James Hutton was one of the earliest proponents of what in the 1830s became known as uniformitarianism, the science which explains features of the Earth's crust as the outcome of continuing natural processes over the long geologic time scale.
33 Facts About James Hutton
James Hutton put forward a thesis for a 'system of the habitable Earth' proposed as a deistic mechanism designed to keep the world eternally suitable for humans, an early attempt to formulate what today might be called one kind of anthropic principle.
Some reflections similar to those of James Hutton can be found in publications of his contemporaries, such as the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, but it is chiefly James Hutton's pioneering work that established the field.
James Hutton was educated at the High School of Edinburgh where he was particularly interested in mathematics and chemistry, then when he was 14 he attended the University of Edinburgh as a "student of humanity", studying the classics.
James Hutton was apprenticed to the lawyer George Chalmers WS when he was 17, but took more interest in chemical experiments than legal work.
James Hutton stayed with the widow Van der Tas at the Langebrug, which corresponds to the current address Langebrug 101 in Leiden.
James Hutton's supervisor was Professor Frederik Winter, who was not only a professor at Leiden University, but court physician to the Stadholder.
James Hutton owned and rented out properties in Edinburgh, employing a factor to manage this business.
James Hutton inherited from his father the Berwickshire farms of Slighhouses, a lowland farm which had been in the family since 1713, and the hill farm of Nether Monynut.
James Hutton recorded his ideas and innovations in an unpublished treatise on The Elements of Agriculture.
The mathematician John Playfair described James Hutton as having noticed that "a vast proportion of the present rocks are composed of materials afforded by the destruction of bodies, animal, vegetable and mineral, of more ancient formation".
In 1768, James Hutton returned to Edinburgh, letting his farms to tenants but continuing to take an interest in farm improvements and research which included experiments carried out at Slighhouses.
James Hutton developed a red dye made from the roots of the madder plant.
James Hutton had a house built in 1770 at St John's Hill, Edinburgh, overlooking Salisbury Crags.
James Hutton was one of the most influential participants in the Scottish Enlightenment, and fell in with numerous first-class minds in the sciences including mathematician John Playfair, philosopher David Hume and economist Adam Smith.
James Hutton held no position in the University of Edinburgh and communicated his scientific findings through the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
James Hutton was particularly friendly with physician and chemist Joseph Black, and together with Adam Smith they founded the Oyster Club for weekly meetings.
Between 1767 and 1774 James Hutton had close involvement with the construction of the Forth and Clyde canal, making full use of his geological knowledge, both as a shareholder and as a member of the committee of management, and attended meetings including extended site inspections of all the works.
From 1791 James Hutton suffered extreme pain from stones in the bladder and gave up field work to concentrate on finishing his books.
James Hutton died in Edinburgh and was buried in the vault of Andrew Balfour, opposite the vault of his friend Joseph Black, in the now sealed south-west section of Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, commonly known as the Covenanter's Prison.
James Hutton developed several hypotheses to explain the rock formations he saw around him, but according to Playfair he "was in no haste to publish his theory; for he was one of those who are much more delighted with the contemplation of truth, than with the praise of having discovered it".
James Hutton found other examples in Galloway in 1786, and on the Isle of Arran in 1787.
James Hutton wanted to examine such formations himself to see "particular marks" of the relationship between the rock layers.
Later in 1787 James Hutton noted what is known as the James Hutton or "Great" Unconformity at Inchbonny, Jedburgh, in layers of sedimentary rock.
James Hutton found conglomerate at altitudes that demonstrated the extent of erosion of the strata, and said of this that "we never should have dreamed of meeting with what we now perceived".
James Hutton reasoned that there must have been innumerable cycles, each involving deposition on the seabed, uplift with tilting and erosion then undersea again for further layers to be deposited.
James Hutton proposed that the interior of the Earth was hot, and that this heat was the engine which drove the creation of new rock: land was eroded by air and water and deposited as layers in the sea; heat then consolidated the sediment into stone, and uplifted it into new lands.
James Hutton had long studied the changes of the atmosphere.
James Hutton contended that the amount of moisture which the air can retain in solution increases with temperature, and, therefore, that on the mixture of two masses of air of different temperatures a portion of the moisture must be condensed and appear in visible form.
James Hutton investigated the available data regarding rainfall and climate in different regions of the globe, and came to the conclusion that the rainfall is regulated by the humidity of the air on the one hand, and mixing of different air currents in the higher atmosphere on the other.
James Lovelock, who developed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s, cites Hutton as saying that the Earth was a superorganism and that its proper study should be physiology.
James Hutton came to his ideas as the result of experiments in plant and animal breeding, some of which he outlined in an unpublished manuscript, the Elements of Agriculture.
James Hutton distinguished between heritable variation as the result of breeding, and non-heritable variations caused by environmental differences such as soil and climate.