Academician Dobretsov: Origin and Evolution of Life
During the times of total “internetization” one can easily obtain information about anybody by just typing the name in the enquiry field of a search engine.
If a person is famous and distinguished, you will get a lot of useful information, including references from official editions, meeting proceedings and encyclopedia articles… Thus, you can learn a lot about the person and know nothing at the same time. Sometimes it is better to have a heart-to-heart conversation to have first-hand information to understand what hides behind the laconic and inanimate lines of official texts. Today we meet Academician Nikolay Leontievich Dobretsov not as Editor-in-Chief of our magazine, but as a famous Russian geologist, who is also well known as administrator of Russian science
Nikolay L. DOBRETSOV, Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Geology and Mineralogy, Chairman of the Presidium of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, General Director of the United Institute of Geology, Geophysics and Mineralogy SB RAS (Novosibirsk).
Nikolay Dobretsov is a famous geologist, expert in igneous geology, mineralogy, petrography, deep-level geodynamics, who made a considerable contribution to the studies of metamorphic rocks (including the diamond-containing ones) that form at great depths under high pressures and temperature.
Under his leadership, a scientific school of the deep-level geodynamics was formed at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The school is actively studying and modeling the processes occurring within the Earth’s interior, those related to lithosphere plate movements and major geological processes such as volcanism, earthquakes, ore formation, etc. These studies have extremely important practical applications, since large deposits of minerals are associated with the periods of activity of mantle plumes, while geotectonic processes are directly connected with global environment and climate change.
For his scientific achievements, Nikolay Dobretsov was awarded Lenin Prize (1976), State Prize (1997), Demidov Prize (1999), and Kosygin Prize (2003), Order of the Red Labor Banner and other tributes
— The papers prepared for the anni-versary state that I come from a family of scientists. However, such a category did not exist before. In all documents and forms I used to write: “from a family of employees”. But indeed my family belonged to a new intellectual elite formed during pre-Soviet, Stolypin and Soviet times. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a true pre-Revolution intellectual, though he arrived in Petersburg almost “in bast shoes”. He studied at the Mining Institute, where only privileged were admitted, even though he was a Lutheran. But the results of his admission examination in mathematics were so excellent, that the then Director of the Mining Institute in a special letter to Grand Duke Mikhail, who su-pervised the Institute, asked for permission to admit my grandfather. Simultaneously, my grand-father passed the entrance examinations in two other educational institutions, but since he had no money to pay for education he entered tuition-free Mining Institute.
Nikolay Dobretsov was born in Leningrad on January 15, 1936, into a family of scientists. His grandfather (from mother’s side) Nikolay Georgievich Kell was involved in the long-term land surveying in Kamchatka and was the first rector of the Ural Mining Institute in Yekaterinburg. His father, who graduated from Leningrad State University, was Professor of Physics in Polytechnic Institute, his mother — Julia Nikolaevna — was a geologist.
In 1905, he took part in the famous strike organized by the students of the Mining Institute to demand self-government. After the strike he was advised to disappear, so he left St. Petersburg for the Pskov province. He found a shelter in the house of his father, who was semiliterate miller, but was found there and arrested. However, peasants prompted by his father evidenced that during the strike Nikolay was working at the mill and fishing… and my grandfather was released.
In 1908, he was invited as to-pographer to the Kamchatka expe-dition dispatched by the Russian Geographical Society under the support of F. P. Ryabushinskii, a merchant. It was the third large-sca-le expedition to Ka-mchatka after the two famous Bering expeditions. He worked there for more than two and a half years without break, together with famous geologists he compiled the map of Kamchatka volcanoes. This place is meaningful for our family: as mere coincidence, my father and mother first met many years later near the Avacha volcano.
But this is the story of the next generation. By the way, my mother was born during a Kamchatka expedition. My grandfather’ friend from the Mining Institute courted my grandmother for a year. One month after my grandfather had met her, he led her away and brought his young wife to Kamchatka. I finally stood on my own feet in Novosibirsk — exactly halfway between Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky and Petersburg.
After finishing with honors a secondary school in Leningrad, Nikolay Dobretsov entered Prospecting Department of the Leningrad Mining Institute, from which he graduated with honors in1957 ahead of schedule (having studied the five-year course in four years).
— I was inspired by science even before I entered the Institute, since my childhood and school years. Nevertheless, I had doubts when choosing my profession. Firstly, I was in charge of our school literary club: I wrote verses and short novels, painted… My schoolteacher Liya Evseevna (I don’t remember her surname) advised that I enter the Literature Institute. But at the graduation exam in literature, I got not an excellent but a good mark, thus I got a silver medal. I felt hurt, and while deciding on my future, considered mathematics and shipbuilding, even submitted application to the Shipbuilding Institute, because I was inspired by romantics of the sea and adventures…
But at the last moment I changed my mind and entered the Geology Faculty, following our family tradition. My father had a rule: upon successful finishing school, each of us, four kids, could choose a bonus: either money for a gift, or a trip with him. I asked for a trip and 50 rubles for the ice cream into the bargain. I was walking along Nevsky Prospekt and enjoyed the ice cream all day long. I don’t remember for sure, but it seems that I even got cold. And then I went to the Pamir together with my father, to the research station for space radiation, spent two months there working as a laboratory assistant. This determined my final decision.
The Pamir is a kind of space in itself. The base camp was located at the altitude of four thousand meters. The contrasts are amazing: during the day you can bake in the sun — plus twenty degrees Celsius, while in the shadow it may be minus five. The stars are close and shagged — it seems that you can touch them. Mountains, expedition and adventures at that age made a strong impression, seemed very important. Even today, I believe these are important. For example, I had regrets when I had to leave Ulan-Ude, where I had worked for many years, and one of the reasons for the regrets was Lake Baikal. I was reluctant to leave Baikal for long: I still love the lake and try to come back once or twice a year…
As to the Pamir, the first communion with the expedition romanticism resulted in my failure to appear at an interview at the Institute, and they refused to enroll me. The then dean M. M. Tetyayev, a famous geologist and tectonist, listened to my story about the Pamir and put a resolution “to be enrolled”. Thus, a mixture of contradictory interests resulted in the fact that I chose geology, and since then I have never regretted this choice.
For four years upon graduation from the Institute, Nikolay Dobretsov had been working in prospecting expeditions in Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Far East. In 1960, Academician V. S. Sobolev, a well-known expert in diamonds, invited Dobretsov to the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences, where he has been working since then (with a short break).
— After graduation from the Institute I worked for industry. During the last years of my studies I joined the Altai Geological Survey Expedition, which had a branch in Kazakhstan. They experienced shortage of staff and employed experts from Leningrad, who spent winter in Leningrad and during summer worked in expeditions near Ust-Kamenogorsk. I was taken on in the expedition as a senior geologist, because I promised to bring my diploma after I defend it. And I kept the promise. Then I was doing geological survey to the south of Lake Zaisan.
But then again the fate interfered — it was personified by my grandfather. He said:” Go to Siberia — why waste your time in Leningrad? Here people like you are packed like herrings. There you will find open space, new prospects. You will be able to show your worth.” He wrote a letter of credence half in jest to Academician V. S. Sobolev, which contained the words like: “… Volodya, do you remember how you carried measuring rods for me once on the Magnitnaya Mountain? My grandson seems to be interested in science. Have a look at him if he might be of help.”
Sobolev impressed me at first sight. We met during one of his visits to Leningrad. It was in “Astoria” hotel. He was a kind of sleepy, in a night gown, but very imposing. On the whole, I did not like his outward appearance. But immediately he proposed me to start studying the problem of jade. The proposal was so sudden that I could not remind anything about jade, three years had passed already since graduation. Sobolev continued: “Take this paper, everything is described there. Think about this and provide your proposals”. I was shocked because in industry people used to work in absolutely another way: no unclear problems, no papers. The more so, the paper was in English! To put it shortly, I neglected all other variants and started working for Sobolev. And I have never regretted this decision.
The jade story began with adventures. Vladimir Sobolev advised me to contact M. I. Yudin, a postgraduate of Tomsk Polytechnic Institute, who was supposed to find jade somewhere in the ridges of the Western Sayan, to agree on the joint work. But Yudin refused: “Why should we both work on the same outcrop? Why don’t you look for another one?”
Thus, it happened that it seemed that I had a subject, but I did not know where to go and what to do. Well, I found a book with a description of some similar rocks by V. L. Tomashpolskaya, from Tomsk Polytechnic Institute. To make the narration clear, let us make a brief geological excursus.
Jade is a mineral, analogous to albite that is widely known as fieldspar. Under high pressures, it transforms into a much denser material, pyroxene. This is a key to a more extensive problem: how high-pressure rocks appear in the Earth’s crust. There are many fantastic hypotheses on this subject. Now it has become clear that these high pressures are created in the so-called zones of deep embedding (subduction), and the main question is how these rocks appeared on the surface again. The problem turned its up side down!
An ultimate example of high-pressure rocks is diamond-containing rocks. Jade is formed at pressures of about 6—10 thousand atmospheres, while diamond-containing rocks — at 60 thousand atmospheres! The appropriate depths are 40—50 km and 150—200 km. The greater the depth, the more sophisticated mechanism should be used to bring these rocks up and keep them there. Thus, far it has been proved that such metamorphic diamond-containing rocks exist in one place — the Kokchetav massive in Kazakhstan, which I happened to study later.
Soon I found the jade described by Tomashpolskaya and came to Sobolev to report that the task was solved and the geological aspects of the problem seemed to be very interesting. I did not know the word “mélange” at those times, I found it later in Western publications, but I suspected these rocks to be formed in a special way: pieces shaped as ball bearings rolled along the border of continental plates in a viscous serpentenite rock. Later my guess proved to be close to truth. Of course, this was only one of possible ways, today many other variants are known. But for me then it was a new interesting problem at the interface of physics and chemistry, in addition, it was very close to what I used to do before, i. e., mapping. Geology starts with a good map. Until you complete one, other experts have nothing to do here.
Nikolay Dobretsov is author and coauthor of more than 600 scientific publications, including 39 monographs…
— My first paper written as far back as the university years was entitled “On correlation of main ions in rhombic pyroxenes”. At that time my grandfather told me: “Geology is good, but without mathematics you cannot do much”. At that time A. B. Vistelius developed mathematical methods for geology, though his ideas met with a strong resistance on the part of geologists. He was a free-thinker, which at those times was a sufficient reason to fire anybody from the University and elsewhere, but my grandfather hired him in the Laboratory of Aeromethods, which was in fact a small institute that he headed, and provided him with an opportunity to do his life-work. Though using the present-day terminology, it was “improper use of funding”. I attended Vistelius’s lectures, and then, following his advice — mathematics course at the Mechanics and Mathematics Department of the University — for one and a half years. I had enough time for this, even though I was going in for sports very actively, but I wished to gain an understanding of the matter.
I have always been af-fected when somebody un-derstood anything better than me. This has been a strong incentive to study the original sources, to get to the “roots” of the problem… That is why throughout my life mathematics went in parallel with geology. I’m not speaking about pure mathematics, but rather about its applications. I started with statistics and probability theory… Later we organized a seminar on application of mathematical methods at the Novosibirsk Institute of Geology and Geophysics. It later resulted in a course of university lectures and a textbook that contained many funny examples “from life” to illustrate the theory of statistical decisions, which students like very much. Until now this textbook is used to deliver lectures at the Geology and Geophysics Department…
In 1976, Dobretsov and his colleagues were awarded the highest tribute — Lenin Prize — for a map and a cycle of publications on metamorphic facies in USSR… In 1997, as a member of an author’s team, he was awarded the Russian Federation State Prize for the cycle of publications “Deep-Level Geodynamics”.
— A geologist should be a criminalist by nature. He must literally “see through the earth”, that is, he must be able to judge on a deep structure from single traces and manifestations, sometimes very subtle, and reconstruct all processes ongoing there. To be specific, he can be able to answer one very simple question: if we drill here, what we’ll find at depths? That is why a geologist should be able to compile a geological map and conceptual cross-sections following the map.
People often say that since geological processes are complicated and contradictory, there are as many opinions as there are geologists. Nothing of the kind! We often get a kind of noise: fantastic hypotheses, unjustified suppositions… But this happens not only in geology. Fortunately, now this happens less often, in particular thanks to convergence of geology with other more exact sciences. But still for quite a long period it existed not as ”-logy”, i. e., science, but rather as “geognosy”, a kind of art… But anyway it has been extremely captivating!
V. S. Sobolev and his “offspring” were awarded Lenin Prize in 1976 for their studies in the theory of metamorphism; one of the parts of this work was devoted to jade. Speaking about metamorphism, we mean the major processes occurring in the Earth’s interior. The main process is recrystallization of rocks, phase transitions of matter under the effect of ever higher — as moving towards the planet center — temperatures and pressures. The second process is melting of rocks and shift of the melt. The processes are called metamorphism and magmatism, respectively. Ores, oil and diamonds are material results of both processes. The surface manifestation of these main processes is called tectonics.
The movement of plates affects the course of geological processes: some plates submerge, others collide and rise, as the Himalayas, which consequently causes metamorphism, melting and displacement of rock melts. This, in turn, affects the movement of plates, changing their direction, velocity, etc.
Today there is rather a complete, clear and consistent theory that links all these processes. In particular, together with my colleagues we managed to construct a system of models in which all the processes are “jointed” — from the surface processes to the deepest ones occurring in the Earth’s core. Nevertheless, the prime causes of internal geodynamics are still unexplored in different aspects, therefore for greater depths only indirect methods suit: such as geophysical, calculations, modeling… Coming back to the analogy with meteorites, if we accept the hypothesis that the meteorites appear as a result of decomposition of a body in the Solar system that was structured similar to the Earth, then based on their composition one can judge on the matter in the Earth’s interior.
Nikolay Dobretsov and his colleagues managed to obtain fundamentally new information on the structure and evolution of the Earth’s crust and the upper mantle, on the evolution of physical and chemical processes that took place in ancient times in the Earth’s interior. This promoted an insight into the nature of geological phenomena and regularities of formation of many important types of minerals.
— I was very much impressed by the ocean geology. How it happened that I got involved in these studies? Because of ophiolites, whose main component is serpentenite, or the green marble. It was presumed that they are relics of the ancient ocean crust. To understand whether they are similar to the ocean crust, one should first see with one’s own eyes how the rocks look in the ocean. First, they were dredged, i. e., a bucket was dragged in the places with the crust outcrops. It was the same as pulling a wagon with a bucket: it gathers everything that appears on its way, and then one should examine the piles. But this is better than nothing. Then followed drilling, upon about three hundred holes were drilled submersibles were employed. I took part in two voyages focused on ophiolite studies.
The first voyage was on “Dmitry Mendeleev” vessel in unforgettable 1976. During this season, we found absolutely unusual rocks in the material lifted up by drags. The sections were prepared by Colman, a famous American geologist, because the sanderman was not allowed to take part in the voyage for “moral degra-dation” — polygamy. These were the 1970s, don’t forget! The work had almost been deranged. And suddenly Colman, who was a very famous scientist, approached the workbench and started preparing sections. He used to say: “I’m a second-class engineer”.
The rocks looked as if they were composed of pieces resembling the shape of bearing balls. Reporting about them at our voyage seminar, I even proposed to call them “maybeites” as a joke, from “may be”, which in Russian means “impossible”. But the name “boninites” was assigned. It appeared that the rocks were described on the Bonin Islands as early as in the late 19th century, but then they were forgotten until we made our discovery.
Later I was several times invited to drilling expeditions, but I could not join them. During another voyage on “Mstislav Keldysh” we worked amidst the Atlantic Ocean, near the so-called Kings Trough with outcrops of ophiolites of 60 million years of age. Once when we dived with a submersible, as bad luck would have it, the vehicle, its main engines, broke up, however, we managed to ascend in the emergency mode: the apparatus as a plug jumped above water for five meters near the board of the vessel. We could have been hurt, but everything turned out all right.
Certainly, geologists’ work is not adventures only, but as a rule we cannot do without them. They often show mountaineers, tourists and other extreme sports on TV… Geologists have to cope with emergency almost every day, and it becomes a common circumstance. I remember once we worked on the Zeravshan Ridge, not far from the Pamir mountains. At the altitude of five thousand five hundred meters, which is a usual working route in those places, we found a stag and a sealed can with a notice “Finally we reached the Ridge on which humans have never set their foot!” My colleagues even tell jokes, in which play is made around the concept that geologists are not humans…
A distinctive feature of our extreme circumstances is that if geologists sometimes risk their lives, they do that for some other reasons than self-affirmation. Their purpose is completely different — to find, to study… — like in other scientific disciplines. A bright example is Louis Pasteur, who inoculated himself not to become famous but to prove his case. Real scientists lack the incentive to do a heroic dead just for the sake of itself…
During the last decade a new scientific school of deep-level geodynamics has formed at the Siberian Branch of RAS. Its members actively study and simulate the processes occurring in the Earth’s interior
— It should be noted that the geodynamics theory that integrated very different notions and phenomena and made revolution in geology is derived from a hypothesis that seemed weird one day. This was Wegener’s hypothesis on the floating continents. Wegener substantiated his hypothesis in the early 20th century, but later it was disproved, when geophysicists established that the Earth is solid elsewhere, there is no layer of molten mater under the continents, on which they could move. The hypothesis was rejected completely. But now it becomes clear that no melt is needed. Instead, there should be a special plastic state of matter at a certain depth, where everything flows, and above — continents are passively drifting, like ice floes in a river.
In this regard, the ice cover of Lake Baikal can be used as unusual object for modeling the movement of the Earth’s crust plates and prediction of earthquakes. This idea dawned up on me, as I am a keen fisher, who was lucky enough to ice-fish many times on Baikal. There, when blocks of ice collide, ice-hummocks grow before one’s very eyes! The boom is as strong as that during earthquakes, and water is splashed out from the hole: that’s a true “ice quake”. Certainly, this is due to the movements of ice plates rather than seismic reasons. It is noteworthy that this happens only in spring when the thick ice floes become nonuniform: their upper part becomes brittle, while the lower part at the interface with water is at the stage of submelting, a kind of a special visco-plastic state. And all this diversity occurs at a one-meter depth… It is clear that such a variability of the structure and mechanical properties of ice can be used for the modeling of very different processes.
Initially I gave a hostile reception to the hypothesis of the continental drift, but with time I became its fervent supporter. And the next series of seminars that were organized at the Institute after the mathematical ones were workshops on the plate tectonics: I selected speakers who supported and disproved the hypothesis to survey publications on the subject… Many scientists attended these seminars, because they were interesting. But I did not manage to arrange a final seminar; most likely I was away and then lost my interest. Some people still blame me for not carrying out the necessary work…
Between 1980 and 1988, Nikolay Dobretsov worked in Ulan-Ude, as Director of the Geological Institute and Chairman of the Buryat Science Center of SB RAS. He was elected Corresponding Member and Full Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1984 and 1987, respectively.
— As administrator, manager, and leader, I shaped while working at the Buryat Science Center, an affiliate of the Siberian Branch of the Academy, to which I devoted almost ten years of my life. Before that, I was Head of laboratory and did not plan to climb the ladder. But when local authorities dismissed the then Director of the Geological Institute F. P. Krendelev, ignominiously and with a scandal, A. A. Trofimuk felt injured and decided to send me there.
Eventually I gave my consent. The main argument was almost the same as my grandfather’s: “There are many heads of laboratories like you here. There you get a chance. Yes, many difficulties wait there, the more so that there are some national peculiarities. But what is the most important — you will get new opportunities.” Indeed, I could work at another level, not within the scope of a laboratory with a staff of ten people, but within an institute, although a small one.
The institute was small — only 120 employees, but it was the scale that is good for the beginning. I brought several young scientists and graduates from Novosibirsk State University. Together with the staff selected by Krendelev, they made up an energetic young team. We fulfilled the tasks set by Trofimuk: the Institute has become one of the best geological institutes in Russia.
There I had to deal with the problems of Transbaikalia, Baikal Region, and compile new survey maps, work together with industry… Speaking formally, I had to accumulate a regional experience and pay attention to the practical application of scientific results for tackling economic problems.
The latter was a mere necessity for a small institute then. If we failed to do that, we would not have received favorable reviews. Any supervisory commission of a higher instance could say: “What a nonsense they are dealing with!” Though this nonsense could have been very interesting from theoretical standpoint.
Somehow or other I resumed a thorough work with maps, which helped me to come back to the level of geological generalizations — it was in Buryatia, where I became a tectonist and still I am. It was a very important stage: as if in Buryatia my life started again from the very beginning, in its scientific career and private aspects.
Later some members of the staff of our institute became members of the Academy and started circulation around the Siberian Branch: for example, E. V. Sklyarov,-Corresponding Member of RAS now heads the Institute of the Earth’s Crust in Irkutsk, V. A. Vernikovsky, the Corresponding Member of RAS works in Novosibirsk now.
For the recent years, Nikolay Dobretsov has co-supervised the large-scale academic programmes, such as “Global Environment and Climate Changes”, “Evolution and Origin of Biosphere”, etc.
— In my scientific carrier I shifted several times from mapping to petrology, then to calculations, to geotectonics, to other global problems. Sometimes unexpected, though logical, bridges occur between different disciplines. Let us consider the origin and evolution of life.
Take meteorites found in the Antarctic ices. Why are they amazing? One can precisely calculate the trajectory of their fall, i. e., detect, where the meteorite came from. Moreover, if they fell in the ice at the altitude of about five thousand meters, this suggests that they did not come through the densest part of the atmosphere and therefore did not burnout completely. In this very group of meteorites, scientists found something that was similar to the traces of life of microorganisms.
Then our paleontologists get involved and naturally become enthusiastic about the problem… But the problem is still disputable. Because all our proofs are based on the external analogy between the tubular structures found in meteorites and the vital activity products of bacteria found in fossil rocks, for example, in phosphorites of the largest deposit in Mongolia, near Lake Huvsungool, for which it was proved that this similarity is not only superficial with the present- day bacterial organisms.
However, a lot of photographs of different structures were published immediately, including those very similar to filamentous forms of bacteria found in various ore veins, pegmatites…
Therefore fine isotope studies are needed to prove that the formations found in meteorites are indeed related to the living matter.
Why as in geology do they study isotope in biology?
In living systems, constants of radioactive decay are the same, but the balance is shifted or the processes become non-equilibrium, hence a number of isotope relations arise that is exclusively possible in a living matter. Now it is desirable to measure isotopes of other elements, not only of the “traditional” carbon”. But if carbons of a living matter did not preserve, one cannot do isotope studies.
Heavy metals should be studied. Why? Because all living systems are catalytic systems, the world-best catalytic systems. Catalysts are enzymes, which necessarily involve metals, which in fact determine their enzymatic ability. The current enzymes contain iron, copper, nickel, silver… But there is a hypothesis that in the deoxidizing atmosphere, the ancient enzymes could be based on trivalent elements, such as chrome, vanadium, molybdenum, tungsten…
A very interesting is a question about enzymes in organisms living around “black smokers”, the relics of the ancient biosphere. Nobody has studied these enzymes or the isotope exchange related to them. Of course, much is to be done, but any work starts with an interesting idea.
In addition to scientific research, Nikolay Dobretsov bears the burden of the large-scale science administration activity. In 1990, he was elected the first Vice-chairman of the Presidium of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1997, he was elected Chairman of the Siberian Branch of RAS and Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
— In my opinion, there is one advantage in the job of Chairman of the Siberian Branch, which is indeed very hard and thankless, that is abundance of scientific contacts. On the whole, originally I was interested in everything in this life. The intrinsic need to know more than it is necessary for your narrow field becomes a duty! You cannot come to an institute or a general assembly of our department of the Academy being ignorant, without looking into many issues in advance. Certainly, one cannot get the deepest insight into all problems, however often such intersections arise, such associations at the junction between different fields that can be of interest and use even for experts.
Now I can do research in geology only on Saturdays and Sundays, deducing business trips, this makes even less days per year. Of course, I can do that during holidays, trips to workshops and conferences. The remaining is the so-called administration activity. But in principle, it is impossible to distinguish “science” from “non-science” activity.
I do not know how it happens with the others, but in my case interesting thoughts still come in the midnight. I wake up and immediately put them down. Actually, as one psychologist explained to me, this means that some thought was ingrained in the brain, and conscience goes on working, and when the brain is cleared from the day burden, it comes up to the surface. When I was young I wrote verses at night. I waked up and verses were already completed, I had only to put them down…
Where do I find time to do everything? There are neither secrets, nor special regulations. As I was told by Vladimir Stepanovich Sobolev first and then by Valentin Afanasievich Koptyug: “Your main talent is a high speed of thinking and a high speed of decision-making”. Of course, if decisions are made fast, the average rate of erroneous decisions is higher. But in my case, there is a chance to correct them or step aside. I believe this is very important. If I meet resistance or see that something does not work, I don’t push my way through. It is better to stop or even recede, to take time off to think. And then, upon regrouping, act again…
In fact, I am not organized well enough. And I do not think that this feature is dominating, though of course, I try to stick to a systematic approach. A high level of thinking associativity is a more important feature for me.
They say that there are two ways of thinking. Bright examples of the two ways were M. A. Lavrentiev and S. A. Khristianovich. When the latter was asked “How did you obtain this?”, he could not explain this unambiguously. A solution based on association, on discernment just arrived at his mind, later he could formulate, substantiate, etc. Unlike him, Lavrentiev always made decisions based on the strict logical mathematical analysis of a problem.
I would say that I am rather strong in associative thinking. I am not very strong in proofs, but I try to grasp rapidly the meaning or an image… That’s why I can easily speak with mathematicians, because I try to grasp the essence of the issue without going into the root of the system of proofs, look for a physical sense that can be found in any equation. As a result, each equation starts to sparkle. Sometimes I am even unable to explain how it happens…
Information you will not find in the personal records:
— My preferable kind of rest is when I can completely distract the mind and relax. That is why I like fishing. Some time ago I Iiked to ski. But skiing is not exactly what I need, though it is good for health and is a chance to stay in fresh air, but I still keep thinking about business when I ski. Another example is walking with a dog — when I come back sad from a walk, my wife asks if my heart hurts, but the only reason is that I could not distract my mind. While fishing, I cannot think about anything but fishing because I grow all excited. There I think about worms, where a hole is to be drilled, how I can trick a fish. And all problems and worries step back for a while.
My grandfather used to say: rest does not suggest idleness; it is rather changing the type of activity. But the change should necessarily entail relaxation. In this case, positive emotions are not necessary; they can be expected in the future. I used to go in for sports in previous years, and it was very helpful. In training, you have to overcome yourself. For example, what is good in running? You sweat, your heart beats heavily, your ears ring… A result can be achieved only half a year later, at competition. But looking for the future positive emotions, you run sweating until exhaustion. In science, the situation is very similar: first you achieve a little success, then — greater, then — a discovery, and you feel as if it’s your birthday party, no matter anybody congratulates you or not.
In sports, I always preferred team games, where every serving results in a small victory or defeat. Every moment brings so many emotions! Skiing and marathon are absolutely different, but they help to train reaction, ability to adjust quickly, teach us to be patient. To endure. To overcome yourself. Because, as we know, the most important victory is the victory over oneself.
In this case, the routes of a field geologist are easier than a many-kilometer distance around the stadium. The reason is that even though the geologist arrives with worn out feet, swollen face stung by midges, so that his eyes swell, he does not think about his suffering, because his job is necessary and interesting.
The best rest in taiga is banya. It is very important to have at least a small banya, let it be in a tent… Then after five minutes of taking a steam bath, all fatigue disappears as if it has never existed. Nothing can compare with banya, it’s pleasure number one. When we worked in the Aldan shield or in Kamchatka, we took a steam bath every evening; otherwise we would feel completely sick in the morning. Even if you came back from a field route tired to death, you better stoke banya anyway. After banya, you sleep as a baby and work well the next day through. This is better than any other remedy.
Unfortunately, now I have no chance to use this way. I have no time to take part in field works — I am very short of time. Now if I go, the conditions are very comfortable, they bring us to the outcrop and provide all necessary explanations. That is the kind of a job I have to do now… But, fortunately, I still can do the thing that is the most interesting and important for any geologist: to have a look and understand how and when all had happened…
The Editors thank Corresponding Member of RAS V. A. Vernikovsky, and O. V. Podoinitsyna and N. A. Pritwitz (Press Group of SB RAS), for providing materials