Vienna, 1996 - 2001
The hypermedia version that we call "HEAT" (Historical Earthquake Theories) was done on the basis of these presentations by Johann Stockinger, in the framework of a research project directed by the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolutionary and Cognitive Research (Konrad Lorenz Institut für Evolutions- und Kognitionsforschung). The aim of this project is to present the dynamic evolution of theories in historical earthquake research in a way that is adequate to human cognitive and epistemic abilities. In this connection we should remember that the origin of the hypertext idea lies in cognitive research, since Vennavar Bush, the pioneer of hypertext technology with his system "Memex", assumed that our thinking proceses and our memory are based on a network of links, as they cannot be realized by linear texts alone. Thus he proposed as early as 1945, in his famous article "As we may think" (Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, p. 101 - 108), without knowing today’s capacities of digital computers, a series of possibilities for creating any kind of link between certain content units, with these units consisting not only of text parts, but also of pictures, photographs, hand drawings, including personal notes and messages. Given the complex dynamic evolution of theoretical explanations of earthquakes, modern information technologies nowadays offer adequate presentation techniques in the form of multimedia databases, serving the rapid dissemination of specialized information. For we are not only confronted with an abstract problem of the history or the theory of science, but also with a problem of earthquake research itself that has to include long-term phenomena as well as historical earthquakes. The historical descriptions of earthquakes of the past are determined by contemporary theories that were used to interpret empirical data. This means that the analysis and reconstruction of historical earthquake theories are an integral part of today’s earthquake research.
In addition such a hypertext version may be used as an interactive teaching and learning system. The advantage of the HEAT-system is that it combines an information system able to disseminate highly specialized knowledge with a teaching and learning module with a generally comprehensible user interface. The presentation of the historical development of earthquake theories is itself an example of socio-cultural learning processes: in the course of history the authors of earthquake theories have learnt not only from their own experience of earthquake events, but also from previous theories that they analyzed, critized and further developed on the basis of new empirical data.
And indeed - those scientists who created the most important earthquake theories, such as Aristotle, Kant, Lyell, Humboldt or Mallet, again and again reconstructed the history of earthquake theories from the viewpoint of their own theory. This shows that the intellectual development of mankind is determined by an "epistemo-genetic" law that can be explained by the theories of biological evolution, neurobiology and cognitive developmental psychology. This law means in general that the intellectual development of mankind, as we observe it in the history of science, is a history of imitated functions that is in fact based on the phylogenesis and ontogenesis of the biological species homo sapiens (2). This means for our investigation that each scientist developing an earthquake theory has to start with recapitulating previous theories in order to base his own theory on them. Our meta-scientific reconstruction of the dynamic evolution of the theories becomes a historical and critical summary of all these recapitulations and the subsequent theories based on them.
Although seismology is an autonomous discipline of geophysics, the theories about the causes and mechanisms of earthquakes have always included and integrated explanations from other disciplines such as physics, chemistry, mineralogy, geology and geography. For presenting the complex intertwinement of these theories in their historical development we even need the hypermedia application with its capacity of directly integrating graphical information (drawings, maps, pictures) and of non-linear access to information units, a feature that is very important for comparing competing theories and their empirical data.
In addition implementation techniques developed by Artificial Intelligence Research provide the basis for simulating the discovery or re-discovery of mechanisms and laws and their verification and falsification. For presenting such simulations and thus also such verifications and falsifications, animated visualizations can be used as video clips, a feature that a paper-based textbook does not offer. But a realistic reconstruction of the factual and historical processes of creating hypotheses and theories in such a computer-based system is only possible by an extensive documentation of the empirical and theoretical premises of the historical discoveries as they really happened. In our case this means that the animated visualizations have to be based on original historical sources, i.e. on pictures, drawings and maps and their desciptions. This is not so difficult when several pictures of the stages of a certain event exist, as in the case of the birth of a new island in the Santorini Archipelago or of the eruption of the Vesuvius. By linking these snapshots together to become an animation with the help of a computer programme, these old illustrations can be literally speaking "re-animated".
Since in the 19th century the literature on earthquake research quickly grew, the problem of selecting adequate theories for the information system became more and more virulent. While in the first half of the 19th century Robert Mallet still managed to provide the British Association for the Advancement of Science (3) with a report containing a complete list of earthquake literature, John Milne had to confess at the end of 19th century that a complete catalogue of all books that had been written on this topic would require bibliographic work over several years, yet with no satisfactory result in sight (4).
But as Mallet already stated, it is neither necessary nor useful to document all earthquake theories for reconstructing the progress of human knowledge, since much of what has been written on this topic is redundant or obscure, did not contribute to scientific progress and rather created confusion and was thus legitimately eliminated or forgotten (5).
Only those theories or parts thereof were preserved that could be continued, i.e. they were integrated into new theories in an improved form. Each scientist must explicitly indicate the previous ideas that he uses, in search of reliable sources from the past and due to the rules of scientific citation and the strict prohibition of plagiarism. This leads to a self-referential memory system, where no scientific discovery gets lost when it can be traced back to the original sources. This resort to original sources is necessary when they are mutilated and distorted so much by subsequent copying and citing in secondary and tertiary sources, that the rational and theoretical arguments and the theories based on empirical observations cannot be recognized any more.
The systematic reconstruction of the development of earthquake theories thus primarily consists of tracing each unit of knowledge to the original sources mentioned in the citations. In a linear text of a monograph such a development can only be presented in temporal succession. The non-linear access feature of the hypertext system HEAT, however, allows to jump from the names of the authors or from the central concepts to concrete historical events and to move on from there in the linear text in temporal order. From the neuroepistemological viewpoint this corresponds to the real mechanisms of human memory, that does not operate in the sense of a simple reversal of time, but that jumps back and forth in the irreversible flow of time.
For a diachronic presentation of the historical development of earthquake theories the hypertext system allows to compare concurrent and competing ideas and to recognize the different speeds of development of various theories.
At a time when earthquakes could not yet be measured, only the great earthquakes could be registered and recorded, although researchers already knew that earthquakes always occur over the whole world. Most theories are referrring to such earthquakes with catastrophic consequences like enormous destruction and thousands of deaths. The system HEAT allows to directly compare various theoretical explanations of one and the same earthquake event, e.g. the great Lisbon earthquake (1755) or the earthquake in Calabria (1783).
But since the different explanations come from various disciplines such as phyics (mechanics, thermodynamics, theory of electricity), chemistry or astronomy or are linked to other fields such as meteorology, mineralogy, geography, etc., it is necessary to present all those fields of knowledge with their differing terminologies and explanatory claims in a context of dynamic development, that finally resulted in today’s state of the art, as it was systematically founded at the beginning of the 20th century.
(1) Oeser, E. Historical Earthquake Theories from Aristotle to Kant, In: Gutdeutsch, R.; Grünthal, G.; Musson, R. [eds.]. Historical Earthquakes in Central Europe. vol. 1, Vienna 1992 (vol 48 of the Abhandlungen der Geologischen Bundesanstalt)
Mallet, R. Forth Report upon the Facts and Theory of Earthquake Phenomena. Report of the twenty-eigth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Leeds in September 1858. London, 1859, p. 1 - 136
Mallet, R. Report on the Facts of Earthquake Phenomena. In: Report of the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in 1850, p. 1 - 89
Milne, J. Earthquakes and other Earth Movements. London, 1886, p. 5
Oeser, E. Psychozoikum. Evolution und Mechanismus der menschlichen Erkenntnisfähigkeit. Berlin/Hamburg: Paul Parey, 1987
Oeser, E. Historical Earthquake Theories from Aristotle to Kant, In: Gutdeutsch, R.; Grünthal, G.; Musson, R. [eds.]. Historical Earthquakes in Central Europe. vol. 1, Vienna 1992 (vol 48 of the Abhandlungen der Geologischen Bundesanstalt)
Oeser, E. Computational Philosophy of Science. The Technological Turn of the Philosophy of Science. In: Bazewicz, M. [ed.]. Information Systems’ Architecture and Technology, ISAT ‘93, Wroclaw 1993
Oeser, E. The Paradigm Shift in the Theory of Earthquakes: From Humboldt to Mallet. In: Castelli, V. (ed.), Papers and Memoranda from the first Workshop of the ESC Working Group "Historical Seismology" Macerata, Italy 2000
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