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Alexandr Leonidovich YANSHIN

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North-East Science Press



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Kirill V. Simakov. Origin, Development, and Perspectives of the Theory of Paleobiospheric Time. Magadan: North-East Science Press, 2001. xii + 342 p. 16 plates. References 335 items.



This book delves into the conceptual history of real paleobiospheric time, focusing on how changes in geological theory and empirical data impacted the perception and application of time in the earth sciences. The author distinguishes five stages in the development of the relative-genetical conception of time, which was first advanced by N. Steno in the middle of the 17th century . The empirical and theoretical basis for the theory of real paleobiospheric time are traced over the past four centuries, and the influences of changes in the general intellectual climate during this period are described. The necessity for developing a new conception of real geological (paleobiospheric) time is demonstrated. The current problems related to the construction of a model and metrics of conceptual paleobiospheric time and its measurement are examined. The author offers virtual notions of real geological (paleobiospheric) time and discusses his interpretations of the writings of the fathers of modern geology from this perspective.

This book is intended for geologists, stratigraphers, paleontologists, biologists, historians, and methodologists. It also will be useful reading for advanced undergraduate and post-graduate students and professors.

Key words: absolute time; geological time; paleobiospheric time; relative time; evolution; the International Stratigraphic Scale; models and metrics of conceptual geological (paleobiospheric) time




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Acknowledgments (xii)


§ 1. General notes (1).


Myths and realities

§ 2. Origin of the substantial and attributive conceptions (3) § 3. Separation of the conception of the absolute, relative, and relative-genetical time (5). § 4. Vernadsky’s revolution in meaning of time (6) § 5. Modern development of the Vernadsky’s theory (7)


Tasks and goals of study

§ 6. Two directions in the development of views on the time in geology; the common sense and paradigms of geology (9). § 7. The purpose of this study (10). § 8. The periodization of the history of notions of real geological time (11).


FIRST STAGE (the middle of the 17th century)

§ 9. General notes (13)


The conception of N. Steno

§ 10. The general logic of Steno's tract (14). § 11. The general hypothesis of Steno (15). § 12. The special hypothesis of Steno (16). § 13. The history of Tuscany (17). § 14. Conclusions (18)

The conception of R. Hooke

§ 15. The initial statements of Hooke's conception (19). § 16. The geological theory (20). § 17. The problems of explanation of the “figured stones” (23). § 18. The biological theory (24). § 19. Conclusions (27)

§ 20. Summary (28)


SECOND STAGE (the end of the 17th - 18th century)

§ 21. General notes (29).

T. Burnet conception

§ 22 A prehistory of the present (30). § 23. J.Woodward about the relationship of the “figured stones” and the Deluge (32). § 24. The planet's future (34). § 25. The conception of time (35)


The conception of G. Buffon

§ 26. Methodology (36). § 27. The Earth's evolution epochs (39). § 28. Conclusions (41)


J. Hutton’s conception

§ 29. General notes (42). § 30. Final causes and the essence of theoretical knowledge (43). § 31. A scientific methodology (44). § 32. The natural history as a consequence of the operation of a specifically designed machine (45). § 33. Substantiation of an infinite abyss of the geological time (48). § 34. Conclusions (51)


The Neptunian conception

§ 35. B. de Maillet as the founder of the Neptunian conception (52). § 36. Initial gathering of empirical data in the process of regional studies (53). § 37. Origination of biostratigraphic method (56). § 38. Origination of conceptions of facies and transgressive-regressive cycles (58). § 39. The basic statements of the Neptunian conception (60). § 40. Geological formations and their classification (61). § 41. The geological history (63). § 42. Conclusions (65).

§ 43. Summary (67).


THIRD STAGE (the first half of the 19th century)

§ 44. General notes (70)


Birth of a biostratigraphy

§ 45. W. Smith — the “Father” of the biostratigraphy and value of the biostratigraphic method (70). § 46. The stratigraphy and the geological history of the Paris basin and England (72). § 47. The laws of the organic world changes - H. Bronn (73)


The Catastrophic conception

§ 48. The structure of the Earth's evolution process (76). § 49. The principle of actualism and the Nature's laws (77). § 50. The principle of long-range actions (78). § 51. The evolution of the life (79). § 52. The conception of time (79)


The Uniformitarian conception

§ 53. The principle and the law of conservation and the reversibility of the laws of development (80). § 54. The principle of continuity and the incompleteness of the geological record (82). § 55. The principle of short-range actions (83). § 56. The principle of additivity and role of time (84). § 57. The conception of time (84)


The Statement of the Problem of Retrosynchronization

§ 58. Different doctrine approaches to the problem (85). § 59. The Illogic Geology of H. Spenser (86).

§ 60. Summary (87)


FOURTH STAGE (the second half of the 19th century)

§ 61. General notes (90)


The Problem of Spatial-Temporal

Differentiation of Sedimentary Deposits

§ 62. The empirical laws of A. Gressly (91). § 63. The “law” of the temporal gliding of facies (92). § 64. The deterministic model (92)


The Selectionist conception

§ 65. The principle of continuity (93). § 66. The principle of short-range actions and the deterministic model of evolution (94). § 67. An uneven and metachronous character of the evolutionary process (96). § 68. The incompleteness of the geological record (96). § 69. The conception of paleobiological time (97).


The Alternative conceptions of the Evolution

§ 70. General notes (98). § 71. The ectogenetical conception (99). § 72. The autogeneticl conception (101). § 73. The conception of creative evolution (105). § 74. The properties of paleobiological time (106)


The Problems of Homotaxis and Retrosynchronization

§ 75. The homotaxis conception of T. Huxley (107). § 76. The pro and contra of the homotaxis (109). § 77.The homotaxis as the basic operational principle of stratigraphy and the problem of criteria for the temporal parallelization (112). § 78. The theory of monotopic origin of species and the Darwin's approach to retrosynchronization (113) § 79. The interpretation of Darwin's approach to retrosynchronization (114)


The Problem of a Dual Classification and Nomenclature of Stratigraphic Subdivisions.

§ 80. The universal-regional classification of E. Renevier (116). § 81. The dual classification of H. Williams (118). § 82. The substantiation of the natural character of regional stratigraphic subdivisions (120). § 83. The importance of the idea of a dual stratigraphic classification for the development of notion of the real paleobiospheric time (122).


The International Stratigraphic and Geochronological Scale

§ 84. The aim of the ISS (124). § 85. The historic-chronological conception of the ISS (125). § 86. The North American version of the evolutionistic conception of the ISS (126). § 87. The Russian version of the evolutionistic conception of the ISS (129). § 88. The conception of volume-hierarchic structure of the ISS (134). § 89. Conclusions (135).

§ 90. Summary (137).


FIFTH STAGE (the 20th century)

§ 91. General notes (141)


The conceptions of the Abstract and Causal Time in Geology

§ 92. The theory of abstract time (142). § 93. The abstract, physical and geological time (144). § 94. The theory of causal time (146).


The Orthobiochronologic conception

§ 95. The specific character of geological time and its measurement (149). § 96. The typostrophic theory of evolution (152). § 97. The notion of types (plans) of the organic structures (155). § 98. Stages in the life development (157). § 99. The evolutionary mechanism (158). § 100. Biochronology: ortho- and parachronology (161). § 101. The problem of elementary biochronological subdivisions (163). § 102. The paleobiological and paleoecosystemic approaches in biochronology (166). § 103. The problem of retrosynchronization (167). § 104. Conclusions (168).


The Ectobiochronologic conception

§ 105. General notes (172). § 106. The theory of aromorphosis (172). § 107. The mechanism and determination of the evolutionary process (176). § 108. Geochronological and stratigraphic subdivisions (179). § 109. The nature and boundaries of biochronological subdivisions (180). § 110. Determination of chronostratigraphic boundaries (181). § 111. The problem of standardization of the ISS's subdivisions (182). § 112. The problem of retrosynchronization (183). § 113. Conclusions (184).


The Autochronological conception

§ 114. A diastrophic approach of T. Chamberlin and E.O. Ulrich (185). § 115. Diastrophic conception and the ISS (187). § 116. The pulse of the Earth (188). § 117. The diastrophism's decline (189). § 118. The early conception of the ISC in the USSR (191). § 119. Stages in the development of the life and the ISS (193). § 120. The conception of the event approach (196). § 121. Stages in the development of life and standardization of chronostratigraphic boundaries (198). § 122. The modern conception of the Russian ISC (198). § 123. The pulsation theory and transgressive-regressive cycles as the ISS' basis (200). § 124. A Synthetic Theory of Evolution: the main factors of the microevolution (201). § 125. The macroevolution problem (205). § 126. Conclusions (210).


The geocyclical conception of D.N. Sobolev

§ 127. General notes (211). § 128. Geological cycles (212). § 129. The relationship between the developing animate and inanimate nature (215). § 130. The biogenesis' laws (218). § 131. Biogenetic cycles (227). § 132. Conclusions (229).


The Cosmogeological conception

§ 133. General notes (230). § 134. A rhytmochronology of V.A. Zubakov (231). § 135. A rotation hypothesis of B.L. Lichkov (233). § 136. The theory of biospheric crises of V.A. Krasilov (234). § 137. The modern astrogeological hypotheses (238). § 138. Conclusions (239).


The Regional-historical conception

§ 139. General notes (240). § 140. The nature of geochronological units (242). § 141. Geochronological units and the development of organic world (243). § 142. A regional-stratigraphic principle of determining the volume and boundaries of the ISS subdivisions (244). § 143. Conclusions (248).


The Typological conception

§ 144. Two categories of stratigraphic notions (249). § 145. The conception of the unit- and boundary-stratotypes (252). § 146. Conclusions (256).

§ 147. Summary (258).



§ 148. General notes (262)


The main conclusions as a result of the historical study of the geological time conception

§ 149. The comparison of the main theories of real geological time (262). § 150. The ISS and the metrics of geological time (265).


The nature of geological information

§ 151. A theoretical substantiation of the geological record incompleteness by J. Barrell (267). § 152. A catastrophic uniformitarianism of D.V. Ager (269). § 153. An inadequacy of paleontological record, and the taphonomy theory of I.A. Efremov (273). § 154. An inadequacy of paleontological record and the theory of punctuated equilibrium of N. Eldredge — S.J. Gould (274). § 155. Conclusions (276).


Illusion and collisions

§ 156. General notes (277). § 157. The landmark in development of the representation on the properties of real paleobiospheric time (278). § 158. The contradictoriness of the modern theoretical statements of chronostratigraphy (281). § 159. The general properties of real paleobiospheric time (283). § 160. The problem of chronostratigraphic boundaries (284) § 161. Proposals on determination of the Phanerozoic chronostratigraphic/geochronological boundaries by paleontological technique (286). § 162. From Moses to Rutherford (291). § 163. Errors in methodological grounds of geochronometry (291). § 164. Two trends of practical application of radioactivity backdatings (292). § 165. Interrelation of qualitative and quantitative assessments of temporal properties and relations of geological phenomena (294). § 166. Conclusions (296).


The problem of measurement of the geological time

§ 167. General notes (297). § 168. The problems of creation of the model and the metrics of paleobiospheric time (298). § 169 The methodological consequences of the tempodesinentia law (301). § 170. A principal approach to the solution of the geological time measuring problem (302). § 171. The verbal and conventional components of measuring method (304). § 172. Conclusion (306).


The glossary


Name indices







There are just few problems in geology

of such a significant concern, as the

problem of time, and there are few

problems like this one, to solve which

the geology is so poorly prepared

David Page


Introduction and Background

This book traces the history of geological time. Time, of course, is central to the theoretical framework of the physical and biological earth sciences. However, time is a conception that has evolved, and the understanding and application of geological time reflect changes in scientific philosophy and available empirical data through the past four centuries. This book focuses on ideas about the nature and essence of real geological (paleobiospheric) time as they developed within the framework of the relative-genetical conception, the present-day state of related sciences, and the problem of constructing meaningful models and metrics of conceptual geological time. The topic of geological time is broad, but I consider it useful to approach the theme with a complete historical review considering first the available literature and then establishing the basis for furthering our understanding of real geological (paleobiospheric) time.

The literature dealing with the conceptual history of geological time and its relevance to the geological disciplines is meager (e.g., Visotskii, 1977; Ravikovich, 1969; Gordeev, 1967; Istoria Geologii, 1973; Zittel, 1901; Geikie, 1905; Adams, 1938). Moreover, nothing is mentioned about the specificity of time in studies that seem particularly devoted to its conceptual consideration (Shaw, 1964; Eicher, 1976; Albritton, 1986; Gould, 1987; etc.). Methodologists and historians of geology and stratigraphy typically are interested in three themes: 1) the evolution (coming into being), substantiation, and development of ideas about the “abyss” or “deep” geological time and its link to estimates of the age of the Earth; 2) the cyclicity or directivity (linearity) and the irreversibility of geological time as reflected in the corresponding properties of the historical development of our planet; and 3) the measurement and evaluation of the general duration of geological history, basically as indicated by radiometric techniques. It is remarkable that these themes do not consider seriously the specific nature of geological time. Furthermore, this topic has not attracted the attention of philosophers of science, even though physical and biological theories and reasoning rely heavily on the nature and properties of time (Gryunbaym, 1969; Uitrou, 1964; Molchanov, 1977, 1990; Morris, 1985, Whitrow, 1973). Strangely, the notion about geological time is not incorporated in either substantial or relative conceptual frameworks offered by professional philosophers and methodologists. In fact, this notion is connected with the special relative-genetical conception, the foundation of which was initially established by N. Steno in the mid-17th century and later was brilliantly justified and advanced by V.I. Vernadsky in the first half of the 20th century. Moreover, no one (perhaps with the exception of D.V. Ager) has paid any attention to the fact that geological time falls into the special category of static time, which differs radically from dynamic time (Simakov, 1994, 1996).

Based on a review of the literature, I will demonstrate not only the possibility but the demanding necessity for constructing a special conception of real geological (paleobiospheric) time on which both the theory of chronostratigraphy and the metrics of a conceptual geological (paleobiospheric) time should be based. I absolutely agree with S.V. Meyen (1989), and I consider that now sufficient empirical and theoretical knowledge has accumulated to initiate a solution to this problem.

As with the rest of science, the conceptions of time in geology at first followed two main developmental trends. The difference between these two perspectives was aptly summarized by J. Withrow, when he wrote that according to Newton the universe had a clock, but according to Leibnitz the universe was a clock (Uitrou, 1964).

Conceptions of time that echoed the thoughts of Leibnitz were introduced to geology by N. Steno (1916). Steno generated a new conception of time called relative-genetical (Simakov, 1994). Steno was the first to link the idea of time not with the motion of immutable objects in space, but with the alteration of bodies or systems that are fixed in space. This fundamental distinction actually first differentiated physical and geological time: the former possessed the properties of isotropy and reversibility; the latter of anisotropy and irreversibility. The notion of time in geology has always been associated with modeling certain processes, which have differed at various stages during the development of the geological sciences. These models have been based on information preserved in the geological record. Such information comprises part of the empirical database and includes the physical “results” of past processes, as represented by deposits (i.e., rocks and sediments) that document the existence and development of once functioning geological and/or biological systems. To interpret the empirical data, scientists invoked different causes, which varied as the whole of science, in general, and geology, in particular, progressed. In the broadest terms, the factual conceptions of real geological time were shaped by: 1) the currently available empirical data base; 2) the choice of past systems and their associated processes to act as a “clock”; and 3) the deterministic model used to reconstruct a development model for a particular (basic) system according to the available information (i.e., the observed records of its development) imprinted in the geological record.

To avoid misunderstandings, let me emphasize that the overwhelming majority of naturalists-geologists practically never raised the question of the specific nature of real geological time or of its distinctions from physical time. Thus the discussion that follows is my own interpretation of the views of the founders of contemporary geology from the standpoint of the conception that I have been developing based on Vernadskiy’s theory (Simakov, 1981, 1994; Simakov and Onoprienko, 1982).

Two aspects of its scientific development have been explicitly highlighted in the many works devoted to the history of geology. One aspect concerns the value of geological studies for refuting theological doctrine and for forming a materialistic conception of the development of the universe. The second traces the development of concrete, scientific ideas in the different fields of geology in accordance with the accumulation of empirical data. The emphasis in these historical works is quite often the role that the accumulation of new empirical data and the associated interpretation based on “common sense”, generalization, and induction played in furthering the geological sciences.

The use of “common sense” in geology, as reflecting a method and principle of actualism, was appealing in that it reflected an interest in natural history that could be traced to the ancient Greeks. However this notion of “common sense” essentially differed from that of N. Steno. Steno’s definition differed from that of A.G. Werner and J. Hutton, which in turn differed from its use by Ch. Lyell or Ch. Darwin, let alone the “common sense” of V.I. Vernadsky. Certainly, R.G. Benson (1986, pp. 45-46) was correct, when he stated that the meaning of “common sense” was instituted by Locke’s (or more precisely, Descartes') self-evident truths, which vary with the flow of time.

The conception of “common sense” is close to T. Kuhn’s (1970) “paradigm”, although the term “common sense” does not fully encompass Kuhn’s conception. The contents of any paradigm primarily mirrors a general level of development within the natural sciences and the naturo-philosophy to which corresponds a particular conceptual picture of the physical universe (Kusenetsov, 1961, 1968; Mostepanenko, 1969). With reference to geology, the conceptual picture of the geological world can be introduced as a collection of general philosophical and natural-scientific positions (i.e., postulates, principles, notions, conceptions). The latter in either its explicit or implicit form can be utilized to construct concrete scientific hypotheses and theories. The scientific positions allow by a non-contradictory image the associated hypotheses/theories to be placed in a uniform system that subsequently permits the construction of an ideal model of the history and state of the Earth. Such a model accounts for all scientific advancement to that particular stage and for all known empirical data.

In the book, I accentuate that the conceptual picture of the geological world is wider than that of the physical one. The geological world is created from analysis. It springs first from the examination of genetically heterogeneous systems and processes (e.g., from the radioactive decay of elements to the evolution of the organic kingdom and the paleobiospheric). Secondly, it is the outcome of systems that are irreversible in their development, open, and self-organizing. By this reason it seems that geology provides a great deal to the development of science, perhaps even more so than does physics. V.I. Vernadsky (1991, p. 202) perceived that the “notion about the happenings accessible to scientific analysis... the particular relation to the world of the happenings, enclosing us, at which each happening enters in the frameworks of scientific analysis and discovery of explanations which are not contradicting to the general principles of a scientific search”.

In this work, I do not examine the evolution of geological paradigms, bound with different conceptual pictures of the geological world. Although fascinating, it is a subject of a separate study. My problem is reduced to attempting to observe how the actual foundation of ideas about the structure and properties of real geological (paleobiospheric) time varied with the accumulation, generalizations, and judgments of new empirical data. Secondly, I examine how these notions were influenced by the general intellectual climate of each given epoch within the development of the natural sciences. However, as the conception of time and its properties falls into a number of fundamental conceptual pictures of the world, I will also address these as they relate to the above.

Because I have restricted the problem to eliciting the nature of ideas about real geological time, I will not dwell on describing the origin, development, and express analyses of the different methods for defining temporal properties and relations as applied to geology. Within this framework, I will address the following major questions for each relevant stage of development of the conception of geological time.

1. Which earth process model was considered as a basis for constructing a model of real geological time, or, conversely, which process represented itself as a geological “clock”?

2. What were the key structures and mechanisms from question 1, and what deterministic models were used in explaining the empirically detected regularities during model development?

3. What was the relationship between the accepted theoretical ideas about the character of the timekeeping process and the accumulated real virtual data (i.e., adequate to the empirical data)?

4. At each stage of development, what were the interrelationships between naturophilosophical, virtual, and theoretical constructs as regards ideas of the real structure and properties of geological time?

5. How were the naturophilosophical and actual ideas about the structure and properties of time utilized and to what extent? Could they be used to develop a scale of geological time and to solve the main problems of defining temporal properties and relations of geological objects?

6. What was the influence of the ideas of real geological time for the development of general philosophical conceptions of time? How did these conceptions relate to each other?

In order to prevent misunderstanding, I shall once more accentuate the following. As mentioned previously, the overwhelming majority of the naturalists (including geologists) who worked in the period from the 17th century through the middle of the 20th century were quite contented with Newton’s conception of time. These scientists did not pose questions about specific properties of real geological time and/or differences of the latter from the physical one. The differentiation of conceptions of physical and real time was explored at the end of the 19th century by H. Bergson. V.I. Vernadsky (1988), through further elaboration, resolved many physical vs. real time issues by the beginning of the 20th century. Until recently his views remained unknown to a wide circle of scientists by virtue of a series of unfortunate circumstances. Consequently, V.I. Vernadsky’s ideas have not significantly influenced the notions of the nature and properties of geological time. Further developments of V.I. Vernadsky’s conceptions (Y.A.Urmanzev and Yu.P.Trusov, 1961; Yu.A.Urmanzev, 1971, I.V.Krut’, 1973, 1978) generally have not been accepted by geologists. This reluctance to accept Vernadsky’s ideas probably is due to the key conceptual discrepancy between dynamic and static time (i.e., type which was uncovered and geological time). Following and building upon the tradition of V.I. Vernadsky, I have attempted to fill in the gap in his theory (Simakov, 1981, 1994). In this book, I offer what I call virtual notions of real geological time and discuss my interpretation of the writings of the fathers of modern geology from the point of view of this conception.

Historical Background

In exploring ideas about real geological time, several stages can be distinguished, including their germination (stage 1), establishment (stage 2), development (stage 3), subsequent evolution (stage 4), and present-day state (stage 5).

The initial stage, when the idea about time first became important in geology, was unusually short and was restricted to the second half of the 17th century. Within this period, Steno’s fundamental work, in which he established the methodological foundations for all of geology, was published, and Hooke developed the first scientific geological theory, as outlined by a series of lectures given at the Royal Society of London.

The second stage occupied a longer interval, from the last quarter of the 17th to the end of the 18th century. This stage was characterized by the appearance of theological-mythological theories(e.g., Burnet, Woodward, Whiston) side-by-side with embrionic scientific theories (e.g., de Maillet, Buffon, Hutton), which might be encapsulated as the “Theories of the Earth”. The first general representations of an earth history were beginning to be formulated based on an extremely poor and spatially limited set of empirical data. The central conceptions were those of Neptunism (e.g., Werner, Fuchsel, Lehman) and plutonism (e.g., Demarest, Hutton). The origins of stratigraphy and biostratigraphy (Fuchsel, Giraud-Soulavie) and the principles of formations (Lehman, Fuchsel, Werner) and facies (Lavoisier) can be traced to this time.

These first two stages correspond to a period when the conception of real geological time originated.

The third stage was marked by the development of ideas born in stages one and two. It extends into the 1860’s and coincides with the so-called “Golden Age of Geology”. Stage three is marked by the conflict between the Catastrophic and Uniformitarian schools, within which the foundation of modern scientific geology was laid.

The fourth stage spanned the end of the 19th century and corresponded to the end of the initial development or “coming into being” of the conception of geological time. The first eight sessions of the International Geologic Congress (IGC) were convened during this period. These hallmark sessions delimited and affirmed a universal stratigraphic and geochronological scales, which are still generally accepted today. This was a period when the evolutionary doctrine dominated. It was also a time when the first glimmerings of dramatic inconsistencies between evolutionary theory and the rapidly accumulating empirical data began to surface.

The fifth stage, which continues to the present-day, is characterized by the polarization of stratigraphic schools and directions; by the introduction of new stratigraphic methods; by heated controversies concerning the foundations for constructing national and international stratigraphic codes; and by attempts to develop universal approaches to resolve reference problems faced by stratigraphers. Cardinal changes in natural-scientific ideas about the nature of time occurred during this stage and range from those offered by Einstein to those of Vernadsky. These independent theories did not suit many of real geological time and the deterministic conceptions of the International Stratigraphic Scale (ISS). One could possibly consider this period as more appropriately belonging to an evolutionary stage. However, I am more inclined to view it as a period of stagnation without significant development of notions about real geological time. My reasoning is that the geological disciplines did not react to new conceptions proposed in the first quarter of the century, but rather clung to Newton’s substantial theory. In fact, the earth sciences have not given up those notions of real geological time that were generated at the end of the 19th century and that formed the basis of the ISS framework (Simakov, 1996). Both empirical foundations and causal explanations, which must be used by the ISS to substantiate the natural character of its units and their boundaries, have not undergone any essential changes, a situation that contrasts with those that were utilized and tendered for the same purposes at the end of the 19th century. The conceptual nature of so-called primary causes, the key processes the traces of which are observed in the geological record, have varied. However, the arguments pro and contra of engaging them for delimiting subdivisions of the ISS have remained, in fact, the same.

The 20th century witnessed the official affirmation of the ISS, invoked by the design of its creators. The ISS by definition must function as a geological chronograph or chronometer (i.e., the instrument intended for measuring geological (paleobiospheric) time). However the ISS was constructed spontaneously without deep methodological study and philosophical judgment about the specificity of the conception of geological time. The lack of such careful thought, until now, has precluded the resolution of the problems originally set before it and a satisfactory implementation. The realization of the necessity to consider the special conception of paleobiospheric time and theory, and its possible applications and measurements, has surfaced rather recently. Discussion of only the general outlines of this theory allows a new approach for solving traditional problems, many of which from its point of view are really nothing more than pseudo-problems. Such discussion also reveals a new set of fundamental problems that need to be addressed.

Relative-Genetical Conception and Paleobiospheric Time

The origin of the theory of paleobiospheric time is associated with several names, most particularly Steno, who established the methodological foundations of geology and formulated the basis of the relative-genetical conception of time, and R. Hooke, who framed the first scientific theory of the development of the Earth. Steno’s key contribution is that, having encountered static systems, he defined their temporal properties and relations using not a spatial movement of self-identical bodies, but an alteration of a qualitative state of systems fixed in space. Figuratively speaking, if Galilei and Newton “spatialized” time, Steno materialized (“genetized”) time by connecting time with spatially-geometrical relations of genetically different paleo-systems and with qualitative-state changes of the same system. In other words, if time was proposed by Newton to be some universal quantitative parameter, than time for Steno was the qualitative index that characterized sequential transformations of paleo-systems. Time, from N. Steno’s viewpoint, gained the properties of those retrospectively reconstructed processes and their protocols that were the phenomena of the geological record - natural homogeneous bodies and their spatial relationships. From this perspective, time had an informative or negentropic nature and personified the properties, relationships, and criteria for differentiating geosystems.

Without dwelling upon a detailed presentation of the conceptual history that led to the development of paleobiospheric time, I shall briefly review the main highlights. The investigations of both Steno and Hooke detected the main properties of a real paleobiospheric time. These ideas were expressed in information that spoke to the character of the process as preserved in the geological record. This quality was characterized by an anisotropy and by a cyclical-irreversible, continuous-discontinuous structure. However, the conclusions of the founders of modern geology were rather more like ingenious guesses than empirical generalizations, as neither Steno, nor Hooke had sufficient empirical data to support their ideas. Such data, however, were obtained by the end of the 19th century, and only then was the sagacity of these original thinkers confirmed. However, the significance of their conclusions for the theory of paleobiospheric time has not received a worthy evaluation until now.

It should be pointed out that at the end of the 17th and during the first half of the 18th century Hooke, followed by de Maillet and Buffon anticipated the formulation of the second law of thermodynamics. Using different approaches, they justified the major difference between paleobiospheric time and common (physical) time; namely, its irreversibility, which is conditioned by a gradual attrition of energy and accountable for changes in the state of inert components of the biosphere. The irreversibility of the development of a biogenic constituent of the biosphere and the unilinear trend towards a more complex level of organization in living matter was apparent since the middle of the 18th century, owing to investigations by Fuchsel, Giraud-Soulavie and other adherents of the Neptunian theory. Thanks to Smith, who first introduced a biostratigraphic method in the 19th century, and followers of the Catastrophism school this inverse directivity of evolution in both inert and living matter was empirically demonstrated. The data obtained in their studies were generalized by Bronn and then applied by Darwin in an elaboration of the Selectionistic theory of evolution. In other words, the fundamental differences between a real paleobiospheric time and the Newtonian absolute time — its anisotropy and irreversibility — were already empirically justified by the middle of the 19th century. This allowed the final affirmation that geological time was a qualitative description of sequentially changing states of the paleobiospheric, which were replaced under the influence of some universal factors.

By the middle of the 18th century, Lehman, Fuchsel and Werner introduced the notion of natural geohistorical subdivisions (i.e., formations) and the system of hierarchical stratigraphic subdivisions and an associated geochronological (using modern terminology) units. Studies by followers of the Catastrophist school had by the middle of the 19th century already underscored another essential singularity of stratigraphic subdivisions. Subdivisions had an event nature to their boundaries; in other words, units expressed themselves in a material basis of natural (initial) measures of paleobiospheric time. Thus the heterogeneity of real paleobiospheric time and its continuous-discontinuous structure were demonstrated.

At the end of the 18th century, J. Hutton advanced and further developed the idea, initially proposed by Hooke, that geological processes are cyclical. This proposal was proven by Lavoisier from empirical data collected from Tertiary deposits of the Parisian basin. However, the thought, already pronounced by Steno, about the cyclical-irreversible character of the geohistorical process, received the status of an empirical generalization only by the end of the 19th century due to investigations by Renevier, Rutot, Chamberlin, and colleagues. These early explorers emphasized that in the development of a paleobiosphere, a cyclic component is connected with the periodicity of geological processes, and a irreversible component is connected with the evolution of living matter. Some time later, Amalitzky, Sobolev, and Schindewolf established that cyclicity was also characteristic of development within the organic world.

In the 1830’s, Lyell postulated that the geological record was incomplete and the paleontological record was inadequate. His proposal was supported later by Darwin and demonstrated in the 20th century by Barrell and Efremov. Investigations both of them also commented on the protocolary, statistically-probability nature of geological information. I shall accentuate that from the notion about the incompleteness of the geological record there followed a logically inevitable conclusion about a key non-reduction of the conceptions of “geological (s.l.)” and “physical” time. I shall elaborate below on the consequences of such a conclusion. At the same time, we owe to Lyell, Spencer, Darwin, and Huxley the reaffirmation that in geology it is possible to utilize a certain external scale, independent from documents of geological record, and therefore, utilize the conception of absolute time (sensu Newton).

By the middle of the 19th century, geological research expanded beyond Western Europe to Russia, North America, and India. The results of these studies clearly showed the discrepancies in the composition, temporal scope, and character of boundaries of regional stratigraphic subdivisions. These data were testament to the metachronous development of separate regions or, more precisely, of the regional paleoecosystems. The correlation of local depositional successions required some type of external instrument or universal reference system that included the entire history of the formation of the earth’s crust. In other words, geology had developed to the point of needing its own chronological scale, one that was distinct from a generally accepted one. More precisely, the earth sciences needed a model and metrics for understanding and applying paleobiospheric time similar to that applied in the physical sciences. The problem of constructing common, international stratigraphic and geochronological scales was central to the first eight IGC sessions. The final version of this scale was officially accepted and affirmed at the VIIIth IGC session (Paris, 1900). When assessing the ISS, it is necessary to take into consideration the following circumstances.

Work on the elaboration of the ISS occurred during a period when the Selectionistic doctrine, which was based on the conception of continual constitution and development of substance, was dominant. Perhaps Leibnitz best expressed its tenets in the maxima, “Nature does not make leaps”. This was a period of rigid confrontation between the theory of evolution, which stated a conditional character and artificiality of any classification, and catastrophism, which held to the natural character of taxonomic subdivisions and their boundaries. The creators of the ISS, who were overwhelmingly paleontologists and supporters of Darwinian theory, borrowed from biology the principle of an artificiality and conventionality of universal stratigraphic subdivisions. However, in their ardor and in disagreement with the catastrophists they threw out with the proverbial “bath water” of creationism the “baby” of the event nature of stratigraphic boundaries. The ISS creators also borrowed the biological principle of a priority, according to which a temporal scope and position of boundaries of universal stratigraphic subdivisions were instituted by earlier condition, irrespective of their individual characteristics (i.e., structural, lithogenetical, paleontological). Thus, the ISS originally was dispossessed of the main property of any measuring device - a communal ground of apportionment of natural (or initial) measures. Instead, the geologists assigned to themselves the right to designate units using the same terms (e.g., group, system, series, stage), despite major differences in the content and/or scope of the subdivisions. These divisions were related to each other only by relationships of “to be more, than”, or “to be included in”. On the whole the ISS classification by S. Stivens falls somewhere intermediate to scales of naming and scales of ordering.

It is vital to note that the 8th IGC session (Paris, 1900) assumed as a source of the ISS not stratigraphic subdivisions but geochronological units (i.e., era, period, epoch, age). This approach was rationalized by stating that the incompleteness of the geological record dictated that the stratigraphic subdivisions ostensibly incorporated only that time represented by the rocks. In contrast, geochronological units included not only the materialized rock, but also the so-called dark time that corresponded to interruptions in deposition. Thus, the idea about the existence of “absolute” time was officially sanctioned in geology, and Newton’s substantial conception was identified with relative (common, or physical) time.

The idea about a possible usage in geology of the substantial conception of time received further reinforcement by the International Subcommittee on Stratigraphic Classification. This Subcommittee was organized at the 19th IGC session (Algeria, 1952) specifically for the preparation of the International Stratigraphic Code, which has sustained already two versions (ISG-1, 1976; ISG-2, 1994). Unlike the initial conception of the ISS, the priority in the ISG variants returned not to geochronological units, but to chronostratigraphic subdivisions (the material basis of the geochronological units). The adherence of the ISG to the substantial theory of time was most clearly exhibited in the conception of so-called points of global chronostratigraphic boundaries (GSSP). Such boundaries are ostensibly associated with conterminous and particular instants of “absolute” time. Radiometric dating has attempted to define “precise” ages (expressed in years) to these boundaries thereby placing them in their correct chronostratigraphic position.

Numerous “eternal” contradictions are connected with the geological usage of “absolute” time, including concerns about the isochroneity-diachroneity of stratigraphic boundaries, of temporal “slipping” or “temporal transgressions”, facies, etc. We owe the origin of these paradoxes to Lyell, Spencer and Darwin. Darwin, having encountered the problem of a retrosynchronization, sacrificed the conception of “a geological simultaneity” in favor of the possibility of using “absolute” time as a frame of reference in geology. Forty years later, Einstein encountered a similar problem, but followed an opposite interpretive path. He refused to acknowledge an absolute frame of reference, having sacrificed it to the benefit of absolute (more exact — the metric) simultaneity. The controversies and dilemmas inherited from Uniformitarianism and Selectionism have continued for more than 150 years. Their solution basically is impossible within the framework of the substantial conception of time. This fact alone should have forced geologists to refuse the prevailing point of view and to make basic changes concerning the essence of the conception of “geological (s.l.) time”.

A critical analysis and revision of existing notions of time in geology and of the construction of the theory of paleobiospheric time must consider the relative-genetical conception of Steno — Vernadsky. Of equal importance are the empirical generalizations about the nature of geological information, its impact on the geological record, and the universal, invariant properties and structure of the geohistorical process, the specific features of which condition knowledge of real paleobiospheric time. Thus, it is necessary to differentiate clearly between the notions of real and conceptual paleobiospheric time. The former falls into a category of static time. It represents an invariant aspect of the integral results of the interplay of different paleo-systems and processes that have been captured in the Earth’s crust. The second notion is a retrospectively reconstructed quasi-dynamic model of the development of a given paleo-system. The model is selected according to specific criteria. It helps delimit the basis for constructing an instrument (i.e., scale, metrics) that will be used to estimate (i.e., measure) temporal properties and relationships of all phenomena of geological history (Simakov, 1994). Certainly, constructing the metrics and applications for a conceptual paleobiospheric time scheme must be based on those properties that have real paleobiospheric time.

Developing the Conception and Metrics of Real Paleobiospheric Time

The following cardinal tenets of real paleobiospheric time constitute the general methodological approach for constructing the necessary metrics. First of all is the protocolary, statistically-probability nature of any geological information, which is conditioned by the law of tempodesinentia. Different means exist for evaluating the extent of the incompleteness in geological records and for describing the interrelationships between time, represented by the geological deposits, and by time, “lost” in diastemas and hiatuses, the veracity of which cannot be tested experimentally. There are two key consequences of this law of a tempodesinentia.

The first of these implications is that real paleobiospheric time can not be likened to a numeric or geometrical continuum. Consequently, while time is measurable on the one hand, it is impossible to utilize the logico-mathematical apparatus of classic analysis that is the basis for measuring ordinary (i.e., physical) time. Thus geology is deprived of the application of one of the original positions in chronometry, according to which identical intervals are demanded to achieve identical results. Paleobiospheric time first appeared as a qualitative description, but subsequently has added a quantitative determinacy to its temporal properties and relations of geological phenomena. This quantification necessitated engaging the special branch of modern mathematics, namely the theory of sets (multitudes) (Simakov, 1997a, 1998, 1999).

The second implication drawn from the law of tempodesinentia is the absence of a one-to-one correspondence between static systems and the retrospectively reconstructed quasi-dynamic models. Using the same static information different quasi-dynamic models of the same paleo-system can be constructed. The correctness of any model can not be verified experimentally. The most vivid example of such one-to-multiple meaning correspondence between static paleo-systems and their quasi-dynamic models is the numerous evolutionary conceptions and phylogenetical reconstructions. These evolutionary schemes are based on the same paleontological data, but each explanation emphasizes different empirical data, deterministic conceptions, and criteria of kinship ties (Simakov 1996a, 1999).

Another fundamental feature of real paleobiospheric time is its cyclical-irreversible, continuous-discontinuous structure. The “flow” of paleobiospheric time is represented in the geological record by three types of chrono-indicators: 1) chronophantomes, which represent traces of quasi-periodic processes describing mobile-balanced states of paleo-systems at separate stages of their development; 2) chronostops, which are indices both of stage-by-stage irreversible evolution of the same and sequential origins of paleo-systems; and 3) chronoseparators, which score events, causing alterations in states of paleo-systems during their own development and/or the replacement of a given paleo-systems by another.

As the natural (initial) measures of real paleobiospheric time, protocols exist for those unique happenings, which fix a stage-by-stage irreversible development of a paleobiosphere and are limited by the traces of global events. These so-called primary or finite causes for explaining these world-wide rearrangements were used to interpret vastly different phenomena (e.g., from a regular lowering of global sea-levels to the impacts of cosmic bodies). Deterministic conceptions, unequal in their contents, were typically utilized. Since the end of the 19th century, global paleobiospheric perturbations were connected with a rather restricted set of secondary or concrete causes (e.g., world-wide transgressions and regressions, episodes of folding etc.).

The event character of natural boundaries of the initial measurements of real paleobiospheric time implies their causal connections with the operation of any factors that exercised their influences over the entire surface of the planet. Now there are just a few who doubt, that, independent of such global disasters, their influence both on separate, natural apportionments of the paleobiosphere and on different paleo-systems was carried out through a composite system of interactions (see, for example, Walliser, 1996). The latter generally obeyed principles both of a short-range interaction and those of Le Chatelier — Brown, which were described in the law of metachronous development of paleo-systems (Simakov, 1997a). To use the analogy proposed by Lane at the beginning of the 20th century, the natural boundaries of initial units of real paleobiospheric time are comparable to the approach of the new day, which comes in an instant on Greenwich time in Magadan, Novosibirisk, Moscow, London, New York, and Los Angeles. Moreover, the first rays of the dawning sun do not simultaneously reach the windows of the upper level of the Empire State Building and the Wall Street bridge. Ager used a figurative expression, saying that global events proceeded by a principle of a “moved writing finger”, in other words events have some rate of propagation. The important conclusions from these thoughts radically contradicted the conception of standardization chronostratigraphic boundaries, which were accepted in the ISG and which were based on Newton’s substantial theory of time.

The judgment by the GSSP to ostensibly fix the coincidence of an event with the particular moment of some “absolute” time, which in turn institutes a “precise” age position of a boundary, is basically insecure. Such a point represents only a nomenclature measurement-standard (i.e., some symbol) of a real boundary. Supposing that the scale of an “absolute” time actually exists, it is possible that this point/boundary, selected for its special stratigraphic characteristics, specifies only the moment of an event occurrence restricted to a given concrete place (a limitotype) and has no more relevance than this. To return to the analogy mentioned above, same instant as measured by Greenwich time is actually midnight in Alaska and midday in Moscow. Accordingly, the attempts to determine ages for the GSSP through radiometric techniques and the usage of these age-data to trace any given chronostratigraphic boundary lack scientific sense. Such efforts are reduced to identifying the different-placed protocols of the same global factor as it influenced heterogeneous paleo-systems at different stages of their individual development. As Ager has emphasized, for geology retrosynchronization is a correlation of the protocols of global events, instead of a correlation of the protocols of local events with the instants of a mythical universal “absolute” time. To oversimplify, one might say that the “midday” (“midnight”) event in Alaska corresponds to an analogous event in New York, Paris, Moscow, Novosibirsk and Magadan, but not to the readings of a clock found on the Greenwich meridian.

The event character of natural chronostratigraphic boundaries implies that a fundamental procedural change is necessary for both standardizing and tracing boundaries of a conceptual paleobiospheric time. Because any event is not a timeless act, standardization ideally should require the use of the stratotype for a boundary. This stratotype should be a section in which a complete protocol of an event is represented, including its initiation, culmination, and finite phases. However, it is improbable that such sections exist, given the incompleteness of the geological record. A modification of this ideal would be the use of a limitotype where only the fullest section of that stratoecotone is selected and the adjacent chronostratigraphic subdivisions, which are the material basis for initial measures of a real paleobiospheric time, are clearly evident. The protocols of alterations in the state of different paleo-systems should also be represented in this section. Protocols drawn from such a section would permit the further tracing of any boundary in conceptual (instead of a real!) paleobiospheric time, beyond the limits of a stratotypical region, thereby allowing their use as parachronological markers.

As to following the chronostratigraphic boundaries, the existing practice is reduced to tracing the phenomenon that is accepted as an official basis of the given boundary in the limitotype. Tracing the boundaries of the Phanerozoic subdivisions involves establishing everywhere the first occurrence of key-species within those zones, the lower boundary of which coincides in the limitotypes with the boundaries of chronostratigraphic units of a higher rank (i.e., stages, series, systems). Such a procedure is underlain by the substantial conception of time and is based on false statements, on the one hand, about a coincidence, between the given phenomenon and the unique moment of an “absolute” time, and on the other, about the usefulness of an orthochronological datum-marker of a boundary for identifying a unique instant, adequate to it, so long until it begins “obviously to intercept” a temporary level corresponding to it. The truth is that neither Hedberg, nor Salvador specified the objective criteria that form the basis for the affirmation of a coincidence with or deflection from an isochronic hypersurface, which they believe surrounds the entire globe. Actually by admitting the event character of natural boundaries, their tracing is a retrosynchronization of protocols of those different-placed events, which are a consequence of some global factor affecting heterogeneous paleo-systems.

The event nature of boundaries of initial measures of a real paleobiospheric time is an important principle that also institutes the contents of those operational laws and rules, on which both a procedure for constructing and a practical application of a model and metrics of a conceptual paleobiospheric time can and should be based. In this respect, the most essential element is the objective necessity for introducing, both in its construction and practical usage, a model and metrics of a conceptual paleobiospheric time of the system of nontrivial conventions. The latter are radically distinct from the banal and trivial agreements that underlay the current definitions of concrete boundaries (e.g., Simakov, 1997a).

The first of these conventions concerns a choice of that privileged quasi-dynamic model, which will represent itself as the basis for the metrics of conceptual paleobiospheric time. As for the geological record, there are no protocols for the development of any process, the model of which could be introduced as grounds for metrics applicable throughout the complete history of the planet. Quasi-dynamic models of the evolution of different systems and processes for different periods of geological history should be selected for the “standard clock”.

The second of these conventions is required to accept a universal criterion for fixing the nomenclature measurement-standards of natural-event boundaries between adjacent, initial units of real paleobiospheric time. I emphasize that simultaneous with the installation of orthochronological datum-markers for each concrete boundary, there also should be instituted a set of parachronological markers, These markers can aid in siting boundary outside a stratotype region, following the principle of Meyen.

The necessity for introducing the third convention is connected with a procedure of tracing boundaries by the realization of a metric (instead of a topological) retrosynchronization. In brief, this convention permits the position of a boundary to be established outside the region of the limitotype with the first occurrence of any of its officially prescribed parachronological markers.

I shall emphasize once again that the conclusions that follow from the theory of paleobiospheric time, and the one most relevant from a practical point of view, is the immediate necessity of changing the conception of limitotype. The points of global boundaries, which are only the nomenclature measurement standards of real boundaries, should not be etalonized, but rather primary importance should be given to the stratoecotones, which divide the adjacent initial units in real paleobiospheric time and which represent the protocols of global events. Only in such a way will it be possible to achieve a satisfactory resolution to the problem of both determining and tracing boundaries of a conceptual (instead of real!) paleobiospheric time.

The proposed theory of paleobiospheric time allows us to avoid many pseudo-problem that are innately connected with conceptions of “geological (s.l.)” and “physical” (ordinary) time and that also are expressed in the “eternal” dichotomies of isochroneity — diachroneity, the naturality — artificiality of boundaries, etc. Only within the framework of this theory is it possible to offer a methodologically correct approach to a solution of the “problem of chronostratigraphic boundaries” — or more specifically to the problem of retrosynchronization. For the latter, this theory enables us to envision a clear path for constructing a quantitative scale (or metrics) of conceptual paleobiospheric time.

At the same time, the proposed theory also raises a whole complex of new problems. They concern an elaboration in a systemic way of a classification of those generically heterogeneous paleo-systems, the quasi-dynamic models of which can be selected as the basis for constructing the metrics of a conceptual paleobiospheric time for different intervals of a geological history. Furthermore, it is necessary to recognize frankly that the earth sciences are not yet ready for their solution. Yet it is equally or perhaps even more meritorious to pose new problems under this theory than to seek solutions of the old problems within frameworks currently accepted by the geological community.


My friends and colleagues have much helped me in my work, which could hardly be a success without their help. The first among them are Academician N.A. Shilo the Director of the Northeast Interdisciplinary Scientific Research Institute (NEISRI) and A.I. Berdina—the Chief of the Institute's Library, who did everything in their power to promote me in my work and provide me with necessary data. The workers of the Information Department of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Science (FEB RAS) headed by V.A. Markusova greatly helped me in selecting all necessary literature, especially foreign publications. Chief of the All-Russian Geological Library L.M. Ilakavitchus and her collaborators Zh.D. Kachurina and E.A. Gorbova help me to get old publications of Russian authors. My foreign colleagues as Prof. M. Streel from the Liege University (Belgium), Prof. M. House from the Southampton University (England), Dr. D. Graybeck the Chief Geologist of the Alaska Branch of the U.S. Geological Survey (USA), D.K. Thurston and T. Huffaker from Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region Minerals Management Service (USA), Prof. P. Anderson and her collaborator P. Gonsalez from the University of Washington (Seattle, USA) provided me with manuscripts unavailable in Russian libraries. I had too many difficulties in obtaining the illustrating photos, and much help was rendered to me in this respect by Prof. A.S. Dagys (Vilnius, Lithuania), Prof. V.N. Dubatolov and A.I. Jamoida, a Corresponding-Member of the RAS, Dr. V.I. Krasnov, Dr. J. Larson (Anchorage, USA), Academician B.S. Sokolov and Academician Yu. G. Leonov.

At last, the publication of this manuscript would hardly be possible, unless the constant help of my collaborators V.N. Kustova, S.V. Vasil’ev, and T.N. Velikoda, who greatly helped me in translation of this text from Russian, and people from the Polygraphic Department of the North East Science Center, FEB RAS, who all worked selflessly. I express my thanks and deep gratitude to all these people listed above. But my special cordial gratitude is to the literary editors of this book — Dr. Dennis K. Thurston and Prof. P.M. Anderson — who spent a lot of their time, force, energy, and nerves in attempt to transfer my so-called English bird-language into at least readable and (as we hope) understandable text.

I had many useful discussions with Ch.B. Borukaev, S.G. Byalobzhesky, Yu.M. Bychkov, Yu.V. Gladenkov, A.S. Dagys, V.I. Dragunov, A.I. Jamoida, A.V. Kanygin, L.L. Khalfin, A.S. Kleschev, Yu.A. Kosygin, I.V. Krut', S.V. Meyen, V.V. Menner, V.I. Onoprienko, V.P. Pokhialainen, B.V. Preobrazhensky, V.A. Prozorovsky, A.A. Sidorov, B.S. Sokolov, N.A. Shilo, O.H. Walliser, A.L. Yanshin, V.I. Yarkin, V.A. Zacharov, V.A. Zubakov and other colleagues about the problems considered in this book. I cordially thank all my colleagues named above for their remarks and comments, which I tried to take into consideration while working on this book.