Global Wrench Tectonics – PREFACE

Global Wrench Tectonics – PREFACE

– Time’s glory is to calm contending kings
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light

William Shakespeare, in: The Rape of Lucrece

A Window on the World

Scientists often see their intellectual endeavours as a very special kind of human activity, completely logical, utterly rational and without dogma. In accord with this popular view, scientific claims and statements are generally said to be verified by the available facts. One might think that this picture of science is so obvious that it does not need to be mentioned, but, unfortunately, the reality is not that simple. Dogma has played a major role throughout the history of thought during the course of which many well-established scientific ‘truths’ have eventually ended up on the scrap heap of failed ideas. As history has a tendency to repeat itself, it is pertinent to ask whether today’s most popular scientific assertions are indeed as firmly attested as is commonly believed. It is important to remember that scientists are also human beings, sharing the norms emerging from social interaction, being tied to each other psychologically like the members of any social club. Scientists will therefore always be exposed to peer pressure to conform to the current beliefs of their own disciplinary community. In fact, in order to be approved by any specific socio-scientific establishment, a scientist must adhere to its shared values and refrain from asking questions that challenge the basic principles and accepted theses of the community’s research interests or foci. This built-in pressure of ‘obedience’ greatly limits the intellectual freedom of the individual and represents the most serious impediment to the critical analysis and appraisal of contemporary beliefs, claims and ideas that are necessary for the true progress of science. In other words, it is singularly important to guard against the tyranny of scientific orthodoxy.
For these reasons, each generation of scientists is often more credulous than the enlightened layperson concerning the foundations of accepted knowledge. Due to the rigid and doctrinaire character of current education and, as a consequence of conforming to normal scientific interaction, the average researcher finds great difficulty in confronting the possibility that his or her world-view might be wrong (Kuhn 1962). The virtue of scepticism is generally extolled in principle, but is extremely difficult to exercise in practice. The inclination of human nature, to conceal problems that are potential threats to an individual’s network of beliefs, naturally creates a mental block militating against fundamental thinking. To maintain the proprieties in the world of science, evidence is inevitably viewed within the context of the currently-accepted dialectical paradigm and, only too often, any alternative interpretations of observations are just given a cursory treatment, if recognized at all.

In addition to the scientific obstacles erected as a consequence of uncritical adherence to a ruling thesis, an incorrect theory results in a design of inappropriate or irrelevant experiments and the muddled interpretation of observational data that are useless in the real search for truth. In other words, an erroneous theory not only provides a faulty research environment (cf. figure A), but its defective precepts also contribute continuously to an ever larger archive of flawed interpretations and obscure phenomenological relationships mixed up with unsullied observations. The outcome is a combination of information stress and embarrassment.

Figure A. Guided by a faulty theory science makes little progress. Despite much hard work the archives are only filled up with a confusing mixture of true facts and theory-infested artefacts.

In many ways, the progressive flow of problems arising from employing a wrongheaded theory is equivalent to that facing an unskilled jigsaw puzzle player who, at an early stage of the lay-out, becomes convinced of the need to modify a jig-saw piece with the inevitable outcome that practically all remaining pieces also require modification. As the number of alterations multiplies, the player becomes increasingly confused and, despite all the thoughtful alterations made, the picture becomes more and more divorced from reality. Eventually he or she loses interest and becomes easily distracted without having recognized that it actually was the faulty procedure, and not a defective jig-saw puzzle, that had led him/her astray. By the time an erroneous scientific construct reaches that stage, an endless number of ad hoc interpretations will have been adopted in attempts to accomodate the data that are in conflict with the predictions of the flawed ‘theory’. Intellectually, the discipline is now on the verge of a complete collapse, as it awaits the introduction of a theoretical framework that can cope both satisfactorily and scientifically with the observational data.

To a large extent, the raft of special pleading and ad hoc fixes characterising contemporary solid Earth sciences dates back to the late 1950s when geophysicists needed relative continental motions to account for between-continent palaeomagnetic discrepancies. The notion of lateral continental drift (Wegener 1912, 1915, 1924, 1929), the only mobilistic crustal model available in the 1950s, was ready at hand and, against all odds, this long-held anarchic idea was soon heralded as a major breakthrough for understanding the structural evolution of the Earth’s crust. In fact, after the continental drift hypothesis eventually gained popularity, its inherent problems were disregarded, an error of judgement that, within a decade, had shunted the Earth sciences into a series of misconceptions (see, for example, Storetvedt 1997). During the 1960s, the continental drift hypothesis was modified with respect to the presumed driving mechanisms, being ‘resurrected’ in 1968-69 under the guise of Plate Tectonics. By then the basic frame of the new global scheme had been frozen, and as the only legitimate game in town it soon became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today, students are indoctrinated into the plate tectonics paradigm and, being without exposure to any alternative theory, spend their subsequent research careers tweaking sub-hypotheses of that doctrine.

It has been to the detriment of the Earth sciences that plate tectonics triumphed before the necessary critical tests had been performed and, for various reasons (not necessarily connected with the endeavour to explain all the perceived facts) soon became so seductive that, in practice, it has remained immune to demolition by even the strongest criticisms. It is important to remember that it was initially the purported simplicity of plate tectonics, and the model’s promised capacity to unify the Earth sciences, that persuaded geoscientists of its validity. In striking contrast to these expectations, it has emerged that ad hoc interpretations have had to be introduced (to account for the variation of the observed data from the predictions of the theory) and have flourished to such an extent “that we are rapidly returning to the pre-revolutionary days when each corner of the Earth had its own history, only loosely tied to others by general principles” (van Andel 1985). In the same vein, Wezel (1990) concluded that “…a radical change of approach is necessary in order to overcome the fragmentation that is characteristic of geology today”. In recent years, the number of books and papers exposing the inadequacy of plate tectonics have accelerated (see, for example, Wezel 1986, 1992; Carey 1988; Beloussov 1990; Barto-Kyriakidis 1990; Chatterjee & Hotton 1992; Meyerhoff et al. 1992, 1996; Hunt 1992; Larin 1993; Storetvedt 1997; Chudinov 1998; Hoshino 1998; Ollier & Pain 2000; Pratt 2000). These publications cover a wide range of aspects on which the plate tectonic model has either stumbled or not been able to handle at all.

In contradistinction to the defective hypothesis, the characteristic features of a true scientific theory is its capacity to establish ready connections between known phenomena and, of equal importance, ability to reveal facets of nature not previously known or understood. Accordingly, a truly successful theory in science is one that:

    • readily encompasses all the existing hard facts
    • unifies previously unrelated sets of data and/or concepts
  • has the capacity of being verified by experimental observation
  • has the power to predict new phenomena

From these criteria, it follows that any satisfactory theory of the Earth’s evolution should account for all its major characteristics (dynamic, tectonic, palaeoclimatic, space geodetic, biogeographic, etc.) in terms of a coherent system. However, it is only on rare occasions in science that a multitude of diverse observations have been synthesized successfully in this way with theories that enable us to understand natural phenomena in their various manifestations.

The starting position in every case of theory-building is some basic postulate, normally related to processes hidden from direct observation, that is so precisely defined that it can generate specific predictions. For a theory of the Earth, such prognoses must be in ready compliance with existing facts, initially and principally as revealed by surface observations. Only when we are able to pursue a lengthy prediction-confirmation chain, embracing an ever more diversified range of natural phenomena, can we be reasonably confident that we are on the right track towards erecting a substantive theory with the necessary predictive power. Figure B may serve as a useful metaphor of the functioning of a true scientific theory. Our basic precepts lie hidden in the root system of the theoretical tree, where the processes responsible for the surface phenomena are operating, from which a stem grows up and splits into an ever more diversified system of outward-spreading and progressively finer branches (natural phenomena determined by physical processes). In this way, an extensive range of phenomenological interconnections, building up a sequential order of facts, is established.

Like the phenomenological complexity of nature, some parts of the tree are very closely connected, while others have more distant relationships.Nevertheless, our theoretical tree puts nature into a conceptually coherent order, forming a simple and natural chain interlinking its component parts. This is just what a successful theory is supposed to do: to create unity from observational complexity. But this is exactly what has never been successfully achieved for geology since the dawn of investigations of the Earth. An enormous quantity of accurate observations and data on well-established phenomena have been accumulated, but in the absence of an adequate encompassing theory the entire body of diverse facts largely constitutes a chaotic mass.

Pathway to a new Perception

As a young palaeomagnetist in the early 1960s, with the commonplace narrow scientific platform and only fragmentary knowledge of global geology, I was easily dragged towards the modern mobilistic trend in geophysics. As a member of a rapidly growing crowd of ‘drifters’, I believed for some years that I had found my safe intellectual haven. But from 1969 onwards, over a period of 20 years, I became increasingly aware of the alarming number of paradoxes and logical inconsistencies facing the celebrated ‘new global tectonics’.

Figure B. A true and diversified scientific theory resembles the structure of a tree in that a coherent connection between its component parts can be readily established.


In common with practically all palaeomagnetists, I always shared the view that the overall pattern of global palaeomagnetic data favoured relative continental motions, but the question soon arose as to what kind of mobile system actually has been and, apparently, still is at play. Could it be that the Earth science community, by unquestioning acceptance of Wegenerian drift, had been trapped into a blind alley? In fact, in sharp contrast to the general dogmatic assertions of the ‘enormous success’ of plate tectonics, I realized, little by little, that it was virtually impossible to find fellow scientists who had a realistic overall grip on the state-of-the-art. Gradually I became more and more surprised at and dejected by the distortions and prejudiced attitudes surrounding plate tectonic depictions. Was the drift/plate model just another theoretical house of cards propped up by an unsustainable dogma in the face of the progressively stronger winds of counter-evidence? Obviously, without an adequate theory, there can be no true understanding of natural phenomena and observations.

By the mid 1980s, I had become reasonably certain that there was something fundamentally wrong with plate tectonics, yet for obvious psychological reasons (not least the need to conform in the light of peer pressure), I tried to find escape routes that would obviate the need to give up on the theory altogether. It took considerable intellectual courage to admit my mistakes and prejudices, the drift/plate concept having been my intellectual companion and prominent guide for 25 years. Nevertheless, in spring of 1989, while I was on sabbatical leave in the Physics Department at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, my geophysical world view changed rapidly and unexpectedly, shaking my scientific identity to its roots. The first version of my new theory, Global Wrench Tectonics, a radical recasting of the association of many well-known phenomena and observations, discarding all plate tectonic principles, had suddenly been born. It was the shock of my life! However, I soon realized that my scientific transition had given me an unusual intellectual freedom – I had been released from the unpleasant grip of obedience to a dogmatic authority.

The new theory was not a mere expansion of awareness, it was rather the ultimate product of a two-decade long internal battle for understanding. For years, there had been a gradual maturation of non-traditional scientific ideas in my mind, triggered by a growing dissatisfaction with the prevalence of the artificial boundaries set by plate tectonics. Nevertheless, I had been frightened to open up my mind to the hidden scientific realities, and this had effectively held back the creative process. Anxiety is understandably a product of the shaking of the self-to-world relationship. Besides, I knew only too well that due to my dismissal of plate tectonics and my ‘impudence’ in proposing an alternative, I might be regarded automatically as a renegade by my scientific colleagues, with all its consequences for my future academic life. The situation was therefore extremely stressful, and it is safe to say that at the peak of my cognitive transition, at Newcastle in spring 1989, my established sense of identity was threatened: indeed, I had a strong feeling that, in some ways, I was no longer the person I had been before. In spite of my delight in having been able to establish a new theory to replace plate tectonics, discarding the theoretical platform with which I had grown up as a scientist left me with a feeling of rootlessness and disorientation. This sense of ‘homelessness’ was, however, of fairly short duration. Only a couple of months later, I was busy in Europe and North America lecturing on the new global framework. I had begun an enduring fight for my new geological world view.

It is commonplace in science that the ruling theory of any epoch has a strongly conservative influence. Thus, scientists may disagree strenuously on details and on ad hoc solutions within their speciality, but rarely on the basic tenets of their field of study. Consequently, the novelty of fundamental thought has been met traditionally with disdain and by attempts to suppress even the basic consideration of new ideas in case they disturb the status quo; such are the psychological mechanisms invoked to reassure those who rely on the maintenance of the status quo. In line with these well-known principles of human behaviour, vociferous opposition to my new theory was frequently heard at first, but, by the time my book Our Evolving Planet came out in 1997, the most voluble disapproval had diminished considerably. As I experienced it, the debate now took a much more scientific course, and instead of receiving harsh criticism and denunciation, occasional book reviews and other qualified comments were surprisingly sympathetic. It was as if many fellow scientists actually had been dissatisfied with plate tectonics as the state of the art understanding of the mobile Earth and had been waiting for something to happen. In fact, a few colleagues openly admitted that plate tectonics had not been able to account satisfactorily for even the most pressing problems in geology. For these reasons, a number of colleagues agreed that the time was ripe to consider a completely new theory. Some senior colleagues, who had taken plate tectonics for granted when they were young and had then become becalmed in its tenaceous grip, even confessed that they were kind of grief-stricken by the possibility of having backed the wrong horse.

Despite the overall positive response that Our Evolving Planet received publicly, I soon realized the need for a second volume giving a more comprehensive documentation in support of the new theory. To a large extent, my first book had comprised a comprehensive review of the current view of the Earth, having set out to demonstrate that, under the reign of plate tectonics, the whole range of classical facts had effectively remained unintegrated. On the other hand, the new theory was obviously in need of a clearer and broader presentation. Colleagues who held that view made specific recommendations for the composition and layout of a second volume. These comments and requests from fellow scientists can be summarised as follows:

    • The primary goal of the new volume should be to present a simple but comprehensive outline of the theory of Global Wrench Tectonics. With regard to palaeomagnetic data and their global synthesis, which constituted the basis of the new mobilistic system, it would suffice to refer to previous texts (Storetvedt 1990, 1992, 1997).
    • It was stressed that getting the established science community to see the benefits of a new overarching theory would be a demanding pedagogical challenge. In order to pave the way for such a difficult intellectual transformation, it was suggested that readers should be given a chance to come to grips with the new global framework without necessarily having to read the whole volume. This might partly be accomplished by including a general synopsis of the new theory.
  • Finally, the various chapters of the new book ought to be sufficiently self-contained to give readers an option for selective reading, according to their specific research interests. On the other hand, in order to avoid unnecessary repetition of details, the new book should complement Our Evolving Planet.

In structuring the book, I have tried to follow these recommendations. Though the new theory is my own invention, most of its building blocks are based on the work of numerous other scientists, past and present. As a matter of fact, many of the specific predictions that emerged during development of the new theory were subsequently found to be in accord with suggestions of earlier workers, often invoked for entirely different reasons. Thus, during a study visit to the Geological Institute in Innsbruck in May 2000, I discovered to my surprise that the link between Earth’s rotation and global tectonics, a critical element in my Global Wrench Tectonics, had been discussed a century ago by the Austrian geologist P. Damian Kreichgauer. In his book Die Äquatorfrage in der Geologie (Kreichgauer 1902), I found that, although he had approached the matter from a completely different perspective, he had proposed dynamo-tectonic ideas closely similar to some of my own. Kreichgauer compared the orientation of tectonomagmatic belts with time-equivalent equators based on rock evidence of palaeoclimate. My own starting point was a combination of palaeomagnetically-estimated continental palaeolatitudes and kinematics, polar wandering based on combined fossil climate evidence and palaeomagnetism, and the global pattern of tectonomagmatic belts.

The interior of the Earth must provide the energy source for its dynamics and for surface physiographic and geological change. In view of the apparent heterogeneous deep interior inferred from mantle tomography, the presence of diamonds in chaotic mantle rock assemblages explosively emplaced into surface levels, the continuous flow of unoxidized hydrocarbons through the crystalline crust, and the increase in rock porosity with depth (see chapter 4) provide strong evidence for a relatively cold interior undergoing degassing. In other words, we are dealing with an Earth the internal constitution of which seems far from a state of chemical equilibrium. In consequence, at the high pressure of the relatively cool deep interior, energy is likely to be stored in compressed multi-metal minerals such as carbides, silicides and hydrides. However, due to the Earth’s metastable status, buoyant mass transfer and energy release are likely to occur in the its outer regions (cf. chapter 4). Carbon-silicon-iron hydrides, in rising up through the mantle and lower crust, react with water and oxygen, thereby producing heat – a necessary prerequisite for melt production and magmatic activity. Degassing would provide an effective way for outward element transport giving rise to a redistribution of the internal mass thereby affecting the planet’s moment of inertia and providing the impetus for the diversity of surface geological expressions.

It is the predictions as to the specific geodynamic, tectonomagmatic, physiographic and other processes, arising from progressive energy and vertical mass transfer from the Earth’s deep interior, that form the basis of the new global theory. As it has turned out, the flow of various predictions following on from the new basic precepts (outlined in chapters 4 and 5) has shown ready compliance with factual observations. Such consistency may be a promising sign that the new theory is both internally consistent and sufficiently diversified to serve as a future ‘first order’ framework for studies of the Earth. In order to place the new theory in its proper geoscientific perspective, chapters 1 and 2 give an historical account of former attempts at phenomenological links in global geology. As is true of many scientific issues, unless one is familiar with the true historical progression of a specific research theme, one cannot appreciate its present position in the stream of events, nor predict its future course. The engine driving global processes is expected to be found in the Earth’s interior where, however, both chemical composition and physical state have remained issues of continuous speculation to this day.

Though the new theory is not specifically pre-conditioned by the multitude of unresolved problems relating to the Earth’s interior, such aspects are nevertheless of considerable interest in as much as that internal processes can be assumed to provide the essential driving forces for both physiographic and surface geological phenomena. For that reason, chapter 3 gives a snapshot of important questions relating to the body of the Earth: its origin, constitution and suggested energy transfer systems. Several lines of evidence point to planetary degassing, and associated redistribution of interior mass, the essential prerequisite for global change, while chapter 4 considers how the progressive build-up of hydrostatic pressure in the Earth’s uppermost mantle may account for the variable transformation of the crust – from the bottom upwards. Applying outgassing as the axiomatic foundation of the Earth’s evolution as well as the development of its crust, chapter 5 presents the ‘first-order’ prediction-confirmation chain that constitutes the theory of Global Wrench Tectonics. Finally, chapters 6 and 7 expand on the theory’s explanatory capability, giving a more detailed treatment of some important thematic and regional aspects on which the plate tectonic model has stumbled.

During development of the new theory, it has been a pleasure to note how easily the well-established multiplicity of phenomena have fitted into the theory’s prediction-confirmation chain. This means that, in the new geological framework, there has been no need to invoke ad hoc modifications due to misfits between predictions of the theory and factual observations, a typical feature of faulty theories. For any theory-builder, this is undoubtedly a highly satisfactory situation, giving strong indications of the theory’s adequacy and explanatory power. However, any attempt to decanonize the patron saints of the plate tectonics establishment is undoubtedly going to be a slow and demanding task, pedagogically as well as scientifically, and requires that the case not only be carefully constructed, but also that it cuts to the heart of the matter. Regardless of whether the outcome of this endeavour will be successful or not, it has become excessively clear that, if the geological sciences are to flourish during the 21st century, research activity in the Earth sciences will have to be guided by a brand new theory. We should never forget that the critical and honest interpretation of data, and the willingness to admit error when confronted with persuasive contrary evidence, is the lifeblood of true science.