Viktor SHOLPO, Dr. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), Joint Institute of Physics of the Earth, Russian Academy of Sciences
The close of this century and of this millennium makes us stop and ponder, cast up a balance. An emotional occasion, yes. We in this country are living through a crucial stage of our history, its turning point. Gone is the Soviet Union. But Russia has endured in the travails of the recent past, she is born anew. Looking back, we wish we could draw lessons from our tragic past and recover whatever good it had. We must remember-remember our illustrious scientists and scholars who have left a rich intellectual legacy to us-and not only in science for that matter. We can benefit from their spiritual and ethical heritage as well, consonant as it is with the intellectual and spiritual quests within our scientific community and far beyond... A few books of reminiscences-just off the press- come pat.
Here are some of these new publications by and about outstanding Russian scholars and scientists: a collection of reminiscences- Vladimir Vladimirovich Beloussov (Joint Institute of Physics of the Earth, Universitdt Book House, 1999); a book of reminiscences on the birth centennial of D.S. Korzhinsky- Classic of 20th Century Petrology (Nauchny Mir Publishers, 1999); Academician Yu. Pushcharovsky's book of reminiscences- Among Geologists (GEOS Publishers, 1999)... A year before, in 1998, another collection of this kind saw print- Georgi Alexandrovich Gamburtsev: Reminiscences, Essays, Articles (Joint Institute of Physics of the Earth, 1998); and in 1997, Academician Ye. Khanin published his memoirs
(From a Geologist's Reminiscences, GEOS Publishers, 1997).
These and other books shed light on trends and events in the 20th century earth sciences; they portray the vivid images of men and women wedded to geology and related disciplines. Leafing through all these memoirs and reminiscences, you plunge into the fitful atmosphere of that time, with all its ups and
downs; true, the authors differ in their appreciation of that age. But it's good, for the reader is shown a versatile, three-dimensional picture. The authors are concerned rather with one particular branch of the earth science which, though graded as theoretical, is tightly bound up with hands-on research. That turbulent and tragic age, rife with twists and turns of history, and clashes among the scientific community and elsewhere, has affected science in the long run.
One life story is remarkable indeed-that of Vladimir Beloussov, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences; or Vladimir Vladimirovich Beloussov, to give his full name with the Russian patronymic. His creative contribution to the earth sciences is truly enormous, and his intellectual heritage, as we see it now, has lost none of its relevancy. More than that, according to informed opinion, it has a great future. Dr. Beloussov has combined multifarious talents-as a creative researcher, brilliant tutor and organizer of science on a global scale. His life span fits in within the 20th century, as indicated by the birth and death dates (1907-1990). That is to say, Dr. Beloussov was an eyewitness to many an event that made history.
The book about Vladimir Vladimirovich Beloussov saw print nine years after his demise. It includes reminiscences penned by his coworkers and pupils. The first part deals largely with his life and work in the decades after the Second World War. That was the heyday of his scientific career as a researcher who advanced and developed a new theory of the evolution of the earth, and as a man heading large research organizations. We see how Dr. Beloussov, step by step, climbed the ladder of success as a major organizer of science on a global scale-one who guided the concerted efforts of scientific collectives in Russia and abroad in global research projects.
The other part of the book includes what Dr. Beloussov has written with his own hand, recalling his childhood and youth, and well beyond his green age. The reader takes a retrospective look into a milieu in which he was molded as a person and man of science. Reading the terse, pithy testimonies of Dr. Beloussov's pupils, fellow scientists and colleagues abroad, we see that this remarkable man showed his mettle rather early. Sober self-appraisal, sense of purpose and an ability to take an exacting, critical view of his own self-all that was proper to our hero from the tender nail. He had a rare talent of doing many things at a time, and he did them fine, displaying a high sense of responsibility and skill in apportioning his time. Yes, he valued time-his own and of other people's. But he would never take "hot potatoes" or spread himself thin, for all his dedication and self-abandon. He fostered these good points in a favorable family ambience, and among the Boy Scouts, and in the steady application of his college days and
after. The young man made his choice well before the Second World War.
This choice was no simple one. Every now and then we may come across slushy shaggy-dog stories about this or that great mind showing unique talents still in his cradle. No tall stories like that for Vladimir Beloussov. He tells us in person how painful and tortuous the choice of his lifework was. At first, certainly influenced by his mother, the boy had only music on the brain-the wonder world of music and musicians beckoned as a tantalizing land of opportunity. But then, still as a teenager, he saw he had no makings of a real musician. Yet he kept his love of music for the rest of his life. Next came another passion, journalism. And so he tried his hand at it, writing all kinds of travelogue stories about the lands he had visited (two are published in the present book of reminiscences). But then Beloussov saw he couldn't bum the candle at both ends-he had to choose between geology and journalism. That became obvious to him as soon as he was off with a field party. And the young man- just about twenty or so-opted for geology, the earth science. His teachers, sure, talked him into that: Academician Vladimir Vemadsky and Professor M. Tetyayev of the Leningrad Mining Institute. Said Academician Vemadsky: "Once you, old chap, are in science, you must go overboard, utterly and completely." Dr. Beloussov recalls this period of trial in his reminiscences-"How I Tried To Be a Writer" is the title of his essay. He says those days of literary apprenticeship proved of much use for his subsequent career. Vladimir Beloussov's science works, lectures and reports were always perfect in their idiom and imagery; he was quite meticulous where the choice of words and scientific terms was concerned.
Having cast his die. Dr. Beloussov never swerved from the chosen path, and he gave science all his talents and abilities. He showed himself as a high-principled man and stuck to his guns in the teeth of the vicissitudes of his scientific fortune.
In 1948 Vladimir Beloussov published his large monograph. General Geotectonics, and became one of the leading lights in this area of the earth sciences. And yet the fly in the ointment: the new work precipitated a spate of harsh and unjust criticism quite in the tenor of those times: the scientist was accused of disregard for the principles of dialectical materialism, and of citing foreign authors overmuch, ostensibly to the detriment of home science. Such kind of hectoring told on his academic status- Beloussov left the faculty of the Moscow Institute of Geology and for a few years did no lecturing. All that notwithstanding, his authority as a research scientist did not suffer a whit but continued to grow. Dr. Beloussov kept up his work at the Geophysics Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences and on the board of the USSR Ministry of Geology In 1953 Vladimir Beloussov was elected to the USSR Academy of Sciences as Corresponding Member.
His star was in the ascendant during the 1950s and 1960s: his
name gained recognition worldwide-as a premier researcher and organizer of major international projects that brought together earth scientists of many countries. Dr. Beloussov went on with his lifework, his theory of the evolution of the tectosphere of the earth.
The late 1960s saw the birth of the theory of plate tectonics, or "new global tectonics", that revived the old continental drift idea. This theory took body and form within the framework of the "Upper Mantle" project that involved many research teams, with Vladimir Beloussov one of the initiators. But he took a critical view of the plate tectonics theory deeming it not conclusive and too primitive: it drew upon scant evidence largely related to the oceans and broke with the longtime experience of continental geological studies. And thus many geologists would look upon our hero as a retrograde conservative, blind to the elegance of novel ideas, one who was loath to support a "revolution in geology".
So the tides of the time did not spare Dr. Beloussov. Yet he, in spite of the official ideological shibboleths and fickle public moods, held his ground: neither a conservative nor a reckless innovator, he was adamant in his scientific credo. Vladimir Beloussov was not alien to innovation if he was sure-in fact, he developed several new methods of research, suggested new terms and concepts, and mapped out new trends in earth studies. But he would never fall for transient fads-rather, he set store by empirical evidence and followed the canons of classical geology, Russian geology in the first place. And he showed much respect for the experience of his predecessors. So, Dr. Beloussov was consistent in defending his principles.
Yet he had it more difficult to paddle his own canoe and follow his moral precepts in every-day life and in mundane situations. For all his high academic status of a foremost scientist and head of research collectives and organizations involved in international cooperation, Dr. Beloussov had to keep "the Soviet rules of the game" and obey even stupid regulations. He had to compromise his way out in what concerned the research personnel too, especially when it came to major research projects in this country and abroad, or sending delegations to international scientific forums. And so he, a distinguished research scientist, had to make rounds of party bosses with his requests and solicitations that sometimes rubbed the wrong way. But Vladimir Beloussov never bowed and scraped but always kept his dignity; whatever he did was for the sake of science and scientific progress in his native country.
Ulterior motives were utterly alien to him, that went against the grain with him. A scientist of world renown, Dr. Beloussov continued as a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, but was never elected its full member, though he was a member of many foreign academies. Why such injustice? Because the man with a troublemaker's reputation did not
fit into the snug, complacent mold of the academic milieu. Meanwhile Dr. Beloussov had a legitimate right to full membership on several occasions in the late 50s and early 60s as the Academy met in plenary sections to re-elect members concerned with disciplines where he was definitely an indisputable authority. Somewhat later, when Vladimir Beloussov took exception to the plate tectonics theory, the argument against his election was a truly wild idea: "Our Western colleagues would not understand us should we support his candidacy."
No stranger to ambition, the man filed his membership documents thrice. He felt he could compete with his peers in the earth sciences. But when he saw that the rivalry for academic membership was more among academic officials rather than scientific authorities. Dr. Beloussov withdrew from the race. One episode is remarkable indeed. In 1958 the Soviet Academy of Sciences opened its branch in Novosibirsk-the Siberian Branch of the Academy. Few people know about the offer made to Dr. Beloussov: move to the Akadem-gorodok ("Science Town") in Novosibirsk, and get full membership in the Science Academy as a reward. He had three meetings with Alexander Nesmeyanov, the then president of the Academy. He argued and suggested various options of how his research collectives could best pitch in. Yet all these suggestions found no favor, and he quit: on the wrong side of fifty, Vladimir Vladimirovich felt he could not change his mode of life. He could not leave his job at the Moscow University as a lecturer, and cut short the longtime ties among Moscow's scientific community. So he declined the job offer. And yet we know of other cases when some scientists, on having accepted all the terms for the coveted title, then went back on their word.
In fact, Vladimir Beloussov declined many other good offers whenever he felt he could not bite off more than he could chew. On one occasion. Dr. Beloussov retired from the editorial board of the journal Sovetskaya Geologiya ("Soviet Geology") as he saw he was unable to give sufficient time to his editorial duties and influence the journal's policies. And in his last two years, Professor Beloussov quit lecturing on general geotectonics at Moscow University because he lacked time and powers to liven up his lectures with fresh data. He took his lecturer's duties in good earnest: every new lecture required much effort and time, while his years began to tell on his staying power. Still, he kept on as a tutor at an elective seminar once a week which was attended by university undergraduates and teachers alike.
In his last years Dr. Beloussov worked hard to polish the theory of endogenic processes (those occurring deep in the bowels of the earth). Today, at a distance of several years, we can survey his lifework in science and see how consistent and purposeful he was in his
quests-going from particulars and circumstantials (say, such things as the geochemistry of natural gases or the genesis of mud volcanicity) to the generalized picture of the evolution of the earth's tectosphere. And his conclusions, hypotheses and ideas always relied on factual and empirical evidence. Assessing his theory of endogenic processes (conditions), the climacteric point of Vladimir Beloussov's scientific legacy, we should clearly distinguish between the empirical laws underlying processes and phenomena in their interdependence, and the hypothetical notions about the implicated mechanisms and driving forces. That's the way Dr. Beloussov approached the subject-matter himself. His keen intuition based on many years of experience enabled him to evaluate and bring together an immense body of disparate data obtained by a variety of methods. In Dr. Beloussov's hypothetical constructions (from his earliest publications down to the last ones in which he formulated his theory of endogenic processes) two "physical universals" are ever present, and these are heat and gravitation. That is why his scientific heritage is so consummate and harmonized.
At the same time his theory of endogenic conditions is open to fresh data and further development. Vladimir Beloussov has formulated problems for future generations of earth scientists to solve. As recent publications tell us, many of Beloussov's ideas are coming back into scientific use and re-evaluated on a new level of knowledge. The priorities that Dr. Beloussov has set up for the earth sciences-problems related to the lower lithosphere and the evolution of the transformations of deep mantle matter-are now very much on the agenda again.
Annual scientific seminars to commemorate Vladimir Vladimirovich Beloussov bring together earth scientists in the Otto Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth, his home research center. The latest seminar held in 1999 featured the books we have mentioned above. Attending were pupils and coworkers of this outstanding scientist together with just inquisitive men and women eager to learn more about the man who has made such a signal contribution to the earth sciences. All those who spoke up stressed how Vladimir Beloussov had impacted their life in science; his lifework, they said, is a lofty example of dedication. There were also his opponents among the speakers; and they, too, praised his analytical mind and did justice to what was relevant today in his scientific legacy. The seminar turned into an informal and kind talk with a human touch. We remember Dr. Beloussov and what he has done for science. He is an inalienable part of our intellectual heritage that should be passed on to generations to come.
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