How Geology Miscast Its Most Important People

Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time. Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1987. 219 pp. $17.50. Spring comes and spring goes, and comes once again—"Time's Cycle." Each spring is unique, and so is marked—"Time's Arrow." Our experience with time is of cycles and of arrows, yet they interweave and confuse. Neither is right, neither is wrong. We accept them, and we overlook them. Geological time, its enormousness and h

Jere Lipps
May 3, 1987
Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time. Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1987. 219 pp. $17.50.


Spring comes and spring goes, and comes once again—"Time's Cycle." Each spring is unique, and so is marked—"Time's Arrow." Our experience with time is of cycles and of arrows, yet they interweave and confuse. Neither is right, neither is wrong. We accept them, and we overlook them.

Geological time, its enormousness and humankind's place in it, is the great intellectual contribution of geology. In his latest book, Stephen Jay Gould shows us how its discovery embraced both time's cycle and time's arrow, and how, because these metaphors went unrecognized, we misinterpret geologic time's discoverers. We have cheered and booed the wrong peopie and made "cardboard history."

Gould selected only three main historical works for scrutiny: Thomas Burnet's Sacred Theory of the Earth (1680-1690), James...