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Thumbnail of Chester R. Longwell (source)
Chester R. Longwell
(15 Oct 1887 - 15 Dec 1975)

American geologist , a professor at Yale, who was an authority on the geology of southern Nevada.


Chester R. Longwell - Device of … Frustration

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 600 px)

“If the fit between South America and Africa is not genetic, surely it is a device of Satan for our frustration.”
— Chester R. Longwell
Symposium paper, ''My Estimate of the Continental Drift Concept' (1958)

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The Context of Chester Longwell's “Device of … Frustration” Quote

Chester Longwell read a paper at a Symposium held at the University of Tasmania, that was published in 1958. The subject of the role of paleomagnetism as evidence of continental drift was a current issue for geologists at that time. The classical evidence, as Longwell acknowledged, began with:

“The most elementary example of physical evidence is of course the ‘fit’ between eastern South America and western Africa, presumably the very germ of the drift concept.”

Longwell noted that H.B. Baker had questioned in 1914 that the fit was “too accurate to have persisted since the Mesozoic era.”

However, the geologists were faced with newer evidence in the form of studies of the residual magnetization in rocks, which preserved information on the orientation of the earth's magnetic field as it existed in the past. Measurements for rocks in Europe and North America indicated the rocks were formed in far different locations than their present positions. That suggested Europe and North America have drifted away from each other over millions of years. Longwell, though, had a preference to interpret the paleomagnetic results in terms of polar wandering alone. The evidence could also show the location of the geomagnetic poles had changed while the continents remained in place. Yet after presenting that criticism in favour of that proposition, Longwell was still prepared to be open-minded:

“These critical comments may suggest that I am an incurable sceptic toward continental drift. I admit to scepticism which, it seems to me, is the soul of scientific inquiry; but I have no unfriendly feeling for the concept of drifting continents—on the contrary I find it attractive and in several respects credible.

The Atlantic basin looks like a gigantic rift; if the fit between South America and Africa is not genetic, surely it is a device of Satan for our frustration; the east and west coasts of Africa are strangely bare—we may say raw—in comparison with continental margins generally; pairing of some structural trends on opposite sides of the ocean is at least suggestive of former continuity. In spite of this appeal, I remain incredulous… But developments may change this point of view.

What was lacking at that time was a satisfactory explanation of the mechanism for the movement to be accomplished in continental drift. Indeed, developments did come that provided the understanding. By our present time, the theory of the movement of tectonic plates is so well accepted it appears in the science curriculum for K12 education. As one college instructor expresses it, “Today, you might be laughed out of a geology course for questioning whether continents move through geologic time.”

See also:
  • Science Quotes by Chester R. Longwell.
  • 15 Oct - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Longwell's birth.
  • Chester R. Longwell - context of quote “Device of … Frustration” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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