Dec 23

How the Earth Works, by Michael Wysession (Teaching Company Series) ★★★

This teaching company series, taught by a Geophysicist, discusses the mechanisms and processes that make the earth the way it is. Wysession is able to interlay the various processes, whether they be geologic, biologic, or astronomic, in discussing what gives us our world. The lecture series can be divided into three parts, with a grading on each part…

I. Plate Tectonics – 5 stars – the longest part of the course, it also is the best part of the course, taught where Wysession is most expert. Details of how the continents were created, how plate tectonic theory was developed, how earthquakes and volcanoes occur, are all discussed in popular lay terms that can be understood by anybody.

II. The Weather – 3 stars – though the weather is an important process in molding the earth, another Teaching Company course on Meteorology has done a far superior job of detailing how weather is formed, and the processes that lead to our climate and living conditions.

III. Biology and “My Soapbox” – 1 star – Wysession adequately discusses the role of biological organisms in helping to form the earth. He does a far worse job of playing biologist. Much of the last lectures of the course are more a soapbox on various subjects such as climate change, humans elsewhere in the universe, and the destiny of man, which would have best been left out of the course. Many of the last lectures have no relation to discussing how the earth works, but rather create a dummy pulpit for Wysession. I do credit Wysession for maintaining a sense of scientific uncertainty about matters such as climate change, and he doesn’t become preachy like Algore.

The course could be improved in many ways. Most importantly, I wish Wysession would have spent a few lectures discussing in depth the mechanisms for studying earth. He could have better discussed the various instrumentation for “sounding” the depths of earth. He could have given us more detailed explanations of land formations that help us understand the world we see, to allow us to engage in the process of being junior geologists. I would have been interested in having a rough feel as to how a geophysicist mathematically models things like earthquakes.

Wysession is an excellent teacher and adequately uses props and visuals to get his point across. This is a series worth watching, though the final lectures would be best deleted or changed as mentioned above to get the discussion back to the intended topic for the course.

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