coffee shop, but I also won't get tired of seeing it over and over. Thanks Callan! I had also received an Obama Sticker from MoveOn.Org (and now receive several e-mails a day from said group begging for time, money, whatever), and since I now have a designated space for sticking stickers, I stuck that on my computer too. Since I don't have a car, I can't stick a flag decal on my windowshield.

The idea of "elegance" is really important in science, but it's not easy to describe. The idea of Occam's razor- that the simplest explanation that fully addresses a question is the best explanation (I have also heard this idea referred to as the principle of parsimony)- starts to get at it, but only starts. Elegance as a scientific concept includes with simplicity an unexpected power. That is, the idea is clearly simple, but it's only with extended use and examination that the student begins to learn just how far this simple idea extends- how many problems one can approach with this idea.

I have mentioned Bowen's reaction series several times recently- another great idea for a post (makes a mental note)- and that simple chart is one of my favorite examples of elegance in geology. The framework of plate tectonics is another- you can lay it out in just a few simple statements, but the implications and logical consequences of those statements are profound. We were only starting to unravel what we jokingly referred to as "flake tectonics" when I was an undergrad but the ideas seem inevitable from the basic outlines. (the link above is simply a citation to a paper written by the guy I had structural geo and stress and deformation from; the idea is that little pieces of plate can become detached from -or form independently from- the major plates and end up in odd locations, with odd geological histories; see also terrane)

So when I use the word "elegant," it's about as high praise as I can come up with.


Callan Bentley said...

Glad you approve -- I designed it myself! CB

Silver Fox said...

A nice win with great captions!