Vladimir Vernadsky, an eminent Russian naturalist, science historian, public figure and thinker, was born 140 years ago, on March 12, 1863. He is the author of original-and still topical-works on genetic and descriptive mineralogy, crystallography, soil science and hydrogeochemistry. He also worked on the theory of symmetry and on the problem of time. Academician Vernadsky is among the founders of geochemistry and is the father of biogeochemistry studying the global activity of living matter, or a totality of organisms. Yet the pinnacle of his work is his teaching on the biosphere, or what applies to life on earth in all its bearings. Although in the past fifty years or so this subject has been explored in its ecological aspects by and large, Vernadsky took a much broader view which synthesized many of the hard sciences and philosophy.
Narrow specialization in science set in for good during the 20th century. And it was Vladimir Vernadsky who, true to the classical traditions, materialized a synthesis of knowledge, though he contributed novel ideas to science as well.
It would be in place to recall the controversy among physicists concerning the distinction between right and left in the kingdom of elementary particles. Thus one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, Wolfgang Pauli of Austria (Nobel Prize, 1945), said he didn't believe God is left-handed and he was ready to make a bet for a big sum that an experiment would produce a symmetrical result. This opinion was shared by nearly all big-name scientists, in particular one of the founders of quantum electrodynamics Richard Feynman of the United States (Nobel Prize, 1965), even though he opted for the experiment after all. But Vernadsky had foreseen the possibility of right/left difference in the micro-world twenty years before physicists came to grapple with the problem in good earnest. Said he, "Space-time is fundamentally inhomogeneous, and symmetry phenomena in it can be manifest in limited areas only." This w ... Read more