Trying to gain knowledge about the movements of the earth is a daring and time-consuming enterprise, and also a much-needed one: earthquakes and other recurring events claim too many lives. Since the theory of drifting continents, proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912, became widely popularized in the 1960s, the mainstream geological world has created a powerful maelstrom of agreement from which hardly an opposing view can emerge. While the theory has not fully lived up to being a "new global tectonics," as the Encyclopaedia Britannica put it,
it has nevertheless exerted enormous influence by clarifying areas of obscurity, reconciling seemingly conflicting evidence, unifying to a remarkable degree events occurring in distant parts of the globe, establishing new pathways toward knowledge, and opening the door to new subjects of investigation, all the while raising a myriad of new and important issues.
Wegener's theory holds that the world originally contained one supercontinent, Pangaea, that broke into two major landmasses: Laurasia and Gondwanaland. Over millions of years these continents fragmented and drifted away from each other. Traditionally, continents were thought to rise and sink, but plate tectonics goes much further. It proposes a lithosphere, or rigid outer shell formed of the crust and upper mantle, which is divided into a small number of plates that float on and travel independently over the more fluid portion of the earth's mantle. These plates form the continents and ocean floors. Much of the earth's seismic activity and volcanism, along with mountain-building processes and submergence, occur at the boundaries of these plates.
One reason for the theory's intuitive appeal is that maps of the world look something like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. For instance, South America seems to fit beautifully into the southwest corner of Africa. But as with so many "obvious" appearances, problems are easily overlooked when actually trying to fit the two continents together, as David Pratt points out in "Plate Tectonics: A Paradigm Under Threat":
Many reconstructions have been attempted . . . but none are entirely acceptable.
In the Bullard, Everett, and Smith computer-generated fit, for example, there are a number of glaring omissions. The whole of Central America and much of southern Mexico are left out, despite the fact that extensive areas of Paleozoic and Precambrian continental rocks occur there. — Journal of Scientific Exploration (4:3), p. 313
Other difficulties with these reconstructions include the ways in which the geologic strata of some of the continents come together at odd angles instead of blending together seamlessly.
Though it is the dominant view today, not all scientists subscribe to plate tectonics. An increasing number of geologists who are looking for a crack in this rigid crust of thinking discuss their findings in forums such as the newsletter New Concepts in Global Tectonics. Here geologist Shantanu Keshav of the Department of Earth Sciences, Bombay, India, asserts that "Plate Tectonics has definitely paralyzed our thinking" and that proponents "have little factual data to support their observations and the resulting interpretations are thus misleading."
Present day versions of plate tectonics incorporate many physically impossible processes such as sediment subduction (though initially it was said that sediments being lighter resist subduction), detachment of the continental lithosphere and the resulting delamination (all this jargon has been invoked to explain the various geophysical and geochemical anomalies observed which are not readily explainable in the plate tectonics model). — Issue 3, June 1997
He points out, for example, that not all mountain ranges conform to the current model. Of the Tibetan plateau he writes: "Plate tectonics see it as a doubly-thickened crust due to the collision but geophysical studies have shown that Tibet lacks any evidence of such a thickening and it is a single monolithic slab." He also argues that the Kunlun mountains to the north of the Tibetan plateau are too far removed from the supposed site of subduction of the Indian plate to make their presence plausible.
Geological science is largely based on instrument readings, such as seismograms, while satellites play an increasing role in measuring movements and dimensions of the earth's surface. Scientists observe and study earth tremors in terms of the same natural laws that govern the spreading of ripples on the surface of a pond. Because vibrations travel at higher speed through solids than through liquids or gases, scientists can deduce how the inside of our globe might look. But just as we cannot travel to the limits of the universe, so it seems impossible for a living being to reach the core of our earth. Up to the present no one has been able to drill to a greater depth than about 10 km, which compared with the 6,300 km radius of the earth is less than puncturing the peel of a potato.
The generally accepted cause of earthquakes is the release of tension built up between floating continental plates. These large plates are propelled by convection or differences in temperature, warmer plates rising toward the surface while cooler ones dive toward the earth's interior. The process is further influenced by a spreading apart of the continents.
Plate margins and earthquake frequency according to plate tectonics.
This is a strictly mechanical explanation for the occurrence of geological upheavals but, according to theosophical philosophy, there is far more to it:
it is absolutely false, and but an additional demonstration of the great conceit of our age, to assert (as men of science do) that all the great geological changes and terrible convulsions have been produced by ordinary and known physical forces. For these forces were but the tools and final means for the accomplishment of certain purposes, acting periodically, and apparently mechanically, through an inward impulse mixed up with, but beyond their material nature. There is a purpose in every important act of Nature, whose acts are all cyclic and periodical. But spiritual Forces having been usually confused with the purely physical, the former are denied by, and therefore, have to remain unknown to Science, because left unexamined. . . . There is a predestination in the geological life of our globe, as in the history, past and future, of races and nations. This is closely connected with what we call Karma . . . — H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine 1:640-1
For many people in scientific fields karma is an exotic cry from the East. But what could be a more plausible cause of geological activity than karma in connection with the earth as a living, ensouled organism? Blavatsky maintains that large cataclysmic changes are the result both of eccentricity of the earth's orbit and the shifting and inversion of the earth's axis. This motion has had a profound effect on climate as well as on the distribution of landmasses. Another factor, the decrease in the velocity of the earth's rotation, is said by an ancient Commentary to have caused the great deluges of the past:
"When the Wheel runs at the usual rate, its extremities (the poles) agree with its middle circle (equator), when it runs slower and tilts in every direction, there is a great disturbance on the face of the Earth. The waters flow toward the two ends, and new lands arise in the middle belt (equatorial lands), while those at the ends are subject to pralayas by submersion."
And again: —
"Thus the wheel (the Earth) is subject to, and regulated by, the Spirit of the Moon, for the breath of its waters (tides). Toward the close of the age (Kalpa) of a great (root) race, the regents of the moon . . . begin drawing harder, and thus flatten the wheel about its belt, when it goes down in some places and swells in others, and the swelling running toward the extremities (poles) new lands will arise and old ones be sucked in." — Ibid. 2:324-5
G. de Purucker states that the rotation of our planet is caused by the entry of energies at its north pole: "for electricity, and magnetism perhaps especially, pursue a circuitous or serpentine path, somewhat like that of a spiral, and the entity through which it flows follows the circular impulse given to it and therefore whirls or rotates" (Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 307). That the rotation of the earth is influenced by solar activity is demonstrated by the Danjon effect, discovered in 1959: sudden differences in the earth's rotational period which coincide with exceptionally intense solar activity, such as coronal mass ejections.
The question also arises about the roles planetary and stellar alignments play in geological and human changes. They may hold the key to why the ancients were so keen on erecting large and precise monuments that seem to have a close relationship to the stars, like the pyramids in Central America and in Egypt, and the monuments of Angkor Thom in Thailand (cf. Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia, Heaven's Mirror, Quest for the Lost Civilization, p. 189). Blavatsky remarks that
we are assured by Archaic Scientists that all such geological cataclysms — from the upheaval of oceans, deluges, and shifting of continents, down to the present year's cyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, and even the extraordinary weather and seeming shifting of seasons . . . are due to, and depend on the moon and planets; aye, that even modest and neglected constellations have the greatest influence on the meteorological and cosmical changes, over, and within our earth, . . . — The Secret Doctrine 2:699
Humanity, too, may play a role in geological phenomena. Agitation, atrocities, or any disharmony on a large scale could lead to a dispersal of astral and psychospiritual forces that nourish life. Just as cutting trees destroys the ecosystem of that forest and its soil is carried away by the rain, so human acts against nature on psychological and spiritual as well as physical levels may have serious repercussions geologically. Moreover, cataclysmic changes are said to be closely linked with human evolutionary development, even causing the bulk of humanity to perish at crucial cyclic periods.
We find many ancient texts expounding large cycles of time. The ancient Greeks had their recurring ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. The Mahabharata speaks of the four Hindu yugas, which are parts of still larger cycles, in a subjective way as divine beings. The yugas degenerate gradually from a long golden age of purity to the much shorter age of kali, of ignorance and passions, before beginning a new cycle of four yugas. If we accept that planet earth is a living being, with its own inner life, as theosophy asserts, its life-energies influence the living creatures it hosts, just as we in turn influence the earth. With the change of great terrestrial cycles, the earth goes through many upheavals and tremendous cataclysms. The larger the cycles, the more impressive the changes or upheavals. Hindu literature tells us that the kali yuga, which we entered 5,000 years ago, takes some 430,000 odd years to complete; then, after cataclysmic events, a new golden age will begin. Apart from minor cycles that are at play in this gloomy age, we can rest assured that mankind still has plenty of time to unlock the mysteries of the outer and inner life of the earth!
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)
A profound thought is in a constant process of becoming. — Albert Camus