Bulletin of the National Speleological Society - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 27 Number 3: 65-76 - July 1965

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Similitude in Direct and Thought Experiments in Cave Geology
Richard A. Watson


Methodological analysis and illustrations are given of two kinds of geological experiments conducted in speleology. Each kind deals in a different way with problems posed by the great masses of rock and spans of time involved in the evolution of natural features. 1) In direct model experiments, Meunier, Lange, Mowat, Ewers and Reams produced features similar to features in caves, speeding solutional processes by using hydrochloric or nitric acid and limestone, or water and salt. They then reasoned by analogy about the genesis of natural features. 2) In thought experiments, Pohl imagined sequences of events under given natural conditions, reasoning from these. Meunier's results are valid on his assumptions (and similar to Pohl's), but direct experiments as elementary as his are now seldom performed. Thought experiments seem to provide a closer reproduction of natural conditions and so have been more satisfactory for explaining the development of gross physiographic features. It is hoped that with mathematical techniques of analyzing and comparing materials, direct experiments with scale models will provide important corroborations for thought experiments in cave geology. However, it remains to be established that the assumptions involved in substituting one chemical reaction in a model for a different chemical reaction in nature are valid.

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