He originated the theory of uniformitarianism—a fundamental principle of geology—which explains the features of the Earth's crust by means of natural processes over geologic time. Hutton's work established geology as a proper science, and thus he is often referred to as the "Father of Modern Geology".John Playfair (left). He published Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth in 1802.
Through observation and carefully reasoned geological arguments, Hutton came to believe that the Earth was perpetually being formed; he recognised that the history of the Earth could be determined by understanding how processes such as erosion and sedimentation work in the present day. His theories of geology and geologic time, also called deep time, came to be included in theories which were called plutonism and uniformitarianism.
John Playfair's brother was William Playfair who was a friend of James Watt and Erasmus Darwin and the inventor of the bar graph and the pie chart [see Bar Graphs, Pie Charts, and Darwin and Bastille Day]. William Playfair is Ms Sandwalk's great5 grandfather and my childrens' great6 grandfather. William's son founded Playfairville in Eastern Ontario.
Eldredge describes Edinburgh University in the `1820's when Darwin was a student (p. 44).
The "deep time" revealed in Hutton's work, and his direct stimulus to the later work of Charles Lyell, which in turn had had such an effect on the young Darwin, was an utterly necessary precondition for the serious contemplation of the history of life on earth. Small wonder, then, that Edinburgh's intellectual environment also fostered equivalent, radical ideas in zoology, as they had a generation earlier in geology.Sounds like John Playfair might have belonged to a bunch of radical professors. He might have been as unconventional in his thinking as his brother (the ancestor of my children).
But the story of Darwin's mentors in medical school, and what he himself absorbed while he was there, was far less known in the 1960s than the saga of Hutton (and his "Boswell," John Playfair). I was ignorant of all of this, but should not have been particularly surprised when I finally learned, in the first decade of this century, of the foment around transmutational ideas that seethed in Edinburgh. The creative intellectual ferment of Edinburgh in science in the late eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth had carried on in biological topics in the 1830s.
I suppose it shouldn't come as a big surprise that Ms. Sandwalk and my son and my daughter descend from people who were very radical and independent and probably never did as they were told.