Golden spikes, scientific types, and the ma(r)king of deep time

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 106 (C):70-85 (2024)
  Copy   BIBTEX

Abstract

Chronostratigraphy is the subfield of geology that studies the relative age of rock strata and that aims at producing a hierarchical classification of (global) divisions of the historical time-rock record. The ‘golden spike’ or ‘GSSP’ approach is the cornerstone of contemporary chronostratigraphic methodology. It is also perplexing. Chronostratigraphers define each global time-rock boundary extremely locally, often by driving a gold-colored pin into an exposed rock section at a particular level. Moreover, they usually avoid rock sections that show any meaningful sign of paleontological disruption or geological discontinuity: the less obvious the boundary, the better. It has been argued that we can make sense of this practice of marking boundaries by comparing the status and function of golden spikes to that of other concrete, particular reference standards from other sciences: holotypes from biological taxonomy and measurement prototypes from the metrology of weight and measures. Alisa Bokulich (2020b) has argued that these ‘scientific types’ are in an important sense one of a kind: they have a common status and function. I will argue that this picture of high-level conceptual unity is mistaken and fails to consider the diversity of aims and purposes of standardization and classification across the sciences. I develop an alternative, disunified account of scientific types that shows how differences in ontological attitudes and epistemic aims inform scientists’ choices between different kinds of scientific types. This perspective on scientific types helps to make sense of an intriguing mid-twentieth-century debate among chronostratigraphers about the very nature of their enterprise. Should chronostratigraphers conventionally make boundaries by designating golden spikes, or should they attempt to mark pre-existing ‘natural’ boundaries with the help of a different kind of scientific type?

Links

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 93,296

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Anthropocene Working Group.Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters, Simon Turner, Mark Williams & Martin J. Head - 2023 - In Nathanaël Wallenhorst & Christoph Wulf (eds.), Handbook of the Anthropocene. Springer. pp. 315-321.
The plurality of assumptions about fossils and time.Caitlin Donahue Wylie - 2019 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 41 (2):21.
Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions between sociology and epistemology.Ladislav Kvasz - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 46 (C):78-84.
The type-token distinction and the mind and brain sciences.Carsten Griesel - 2008 - Reduction and the Special Sciences (Tilburg, April 10-12, 2008).
Objectivity, Historicity, Taxonomy.Joeri Witteveen - 2018 - Erkenntnis 83 (3):445-463.
The Ontology of Products.Massimiliano Vignolo - 2010 - Metaphysica 11 (1):1-16.

Analytics

Added to PP
2024-04-23

Downloads
10 (#1,222,590)

6 months
10 (#308,815)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Joeri Witteveen
University of Copenhagen

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations