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Human Geology

Human Geology

            Geology has always fascinated me; I relish the discoveries scientists make each year. While I do not comprehend all of the details, I find it conceptually easy to understand. Humans on the other hand are very complicated. In the past, I have been somewhat intimidated by the prospect of trying to understand such perplexing creatures, and I would normally decide that there is no rhyme or reason to their behavior. But, that is very ignorant of me. So, I intend to use a subject I love very much to learn about a subject I never dwelled much upon. Through the lens of geology, I have found that humans and rocks share a similar characteristic: they both break. In this article, I am going to explore how rocks breaking and humans mentally breaking are similar processes.


What is an earthquake? An earthquake is a release of built up tectonic stress in the crust. This release results in displacement and breakage along a fault plane (Smith 251). 

Why does it happen?  Earthquakes happen in the crust when the strength of the rock is exceeded by the stress exerted on the rock.

  • Strength is the amount of stress a rock can endure before it fails/breaks along a fault plane.
  • Stress is the load/force applied in the crust which causes strain. Stress originates from tectonic plates moving relative to one another. Stress always increases with depth in the crust among many other factors (Dutch).

What happens under moderate tectonic stress? Under moderate stress, the crust actually gets stronger. Compressional forces compact the rock into a denser and more durable alignment, which allows it to withstand more stress. With an increase in depth (0-15km deep), stress from overlying rock makes rocks stronger in a linear relationship (see picture) (Smith 244). 

Is moderate tectonic stress necessary?  With this amount of stress/pressure, there is little to worry about in the ways of large earthquakes.

What happens under excessive stress? In this 15km zone, rocks are subject to cooler temperatures, so they break like peanut brittle does.  Under excessive stress, the rock breaks and displaces along a fault plane (244). 

What are the effects and hazards? Earthquakes are happening all the time and usually go unnoticed by humans. Depending on the depth and the amount of energy released, earthquakes range in intensity.  If an earthquakes is very close to the surface or releases a lot of energy, humans may feel the shaking of the ground. Some earthquakes cause cracks in walls to form, yet some cause entire buildings to collapse. In the last century, there have been 22 earthquakes that have killed more than 20,000 people during one event. The earthquake in Haiti killed 300,000 people and displaced over 1 million people. Tsunamis also remain a problem, especially for countries bordering the Pacific Ocean (“Earthquakes).

Does it need to happen/ is it necessary? Earthquakes are a byproduct of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics are responsible for creating the continents we see today. Plate tectonics also heavily affect climate, which has been so tolerable for millions of years. To save going into too much detail, it can be summed up that plate tectonics are required to sustain the biological system we have today, however devastating earthquakes may be.

Why is it important to study earthquakes today? The hazards posed by earthquakes potentially affect millions of people. By far, earthquakes are one of the most dangerous natural disasters humans face. Also, while scientists adequately understand the mechanics of earthquakes, the prediction of earthquakes remains a mysterious dilemma. Scientists can only make observations of past events to assess the risk and probability of earthquakes affecting an area (Smith 254-259).

Stress Overload:

What is stress overload? Stress overload is when a person becomes dysfunctional or overwhelmed by the stress in their life. It is very disruptive and upsetting; it also affects everyone.

Why does it happen? Stress is the main constituent of overload. Every person has to deal with stress, so everyone has a level of tolerance or strength to withstand stress. When a person experiences more stress than they can tolerate, their mind or body negatively reacts, which is known as stress overload. Often times, stress overload is an involuntary release of stress.

What is stress? Stress is a physical reaction initiated by the human body against things that make a person feel threatened. It is no different that the “fight-or-flight” response our body uses to protect us from harm. When your body perceives a threat, it floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase your alertness and focus.  They also cause you to breathe faster and increase your blood pressure (Segal).

 What is strength? There are many ways to define human strength. Sometimes, it can be muscular power or the ability to maintain coherent reason and thought. Neither of these definitions is incorrect. Strength, in my definition, is a hybrid between the two; it is the amount of stress a person can tolerate before their mind or body forces them to breakdown emotionally or physically.

What happens under moderate stress? Every human endures stress daily. Whether it’s driving through the morning grind or writing a paper before finals week, it applies to everyone. Humans often complain about this amount of stress or become tired, but it does not dominate their lives. Despite their complaining, humans tolerate this amount of stress very well (Segal).

Is moderate stress necessary? Humans need to experience moderate stress. While it is off-putting, this amount of stress sparks motivation and productivity, and possibly creativity. Fundamentally, it builds character and is a rite of passage to becoming an adult in our universe. Over time, a person’s strength and tolerance to withstand stress usually increases, which equips them to handle trivial amounts of stress.

What happens under excessive stress?  There are many causes to excessive stress aka stress overload; many of them coincide with great transitions in life such as death of a loved one or advancement in age. Sometimes people have too much on their plate. Internal conflicts or familial problems can also cause stress. While there are endless causes, humans have various negative reactions to excessive stress (Segal).

What are the effects and hazards? Stress overload can cause people to become easily agitated, anxious, or withdrawn from activity. Some people pick up vices like smoking. Sometimes, it results in serious mental breakdowns and disorders such as PTSD, which many returning veterans experience. Stress can start to affect the body as well. Many Americans experience aches and pains in their muscles from excessive stress. So, stress can manifest itself as fear or physical pain (Segal).

 Is stress overload necessary? While it is very unpleasant, it is your body’s last defense to protect you from what is harming you. While it is very unpleasant, sometimes breakdowns are an efficient way to stop you from continuing something that is harming you. It may temporarily jar your life, yet it may also affect you for the rest of your life.

Why is it important to consider today? The problem today is that most people ignore their chronic stress levels because they are too busy to think about it. We face an ideology that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and people think they deserve to feel this way.  Stress overload has a tendency to creep up on us and take us down.  It is important for people to evaluate their stress level and be aware of the consequences of letting it get out of hand. Since everyone is affected by stress, it is a topic that is important to everyone.

Conclusions on Human Geology:

At the start of this article, I was not expecting geology to parallel humans so effectively.  However, I confess that I simplified the two subjects in order to compare them. By consequence, I may overlook obvious differences between the two. Yet, what is lost from making this parallel is heavily outweighed by what is to be gained.  As a result of this comparison, I have reached a conclusion that both humans and the planet depend upon disruption to thrive in the long run. I have also learned basic concepts about human stress that I might not have synthesized without this lens. It is important for me to understand how I react to stress and to understand something that affects me every day. 

What is the significance of this article? I have employed an entirely different method of educating myself. Why not learn a new subject through the lens of something I already comprehend and enjoy? I myself would have been skeptical of this idea before I tried it. But, now I do not believe that I am in danger of thinking everything is a rock. It is obvious that not everything will compare so easily with geology. However, the contrasts between geology and humans also educate me just as much as similarities.

This kind of learning that I am suggesting is a break from the traditional idea of education. This way of learning makes use of what I call metaphorical fractals. Mathematically, it is a geometric pattern that displays self-similarity. At any scale of the pattern, there is a general shape that comprises the design. Take the triangle to the right. You can zoom in infinitely many times and you will see the original triangle (Lanius). The parallel of humans to geology is more of a metaphorical fractal. First we have the Earth, where disruptive earthquakes make it a dynamic planet. If we zoom in on the humans that inhabit the planet, we see that they too must bend and break according to stress to be dynamic beings. Essentially, “metaphorical fractals” are a useful and untraditional method for the initial stages of learning a new subject. You can use a subject that you are comfortable with to learn about a subject that confuses you. This helped me establish basic concepts about human stress. Now, I have a fundamental understanding to add more information to my picture of human stress.

Works Cited

Al-Kaheel, Abduldaem. "Day of Resurrection Will Not Come until the Earthquakes Happen Frequently." Secrets of Qaran Miracles. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

This is for the image on page 1.

"Brittle-ductile Transition Zone." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.           

This is for the image on page 2.

"Diminish Your Levels of Stress in Life." AFIC Meridian Financial Consultants., 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.                       

This is for the picture on page 4.

Dutch, Steven. "Stress and Strain: Basic Terms and Concepts." University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, 24 Feb. 1999. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

"Earthquakes with 1,000 or More Deaths since 1900." U.S. Geological Survey, 30 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

Lanius, Cynthia. "Cynthia Lanius' Lessons: Fractal Geometry: Self-similarity." Cynthia Lanius, 2007. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

This is also for the image on page 6.

Segal, Robert, M.A., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. "Understanding Stress: Symptoms, Signs, Causes, and Effects.", Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

Smith, Gary A., and Aurora Pun. How Does Earth Work?: Physical Geology and the Process of Science. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.


Breaking Project Author/Creator: 
Rachel Clark


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