Presidential Address: Geosemiosis

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58 Scopus citations


Almost alone among modern sciences, geology has preserved a method of inquiry that emphasizes synthetic reasoning for the interpretation of Earth's signified causal processes. Though geologists interpret Earth's signs via all manner of measurement, quantitative modeling, and experimentation, these are but tools for an inquiry ultimately directed at the truth of Earth's message. Geologists have always considered that message to be signified in rocks, sediments, fossils, and other signs of Earth processes. To interpret these signs, geologists do not need a foundational metaphysics to ground their reasoning, as Lyell attempted with his uniformitarianism. Instead, geologists can benefit from understanding the formal conditions of what will count as true in these signs, a topic explored through the branch of philosophy known as semiotics. The geologically relevant philosophy involves a semiotic point of view wherein signs are not mere objects of thought or language, but rather are vital entities comprising a web of signification that is continuous from outcrops to reasoning about outcrops. Such an action of signs constitutes a geosemiosis that leads geological investigators on a fruitful course of hypothesis generation. Semiotic grammar provides the means to describe the representational character of signification that is inherent in this geological reasoning. Critical logic explores the modes of inference used to seek truth in the representations, and georhetoric attains truth as a matter of belief. While not being a method for doing geology, semiotics provides a means of describing the highly productive reasoning processes of geologists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-645
Number of pages13
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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