Philosophy and Culture Talking Points

The Symbolism of Geology: Why is There a Feud Among Rock Enthusiasts?


Synecdoche Amongst Rock Enthusiasts

Since the start of human culture, we have had a peculiar obsession with rocks and minerals. The first recognizable tools our early hominid ancestors ever created were made of rocks. So much so we still coined this era as the “stone age”. In the fertile crescent, Aaron, the first high priest of the Hebrews wore twelve gems on his breastplate; one for each tribe of Israel. In the Micronesian island of Yap, people used giant Aragonite disks as an early form of currency. How could we forget the legendary rock formations of Stonehenge or the Easter Island heads in Rapa Nui? Humankind’s obsession doesn’t just end at rock collecting either. Entire religions have been formed around the significance of mountains. Entire landscapes and outcrops have been preciousized for their shear mysticism and compelling nature.


The Symbolism of Rocks for Geologists

For a geologist, the value and importance of rocks and minerals is well agreed upon. A geologist without rocks is like a musician without sound. A geologist finds identity and relevance in rocks. A geologist doesn’t just see rocks as objects, but histories– rocks tell us a story about the past. The geologist’s relationship with rocks is a special one. Massive piles of literature have been written on the divine nature of field work. The giant spires of limestone and dolomite have been likened to the vastness of a cathedral. The views found during research trips compared to heaven’s gate. There is no doubt that for a geologist, field work is far more than just work, but a hallowed experience.

Some of the samples we collect while out in the field are just too precious to keep in the archives. Some of the hand samples we find are nothing less than fine art– they are centerpieces on our mantles and a staple of a geologist’s work desk. But why do we surround ourselves with these rocks? What benefit do we gain from keeping rocks and minerals in our living space? After all, we all live on a massive rock. Our houses are made with rocks. What difference will having a rock on our desk have? A similar debate is frequently made among artists, curators, and art historians regarding the relevance of art and the same debate can be made for rocks. Why must we keep these rocks in our lives? Do they survive a social role? Do we benefit from their presence?


The Vulnerability of Crystal Healers

If you go to a rock show, there are three groups of people you will meet. You have your jewelry makers, your geologists, and your crystal healers. The latter being a collective of new-age naturalists with a devotion to the mysticism and power of stones. For crystal healers, the benefits and power of stones and minerals are undeniable. Rock healing has become a religion. Although many crystal healers have adopted very contemporary dogma, allowing for a pervasive and almost predatory market dominate the culture of crystal healing, the practice of using gems and minerals to benefit our lives is anything but new. Even ancient Sumerians, while making revelations in mathematics and agronomics, adopted practices similar to those performed by crystal healers. It’s a shame that this rich tradition and practice has been riddled with self-proclaimed gurus and marketing brands disguised as temples have made a much of the crystal healing community.

A quick glance at the geology subreddit and it’s very apparent that most geologists write off crystal healers as crazy. Some members of the community take as far as claiming crystal-healers are an enemy to geology and a threat to science. Vast claims of crystal healers causing massive health epidemics and apparent association with anti-science rhetoric. So how is it that a group of scientists that have a passion for rocks and minerals could loathe another community with a love and passion for rocks? It is as if there was a feud between mathematicians and musicians over the role numbers play in our lives. It’s absurd.


Addressing the Issues

It seems like the conflict between geologists and crystal healers is only present when the crystal healing community attempt to use science to prove the healing powers of crystals or when geologists attempt to use science to declaim the practices of crystal healing. Whenever people argue between science and religion in the same conversation keeping the facts straight becomes much harder. This is the issue of NOMA, or non-overlapping mysteria. For a lot of theologians and science philosophers, there is an agreement that science and religion cannot prove or disprove each other. This is because the studies of science of faith observe completely separate spheres of the human experience. While science is focused on the physical world and approaches observing the physical world through an objective lens, religion attempts to ask metaphysical questions that aren’t necessarily observable in the physical world but within the human mind and our social constructs. While science knows how emotions work, religion knows why emotions relate to our lives. If I wanted to shop for a new sofa or desk, i might have a difficult time accomplishing this if i try to find it in a poetry book.

Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view that was advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets”[1] over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority,” and the two domains do not overlap.[2] He suggests, with examples, that “NOMA enjoys strong and fully explicit support, even from the primary cultural stereotypes of hard-line traditionalism” and that it is “a sound position of general consensus, established by long struggle among people of goodwill in both magisteria.”[1] Some have criticized the idea or suggested limitations to it, and there continues to be disagreement over where the boundaries between the two magisteria should be.[3]

From Wikipedia

Crystal healers are in a very vulnerable position. So many people in the crystal healing community are seeking further knowledge about the rocks and are provided products from businesses and groups that have no interest in the truth and a strong desire for profit. The geology community has an opportunity to strengthen the geology scene by providing true information on the science behind rocks. Holding a rigid separation between what is physical and what is metaphysical can help ease the tension between these groups and hopefully create a productive outcome. After all, the theory of Non-overlapping magisteria is a concept from a fellow paleontologist and scientist, Stephen Jay Gould. In his 1997 book, “Rock of Ages”, Gould asses how science and religion cannot interfere both logically, and diplomatically– adding how science cannot determine the existence or condition of the soul. Likewise, while geologists can teach us about how many rocks came to be or what they tell us about our environment, our role and authority over nature may be better answered by someone else.

Being a Jack of all trades and Master of none is a true curse. I find myself diving head first in a new hobby or interest just about every other week. Through my writing and my online projects, I have been trying to hone this thirst for new activities to create something worthwhile. I have a degree in Geology and Environmental Science. I also spend a large amount of my time sketching and animating. To get myself outdoors, I love to play rugby and go hiking.

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