Why I don’t care about geology

A reader request:

I also recently heard you mention on the Clearer Thinking Podcast that Geology is a field you are not as naturally curious about…would love a blog post on fields that you less interested in with a short reflection on why.

First, keep in mind what it means when I say I am not very curious about geology.  I am for instance quite interested in the origins of geology, how they relate to the Enlightenment, why some of those origins were in Scotland, and how geology developed as a profession throughout the early part of the 19th century with the formation of geological societies for the first time.  I’ve read James Hutton and Charles Lyell (a splendid book to teach reasoning from, among its other virtues), and have a sense of the import of Georges Cuvier for the development of geological science.  And of course geological data had a big influence on Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Darwin at first thought he might be making contributions to geology (in a way he was right).

I know that John Playfair (1748-1819) was a founding father of geology.  He was trained as a minister and worked as a philosophy instructor and later in mathematics.  He became friends with Adam Smith and Joseph Black (an important figure in Linnaean botany) and he tutored Adam Ferguson, a leading light in the Scottish Enlightenment.  His younger brother, William Playfair, wrote on political economy, though his work is no longer widely read, not even by history of thought specialists.

In terms of travel, I have been interested in seeing the different layers of geological strata in France and in China especially, Sicily too, and of course in the Western United States.  Iceland!  I was keen to visit Rotorua in New Zealand.  I worry about super-volcanoes, and have read a book about them.  How about the role of the Massif Central in French history?  Fascinating.

Still I am not interested in geology per se.  I cannot “think like a geologist,” whatever that might mean.  I am interested in the facts of geology when they intersect with other things I am interested in, such as the Enlightenment or travel, or how geological disasters have shaped human societies.  I am interested in economic geology and petroleum geology, and would be interested in any generated knowledge about how “exo-geology” (moons of Saturn!) might relate to the existence of life beyond Earth.  I would like to know more about rare earths and why there is so much lithium in the Bolivian desert.  I am interested in geology as a source of knowledge and data about climate change.

Still, I know very little about what is inside the crust of the Earth, and am comfortable with that.  I couldn’t tell you much about sediments, or thermochronologic studies.  I feel if I learned the models of geology, or how geologists use micro-computed tomography, it would not overlap much with my other interests.  I could be wrong about that, but currently am short on time for figuring out and correcting such possible errors.

So no, I am not all that interested in geology, but it doesn’t hold such a special status either!  I am not interested in most things.  Geology may well come in above average.

One lesson of this post is that it is possible to be interested in things one is not interested in, and vice versa.


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