LiveScience.com – The Mysterious Origin and Supply of Oil

At my University, the faculty have had a recent “impromptu” debate concerning the need for “intellectual diversity” in the academy. While I normally would immediately jump onto this band wagon, I am recalcitrant. Let me explain why. I believe that diversity of ideas is perhaps the most important diversity we should seek. Now, our various cultures, ethnic groups, and such will strongly influence our ideas and our views, but it is the interaction of competing ideas that leads to growth. So why am I reluctant? Well, in this debate, it is boiled down to the simply Cartesian either/or argument, pitting political conservatism against political liberalism. I think, first, that most debates in the academy are not political. Well, at least, not debates or discussions relevant to our disciplines. Take this artticle for instance. Here we have the commonly accepted view of the creation of “crude oil” that posits that oil is truly a “fossil fuel” created from great pressures and ancient organic materials. Along comes another theory that puts forward the notion that it is not created in this fashion at all–that it comes from deep within the Earth.

An excerpt:

LiveScience.com – The Mysterious Origin and Supply of Oil: “The idea that petroleum is formed from dead organic matter is known as the ‘biogenic theory’ of petroleum formation and was first proposed by a Russian scientist almost 250 years ago.

In the 1950’s, however, a few Russian scientists began questioning this traditional view and proposed instead that petroleum could form naturally deep inside the Earth.

This so-called ‘abiogenic’ petroleum might seep upward through cracks formed by asteroid impacts to form underground pools, according to one hypothesis. Some geologists have suggested probing ancient impact craters in the search for oil.”

So here we have competing ideas–a diversity in ideas that now can be put forward, challenged, and tested. Which is the conservative one, and which the liberal? Well, while one might actually be able to be labeled conservative (the older theory having the upper hand) neither theory is inherently “political.”

So let’s encourage diversity, let’s embrace diversity. But let’s do it as appropriate for our disciplines. Let’s follow accepted, rigorous methodologies, and let’s all work to expand our minds, and contribute to the body of knowledge, rather than close doors, close minds, and protect our limited views of the world.

The Prof

3 thoughts on “LiveScience.com – The Mysterious Origin and Supply of Oil

  • The “debate” between biogenic oil and abiogenic oil is, in my opinion, a classic conservative versus liberal argument.

    The biogenic (i.e., the “dead dinosaur”) theory of the origin of oil is the “liberal” view (or, to be clear, the view aligned with the “Paradigm of the Left”).

    The abiogenic theory (i.e., the “cosmic origin of hydrocarbons with non-photosynthetic biological transformation”) is the “conservative” view (or the view aligned with the “Paradigm of the Right”)

    In my analysis, the Paradigm of the Right is the paradigm of “objective reality” which is the mainstream paradigm of Western Civilization, and can be traced back to Socrates and Socratic dialogue. Ultimately, the objective reality paradigm accepts that there is an external reality that exists, the explanation of which exceeds the scope and capability of intellect. What cannot be explained is lumped into the catchall concept of “God”.

    The Paradigm of the Left is the paradigm of “pure perception”. It also can be traced back to an ancient Greek school of philosophy. Its premise is that man can know only what he perceives. And the corollaries are that what man can’t perceive doesn’t exist or is irrelevant, and that perceptions can be altered, changed, or influenced by others. The “perception” paradigm does not require the concept of “God” to explain anything. The concept of “perceptionism” can be discerned in Hegelianism, Nihilism, existentialism, and other modern philosophical trends.

    A consequence of the “perceptionist” paradigm is that you can change someone else’s “reality” by changing their perceptions. And there is ample experiential evidence that people’s perceptions can be changed. If people’s perceptions can be changed, they can be changed in useful ways, such as enhancing the perceived power or authority of the perception influencer.

    The biogenic theory of petroleum origin implies a finite supply and ultimate scarcity. And the PERCEPTION of scarcity allows people who can provide a vision of a solution to have PERCEIVED power and authority. [We are using up all the oil and we are at the point of “peak oil” production. Soon, the supply will decrease, prices will go up and soon the world will have to look to smart people (like me) to use (my presumed power) to save you from the unthinkable fate of an energyless future.]

    The cosmic/abiogenic theory of petroleum implies such vast abundance of petroleum that the assured supply for any relevant time horizon can be taken as an “objective reality”. It’s not something that anyone needs to worry about. “God” provided for us.

    I think very many issues have inherent “conservative/liberal” divides, but it is sometimes necessary to understand the fundamental reality paradigms of conservatives and liberals to discern the divide.


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