History, Erratic Boulders, And Science

Written by Dr Jerry L Krause (Chemistry)

Before historic times there were prehistoric times and before prehistoric times there were erratic boulders.  Based on known history it can be generally considered that the intellectual activity we now commonly call science was begun little more than four centuries ago.  And based upon known history we have to accept that erratic boulders were discovered (recognized) less than two centuries ago.

I grew up on a farm in eastern South Dakota which my father had farmed for about two decades before I was born.  And just south of the barn was a 9 acre field in which he had farmed around several erratic boulders whose weights were greater than my conservative estimate of 10 tons.  My grandfather had bought this 160 acre land, which was not prime farm land, before 1884,

He had come to Dakota territory in 1882 to homestead but the 160 acres of land he homesteaded was prime farm land (level and no boulders, rocks, or stones) only two miles away.  I doubt my father ever knew that the boulders he farmed around were called erratic boulders because I only became aware they were called erratic boulders until after he had died.  For I had never studied the science known as geology and did not know about Louis Agassiz.

Eventually I learned that there was this Swiss naturalist, Louis Agassiz, whose specialty was the study of prehistoric fish fossils.  I read (http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/agassiz.html):

Agassiz took up the study of glaciers in 1836 and was guided by colleagues Ignatz Venetz and Jean de Charpentier to examine the geological features of his native Switzerland. Agassiz noticed the marks that glaciers left on the Earth: great valleys; large glacial erratic boulders carried long distances; scratches and smoothing of rocks; mounds of debris called moraines pushed up by glacial advances. He realized that in many places these signs of glaciation could be seen where no glaciers existed. Previous scientists had variously explained these features as made by icebergs or floods, but following the lead of others, Agassiz became a powerful proponent of the theory that a great Ice Age had once gripped the Earth, and published his ideas in Étude sur les glaciers in 1840. His later book, Système glaciare (1847), presented further evidence for this theory, gathered all over Europe. Agassiz later found even more evidence of glaciation in North America.

There can be no doubt that the farm I grew up on and that I helped my father farm was absolute evidence of the glaciation a bit south of the 45th latitude in North America.

I review this history of discovery because it is so easy to see this evidence of glaciation.  Yet, the scientists (geologists) who study the earth and its surface did not first see it.  This history absolutely confirms that which Galileo, who is generally credited with founding this intellectual activity we call science, is said to have stated (as translated by someone):  All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.  Sometimes, some people like to state that there is (can be) no truth.  The localized glaciation of my father’s farm is unquestionable truth.  Hence, the Ice Age is unquestionable truth.

The focus of this essay is our (humans) demonstrated inability to see the obvious.  That is except for maybe Louis Agassiz, some of his students, and some prehistoric people whom many ‘modern’ people consider to have been primitive and generally unknowing.  We will come back to Louis Agassiz, the teacher, in a bit but first we will review what the prehistoric people who constructed Stonehenge had apparently observed that those who have studied this ancient monument still seem not to have seen.

It is well known that there is this prehistoric monument, Stonehenge, a portion of which is a partial circle of erratic boulders stood on end.  R. J. C. Atkinson was the principal archaeologist given permission to carry out the excavations describe in his book—Stonehenge.  He wrote:

Stonehenge I comprises the Heel Stone, the ditch, the bank and the Aubrey Holes.  About the Aubrey Holes he wrote:  There are fifty-six Aubrey Holes, set in an accurate circle 288 ft. in diameter, … The average distance between them, measured round the circumference, is 16 ft. …  The holes are in the form of roughly circular pits, varying in width from 30 to 70 ins., … .

What Atkinson’s description does not tell is whether the diameter 288 ft. of the circle of roughly circular pits whose widths vary from 30 to 70 ins. is an inside diameter or an outside diameter or a mid-diameter.  Included with his book was a plat of the excavated Stonehenge.  From the scale of the plat and drawing two circles which closely approximated the inside and outside diameters and measuring several distances between centers of the pits, I conclude that 16.4 ft. is closer to the spacing between pit centers than is 16 ft.

Normally, given the actual uncertainty of the measurements, I would round to 16 ft.  But I know that 16.5 ft. is the precise length of the unit known as the English rod, which was the standard unit of length used to survey much of the USA land including my father’s farm.  Hence I consider it a big deal that these prehistoric people likely defined this unit of length.  For it is a historical fact that another unit of length, the foot, was defined, long after Stonehenge was constructed, by the length of a king’s foot.  So, it seemed they could not stretch the length of the king’s foot a bit so that the existing English rod could be 16 feet.

Here, it seems I have to do what I abhor; which is to do rational reasoning.  For the study of the history of ‘science’ reveals that too many wrong fundamental ‘scientific’ ideas became accepted as the result of rational reasoning which can be termed argumentation or debate.  But finally I see I do not have make any rational arguments.  I merely have to ask a simple question and let the reader draw a conclusion.  Why couldn’t the length of the king’s foot have been ‘adjusted’ a tiny bit so that the English rod would be 16 feet?

I have not discovered any author, who asked the question:  Could have the prehistoric people, who began digging the 56 pits, have defined the length of the English rod even before they began digging?  So it seems obvious of why I have not yet read that anyone has proposed that these prehistoric people had defined the length of the English rod before they began digging.  And I have not yet discovered anyone who asked the question:  Why 56 pits?

About the holes Anthony Johnson, Solving Stonehenge, wrote:  Importantly, the Aubrey Holes are the first early accurate manifestation of the circular internal geometry which was later to be reflected in the precision of the major stone construction phase.  They display no ‘alignment’ whatsoever. (pp106)  However, on the facing page was a plat of Stonehenge.  When a right line is drawn through holes 6 and 34 (as conventionally numbered), the line, not perfectly, but with good practical precision defines the cardinal north-south direction.  And when a line is drawn through holes 20 and 48, it can be seen that the two lines segments (whose lengths are about 288ft.) perpendicularly bisect each other.  Thus, defining the center of the circle of pits.  And then one can use a compass, as I did, to draw an outside circle and an inside circle to see how nearly the pits define their circle.

My answer to the question—Why 56 pits?—is:  Usually there are observed 56 semidiurnal tidal oscillations each lunar phase cycle.  Sometimes there are 58.  So, another question is:  Could have these prehistoric people who began digging 56 holes observed tidal oscillations?  My answer:  Within a prehistoric two, or three, day hike, from Stonehenge, to near the end of the Bristol Channel, the range of the spring tide oscillations are observed to be about 40ft.  And in the nearly opposite direction of the same approximate distance there is the English Channel whose spring tide range is an easily observed 8ft or so.

I could make a longer list of natural phenomena that these prehistoric people, who began digging these 56 pits, could have easily seen that it seems so many have not seen today.  But instead I ask the ‘intellectual’ question:  How would you regularly space 56 pits in a near accurate circle?  I will not give my answer for I hope some intelligent reader, or readers, would supply this answer for all to read.

Instead, I will describe how it is that I see (observe) things that others do not seem to have seen.  For this will be my answer to my question:  Given the achievement of his discovery of the glaciation of northern Europe and North American:  How was it that the name—Louis Agassiz—was unfamiliar to me until near the end of my teaching career (and today still seems unfamiliar to a vast majority of people)?

If one Googles the name Louis Agassiz, one can find the answer.  Agassiz, the naturalist who studied prehistoric fish fossils, refused to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution and actively tried to refute it much as the ‘Dragon Slayers’ wrote a book and began PSI to refute the idea of the greenhouse effect of certain atmospheric gases and its result.  However, there is a significant difference between these two cases which seem so similar.  Agassiz was a scientist of unquestionable scientific achievements and none of the Dragon Slayers could claim to have had ‘notable’ scientific achievements.  Agassiz had students of significant achievements of their own who did not immediately turn their backs upon him.  But evidently they succumbed to the pressures of their peers and scientific community.  Agassiz’s name had to be forgotten; for one could not be a scientist and not accept the idea of Darwin’s evolution and there was no doubt that Agassiz was a scientist.

However, some of his successful Harvard students did not totally forget about Agassiz as they later wrote ‘general interest’ articles about his unique methods of instruction.  I cannot claim how it was that Lane Cooper (1881-1959), a professor of the English Language and Literature at Cornell University, became familiar with Agassiz’s methods and wrote a book—Louis Agassiz As A Teacher—which was published in 1917 after Agassiz had died in 1873.  Cooper began his introduction:  When the question was put to Agassiz, ‘What do you regard as your greatest work?’ he replied:  ‘I have taught men to observe.’  And in the preamble to his will he described himself in three words as ‘Louis Agassiz, ‘Teacher.’

At the end of my teaching career I finally learned to observe because I had finally read Cooper’s book.  I find it is available online but if one is too busy to read a book I would strongly suggest: (http://stevensfirstprinciples.com/new/stevensfirstprinciples/louis%20agassiz%20as%20a%20teacher.pdf).  It contains two students’ accounts of Agassiz’s first assignments which I consider best illustrate his unique teaching method.  Study them and you too might learn to observe.


Comments (5)

  • Avatar

    James McGinn


    “At the end of my teaching career I finally learned to observe . . .”

    Jim McGinn:
    Jerry, you and I have something in common. You are as obsessed with observation as I am with the scientific method, an important part of which involves observation.

    So much of what is taken as true or false in the natural sciences has to do with what is easy to understand and convey. Climatology and its most perverse theory of catastrophic global warming is only the most obvious variant on this theme. Misinformation and blatant pseudoscience is thick in all of the natural sciences. PSI can pretend to be holy than thou, but it is thick with a lot of the same pretentious rhetoric, selective observation, and phoney experts as are the rest of the natural sciences. At the root of it all is a brain-dead, artificially simplistic understanding of H2O. And the silence of fools.

    Much of the foolishness in the natural sciences started with Linus Pauling, about 60 or 70 years ago, when he made a conceptual error and the rest of the scientific community blindly followed. I refer to this error as Pauling’s Omission.

    Here is a link to a video that obviates this error and its wider ramification:

    Pauling’s Omission: The Original Sin of the Natural Sciences

    James McGinn / Solving Tornadoes

  • Avatar

    jerry krause


    Hi James,

    I went to your video and immediately saw that it was more than a hour in length. If you cannot tell us in a sentence or two what Pauling omission was, it cannot be simple. Einstein is said to have stated: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand if well enough.” Based upon my own experiences, I agree with Einstein.

    I just tried to confirm that I was not wrong about the length of your video and I could get there this time and I am moderately old so I am an old dog who is not willing to try to learn many new tricks. I have only recently learned to copy images from the internet and paste them in my essays. So, there is now a second reason I have no interest in watching and listening your video. And I can read faster than I can listen. So, this is the third.

    How a good day, Jerry

    • Avatar

      jerry krause


      Hi James,

      And I see I just gave evidence of my age problem or maybe I am to lazy to proofread better. I am sure from content you can figure out what I intended to say but didn’t.,

      Again, have a good day, Jerry

    • Avatar

      James McGinn


      Hmm. Well, in my opinion only a fool would suggest that simplicity is more important that accuracy. Academia has a bias to prefer simple models. I suppose that is because simple models are easier to teach. And many teachers are lazy and not that smart.

      I prefer models that explain what is actually observed.

      So, Jerry, why did you get involved with science it you really aren’t interested in . . . uh, science?

  • Avatar

    James McGinn


    So, you see, Jerry. The greatest deception in the natural sciences does not involve CO2. The misconceptions surrounding CO2 are more recent, more surficial and, therefore, more easily untangled. Also, the motivations of those that deceive us about CO2 are more directly traceable to money coming out of one set of pockets and going into another set of pockets. So, the liberal obsession with pretending CO2 has properties it couldn’t possibly have and the conservative obsession with exposing the intellectual duplicity of the liberal misrepresentation of CO2’s properties is only to scratch the surface of wrong thinking in the natural sciences–the origins of which are (largely) a consequence of Linus Pauling’s Omission and the sheer human frailty associated with spiritualistic idealization of H2O.

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