Saturday, April 10, 2010

Velikovsky and his "Threat" to Science

My husband, Don Pendleton, was always interested in science as well as metaphysics, and in his nonfiction writings often would marry the two, and at times, even bringing the religious into that marriage. At times, his fiction would also gave him the opportunity to do the same.

I just finished formatting Don’s sixth Ashton Ford novel Time to Time for Kindle, and in rereading it, I thought these ideas that he presented through his fictional character, psychic detective, Ashton Ford, were so very interesting. Don was a fan of the works of best-selling and controversial author, Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, Earth in Upheaval, and Oedipus and Akhnaton; books I still have in my library. Dr. Velikovsky was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst but was best known for his scientific views on the solar system and our own existence. His theories were not accepted at the time by many in the science community but since that time more than sixty years ago, some of those theories now have been given credibility and consideration.

Don, in his fictional book, gives a nonfiction account of what happened to Velikovsky when he published his major work, Worlds in Collision. And Don’s character, Ashton Ford asks the important and revealing question: “What was the scientific/academic commu­nity so frightened of?” Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Are you at all familiar with Velikovsky’s books?--Or the controversy concerning his theories?

Excerpt, Don Pendleton’s Time to Time, from Chapter Thirteen:

More than thirty-five years ago, at the very dawn of the modem UFO age, a scholarly Russian Jew from Israel landed on our shores with a manuscript that would for­ever challenge man's view of himself, of his own history, and of his solar system. The man's name is Immanuel Velikovsky, and his Worlds in Collision was destined to ignite a fire storm of controversy that now stands as the most shameful attempt to suppress nonpolitical ideas since the Inquisition.

Velikovsky's great sin was that he chose to accept as literal truth the vast treasury of written history which modem scholars universally regard as religious myth. Another great sin was his vast intellect and fearless deter­mination to state his views into the teeth of academic dogma and arrogance; his intrusion into the jealously guarded temples of science.

Even so, the hysterical reaction by some of the most eminent educators and scientists must have gone far beyond anything this quiet scholar could have antici­pated. The language used to denounce him—even before his ideas had been published—was ferocious to an ex­treme unmatched in modern times, harkening back to the dark days when scientists themselves were being anathe­matized by the church, and to the same spirit that burned Giordano Bruno at the stake and inspired Galileo to re­cant in order to escape a like fate.

Velikovsky did not write about or even mention flying saucers; indeed, he had undoubtedly never heard of such phenomena when he arrived in New York shortly after the end of World War II. But his story is relevant here as a stage setting for the later fire storm over UFOs, and I believe you will find it interesting as an insight into the functioning of some academic/scientific minds.

He was a medical doctor and psychiatrist with a fasci­nation with biblical lore and an inherent sensitivity to the broad historical overview of man and his environment. Whether his reconstruction of history was right or wrong was never the issue. It was the implications of that reconstruction that caused the panic in so many institutional minds and made his very name a sore point to academi­cians (to this very day) who have never read a line of his book.

Velikovsky was not an astronomer or physicist, but the mere publication of his ideas was obviously highly threat­ening to the entire academy of astronomers and physicists here and abroad.

He was not an historian, or a sociologist, or a natural­ist, or an anthropologist, archaeologist or geologist, yet many of these almost with a single voice arose to de­nounce and castigate the man without even coming close to a direct contact with his writings.

What caused such hysteria in our academic and scien­tific communities?

Velikovsky took the biblical events and other "myths" as a true account of real experiences of real men and women sharing together the real history of this planet. He then looked for logical explanations within the natural world to verify this real history. His brilliant investigation took him into the heavens as well as into the earth, and his conclusions were spectacular.

For example, though not an astronomer and with no credentials whatever to make such a statement, Veli­kovsky theorized that Venus did not begin its planetary existence as the other planets did, that in fact Venus did not occupy its present orbit around the sun until very re­cently, that in fact it was torn from the body of Jupiter by a violent upheaval within that planet and was loosed into the solar system as a comet that made several close passes at Mars as well as Earth, and settled into its present orbit during the recorded history of mankind. That "recorded history" is contained within the legends and myths for all to see.

The whole astronomical world "knew" and had long accepted the thesis that Venus has a surface temperature below sixty degrees Centigrade and that frigid Jupiter is buried beneath miles of ice. With all that learned convic­tion, it is easy to see how the institutions would laugh up their sleeves at the novel conclusions by Velikovsky that both planets must be quite hot, but it is not easy to under­stand the anger and hostility with which these conclusions were met.

Velikovsky's ideas were, of course, anathema to the body of professionals who enjoy the prestige and respect normally accorded our men of great learning. If Veli­kovsky was right then these guys were dummies and un­deserving of their robes and honors—or so they seemed to feel.

The most prestigious American astronomer of the time, Harlow Shapley of Harvard (who apparently led the at­tack on Velikovsky) stated in a letter dated May 27, 1946: "If in historical times there have been these changes in the structure of the solar system, in spite of the fact that our celestial mechanics has been for scores of years able to specify without question the positions and motions of the members of the planetary system for many millennia fore and aft, then the laws of Newton are false. The laws of mechanics which have worked to keep airplanes afloat, to operate the tides, to handle the myriads of problems of everyday life, are fallacious. But they have been tested completely and thoroughly. In other words, if Dr. Veli­kovsky is right, the rest of us are crazy."

Shapley said it; I didn't. But Velikovsky was right. The pity is that none of these pillars of science would even consider the evidence. All of their protests were based on mere hearsay of Velikovsky's theories, long before the book was actually published.

And, for the shameful aspect, the storm of protest was geared to a single goal: the suppression of the ideas. Sha­pley led a broad institutional attack upon the proposed publisher of the Velikovsky manuscript, Macmillan Com­pany, which was highly vulnerable to academic displea­sure because of its large investment in textbook publishing. In a letter dated January 25, 1950, to the pub­lisher at Macmillan, he tried to get the message across in a sly way: "It will be interesting a year from now to hear from you as to whether or not the reputation of the Mac­millan Company is damaged by the publication of Worlds in Collision. Naturally you can see that I am interested in your experiment. And frankly, unless you can assure me that you have done things like this frequently in the past without damage, the publication must cut me off from the Macmillan Company."

Another member of Shapley's club, Dean McLaughlin, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Michigan, wrote Macmillan on May 20, 1950: "The claim of univer­sal efficacy or universal knowledge is the unmistakable mark of the quack. No man can today be an expert even in the whole of geology or the whole of astronomy. There is specialization within specialties. I do not mean that we are ignorant of all fields but our own; I do mean that we are not equipped to do highly technical original research in more than several distinct specialties for each scientist. But no man today can hope to correct the mistakes in any more than a small subfield of science. And yet Veli­kovsky claims to be able to dispute the basic principles of several sciences! These are indeed delusions of gran­deur!"

The entire point of McLaughlin's letter was in protest to Macmillan's promulgation of such lies—yes, lies, as are contained in wholesale lots in Worlds in Collision."

Strange, isn't it, that the professor states in the same letter: "No, I have not read the book."

This is just a tiny sample of the unprecedented conspir­acy to suppress a publication and which succeeded to the extent that Macmillan passed their hot potato off to Doubleday, which has no textbook division. But the club even went after Doubleday.

In a letter to a Doubleday subsidiary dated June 30, 1950, Fred Whipple—Shapley's successor at the Harvard Observatory—worded a sharply sarcastic broadside at the new publisher in discussing a public account of the mat­ter: "Newsweek has unwittingly done the Doubleday Company a considerable amount of harm. They have made public the high success of the spontaneous boycott of the Macmillan Company by scientifically minded peo­ple."

Whipple then went on (in the same letter) to suggest a similar treatment of Doubleday: "There will be no revi­sion of Earth, Moon, and Planets (a book by Whipple) forthcoming so long as Doubleday owns Blakiston (the subsidiary), controls its policies, and publishes Worlds in Collision."

Yet in a statement printed by the Harvard Crimson on September 25, 1950, Harlow Shapley said: "The claim that Dr. Velikovsky's book is being suppressed is nothing but a publicity promotion stunt. Several attempts have been made to link such a move to stop the book's publi­cation to some organization or to the Harvard Observa­tory. This idea is absolutely false."

What were these great men so frightened of?

Velikovsky's thesis was to the effect that global cata­clysms had fundamentally and repeatedly altered the face of the planet Earth during historical times, that the terres­trial axis had shifted, magnetic poles reversed, even a different orbit established.

In horrific convulsions, the oceans had replaced conti­nents, Earth's crust had folded, massive volcanoes spawned new mountain chains, lava flows of up to a mile thick covered vast areas of the planet, climatological changes converted lush gardens to frozen tundra, and for­ests became deserts.

Civilizations collapsed in a wink and whole species disappeared as gigantic tidal waves swept along the conti­nents, crushing and burying everything in their paths.

Stunned human survivors recorded the events as best they could, and those records survive today for any who will look and see.

Velikovsky looked, and he saw and reported it again. He also theorized a logical explanation, based entirely on the evidence, of how it all came about. Jupiter gave birth to Venus, which became a comet and roamed the solar system for eons before inevitable celestial mechanics brought the huge mass into a collision orbit with Earth.

It is not even important to my point here that Dr. Veli­kovsky's radical theories have been largely vindicated (though not on purpose) by new discoveries during our space age. Venus is a hot body with a very thin crust, as Velikovsky concluded, and it does rotate in a retrograde motion, again as he concluded. Jupiter is a very hot body—now even possibly thought to be a dim companion star to our sun—and it is a radio source, as Velikovsky theor­ized.

Many other of Velikovsky's theories, regarding electro-magnetism and sunspots and various other phenomena of our solar system, have been vindicated.

None of that is the point.

The point is that the entire scientific/academic commu­nity rose up to crush these ideas even before they could be promulgated, and with the aim of suppressing them rather than meeting them head-on in true scientific curios­ity.

This is one example of a human phenomenon, the cur­ious workings of the mind having to do with intellectual arrogance and survivalist instincts.

We will meet another example later, in the discussion of a similar conspiracy to suppress through ridicule all reasonable debates and/or researches of the UFO ques­tion.

Then we'll try to figure out why these people are so frightened.

Or do we already know why?

Time to Time, Copyright © 1988 by Don Pendleton

If interested to learn more, Youtube has a series of six videos with Velikovsky (The Bonds of the Past), and discussions of his theories. I believe the videos was from the 1970s. Also, Carl Sagan (who was outspoken against Velikovsky) did a Cosmos show about him.

Here is Part One: The Bonds of the Past:


1 comment:

ellen abbott said...

I read Worlds In Collision and Earth In Upheaval about 30 years ago. When I tried to talk to people about the theories in them I was surprised at the reactions it caused.