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HORUS VOL I. Issue 3

Can Psychoanalysis be a Science?
 An Introduction to Velikovsky
by David Griffard

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In 1950 the first of a series of works by Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, revealed the broad outlines of a dramatic new analysis of the myth, legend and history of the ancient world. The book outraged the scientists of the day and caused a similar reaction among scholars of ancient history. According to Velikovsky the record of the past had been misread- partly because of dogmatic views that had developed in science, and partly from uncertainties among historians and archaeologists in the dating of ancient civilizations. His own account explained the seemingly fantastic tales of cataclysm told by our ancestors as attempts to describe actual events in nature, some of which nearly brought an end to life on Earth. To make matters worse, Velikovsky stressed a common element in myths and legends from around the world - that the source of such great calamities lay in the heavens. In Worlds in Collision he pointed to a common ancestral theme, gleaned from ancient writings, myths, legends, rituals, astronomical records and other traditions, that the planet Venus had once been the cause of a great cosmic catastrophe. The traditions also seemed to implicate Mars in a series of disasters some centuries later.

From details in the ancient sources Velikovsky pieced together a general description of the events and of their implications not only for our understanding of human history but the history of the solar system as well. He offered certain advance claims about the planets themselves and the role of electromagnetism in the solar system which should prove to be true if his analysis of the ancient stories had hit the mark. The strength with which Velikovsky had made his case was reflected in widespread public interest and the book's rapid climb to the top of the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune best-seller lists.

But this was far from the conventional academic view that such stories were grossly exaggerated accounts of local events or that they were entirely imaginary. The scientific community treated his analysis of the ancient record with contempt. According to astronomers then, the cosmic events that Velikovsky had reconstructed from the evidence simply could not have happened. Several well-known authorities openly denounced the book and barraged the public with the concept that to think Velikovsky might be correct, even in principle, was unintelligent. Yet, Worlds in Collision continued to enjoy bestseller status for some time and since then has gone through many printings.

Part of the reason for its endurance is that the book was written for the general public rather than in stiff formal academic style, though it is richly footnoted with references. But the main reason is the power of the story itself, vividly recreated from ancient myths and traditions gathered from all corners of the globe. In the same way that a psychoanalyst uncovers buried memories in patients from clues in their dreams, fantasies, and patterns of behavior, Velikovsky had traced the threads of human memory to times of violent natural chaos that brought life to the edge of extinction. Assembled together into a mass of concordances that one modern critic (Sagan) has called "stunning" a new conception of the past unfolded in a drama more vivid and real than the best of Hollywood and more compelling than the classics of "end of the world" sci-fi. The public was fascinated.

Despite the popularity of Worlds in Collision, scientists in general vigorously denied that it should be taken seriously. The astronomers were particularly offended since, according to the story as Velikovsky had reassembled it, they obviously had not yet discovered some very fundamental things about the solar system and its natural history. This, of course, was unacceptable to most and the official scientific position held fast. After all, what could Velikovsky, W11o was not an astronomer, know about such things?

The unexpected announcement in 1955 confirming one of Velikovsky's major advance claims [that Jupiter emits radiation at radio wavelengths] didn't change things significantly. If anything the resistance to his general thesis hardened. Critics continued to deride the idea that Velikovsky could have deduced anything meaningful about the nature of the solar system from descriptions in ancient traditions. Even when later surprise discoveries were made - especially with the advent of the space program - confirming more of Velikovsky's advance claims, few scientists acknowledged the connection. Two, a physicist and an astronomer, wrote jointly to Science [Bargmann and Motz letter, Dec. 21, 1962 issue] pointing out that Velikovsky clearly had forecast at least three of the major discoveries of the space age [the high temperature of Venus, the extended magnetosphere of Earth, and Jupiter's radio emissions] and suggested to other scientists that this should be recognized, though neither man, himself, supported Velikovsky theoretically. But even this neutral act of fair play was too much to ask and the situation remained unchanged.

In 1963, a special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist focused on the Velikovsky controversy and the questionable tactics of the scientific community that had surrounded the publication and reception of Worlds in Collision. About the same time, Harper's also carried a feature on Velikovsky which summarized the evidence for Velikovsky's case that had accumulated since 1950. The glowing embers of the controversy flamed up again.

Still more heat was generated when, in 1966, an augmented and updated version of the American Behavioral Scientist special issue was published as a book called The Velikovsky Affair: Scientism vs. Science. The message was becoming clear; the issue of the accuracy of Velikovsky's advance claims was not going to fade away. How had he anticipated so clearly what scientific research would later discover in space when the astronomers themselves were expecting quite different results? However they rationalized it, Velikovsky's advance claims were still a matter of public record - long before the research which confirmed them - and their clear anticipation of the growing list of surprise discoveries in space was unmistakable.

By 1972 a symposium directed toward a scientific reappraisal of Velikovsky's work was held at Lewis and Clark College in Portland Oregon. The variety and extent of the supporting scientific evidence that had accumulated since Worlds in Collision was first published was truly impressive. So was the caliber of the scientists and scholars who assembled to consider the case for rather than against Velikovsky. The symposium sponsors (the Student Academic Freedom Forum) also published the journal, Pensee, which carried the scientific debate to the public. Other symposia followed and the old arguments against Velikovsky's credibility crumbled away. New ones were raised and the noise of controversy reached an ever widening audience.

It reached a high-point of public attention when, in 1974, the American Association for the Advancement of Science sponsored a symposium in San Francisco to debunk the merits of Velikovsky's case for the public. Carl Sagan, an astronomer and science popularizer, was the chief adversary and, according to the general press coverage, had thoroughly demolished Velikovsky's arguments. The affair was reported to have put an end to the issue.

But many who attended (1400 people gave Velikovsky a standing ovation at the end of his defense against the adversary panel), felt the truth was quite different. Pensee carried the full story of the symposium to thousands and it became apparent that this effort too had been a series of careless and poorly considered arguments against the strength of Velikovsky's advance claims. In addition, the organization and conduct of the symposium did not reflect well on the scientific credibility of the event though it was later self-proclaimed, incorrectly, as the first appraisal by eminent scholars.

Just how distorted the whole affair had been was yet to be appreciated. Though Pensee had blown the whistle, it was not for two more years that Sagan's paper was released for publication, and then only after it had gone through several revisions [contrary, by the way, to the specific ground rules for the symposium that the various papers be published as they were presented originally.] Thirty pages had been added along with changes in the original text of 57 pages. It was published in book form, along with others from the AAAS team in 1977, but Velikovsky's contribution was omitted. He had been given space for only a few pages to answer not only Sagan's original paper but the rest of the symposium critics as well. Though he prepared a concise and cutting rebuttal to each, Velikovsky was urged by those sympathetic to his case not to daily with the AAAS further, especially after experiencing the onesided treatment at the symposium, but to press his reply to them independently. He chose to do so in the pages of the journal KRONOS which had shouldered the controversy when Pensee ceased publication. [A selection of articles from the individual issues of Pensee were published as a book, Velikovsky Reconsidered, in 1976; the next year Scientists Confront Velikovsky containing Sagan's and the other papers was published.] In November 1977, after having a chance to review the revised content, not only Velikovsky's original reply but responses by others who defended Velikovsky's position against the AAAS critics were published in a special issue of KRONOS. Edited by Lewis Greenberg, the issue also was released as a book, Velikovsky and Establishment Science. It was a devastating revelation of the lengths to which Sagan and others had gone to reject Velikovsky's ideas while, themselves, displaying a basic ignorance of the book they criticized.

The result was that many of the arguments they had raised simply were not relevant - they were launched at points Velikovsky had not claimed. Others missed the mark because they criticized Velikovsky for not claiming things that he had clearly written in Worlds in Collision. One critic went so far as to alter raw data arbitrarily to make his case against Velikovsky. With the whole episode in full view, the 1974 symposium seemed to be more show than science and the question for many was why this had to be the case if, indeed, there was no validity in Velikovsky's arguments. Yet, the public at large had seen only the general news coverage that Science had finished off Velikovsky once and for all. The eventual publication of the AAAS book without counter-argument in its pages further enhanced this general illusion for those who looked no further.

Another side of the general scientific attitude toward Velikovsky, and one particularly unjustified, was that he was not qualified to address scientific questions of such fundamental importance. In previous years, at the AAAS symposium, and in popular science articles down to the present Velikovsky has been portrayed at best as a kindly old doctor who had stumbled into halls of science where he didn't really belong; at worst, he was called a crackpot, a crank, a charlatan, or described in some equally debasing way. Whatever the scientific merit in the case he offered, to attack him personally and snub his academic standing was not only unwarranted, but silly.

Velikovsky had attained distinction as a physician, psychoanalyst, and scholar long before the publication of Worlds in Collision. His initial education was at the Medvednikov Gymnasium, a school in Moscow known for its academic excellence. Veilkovsky's father, a successful businessman and scholar had worked diligently to provide the opportunity. His mother, a student of languages, had already given him formal instruction in French, German, and Hebrew as well as Russian - not bad for a beginning pupil. Their efforts were rewarded by his own; he did well in his years at Medvednikov and graduated with honors.

He then went on to advanced studies in medicine, law, economics, ancient history and language. Velikovsky added significantly to an already impressive store of knowledge at Montpellier, Edinburgh, Moscow Free University, and the University of Moscow. He ultimately decided on medicine and earned his medical degree from the University of Moscow in 1921. Over the next few years, Velikovsky continued his activity as a scholar in Berlin where he also married his wife and lifelong companion Elisheva (herself an accomplished musician and artist). After moving to Palestine, Velikovsky began his formal medical practice and thus took the final turn in the road toward his destiny.

During the course of this practice his particular medical interests were attracted to psychiatry. It was during this same general period that Freud and the fledgling theories of psychoanalysis were gaining acceptance and Velikovsky, always in pursuit of the cutting edge of knowledge, chose to become a specialist. He traveled to Vienna to study psychoanalysis with Wilhelm Stekel who, himself, had been trained directly by Freud. It was this psychoanalytic training specifically which led to Velikovsky's own discoveries and the storm of controversy which followed throughout his life.

As an accomplished psychoanalyst Velikovsky's own research had opened a new window into the unconscious mind that revealed a wholly different view than those through which Freud and other early analysts had looked. Theirs were instinct theories; the unconscious mind and its characteristics were rooted in the biological nature and evolution of the race. In Velikovsky's theory the primary source was environmental and historical, giving it a special quality among psychoanalytic theories; it could be directly tested by the existing methods of other scientific disciplines!

This, of course, was where the trouble started. When, before Worlds in Collision was published, Velikovsky sought to have astronomers make certain tests of his claims, their reaction was, as noted, more emotional than scientific. It was really a questioning of the psychoanalytic approach itself. Could it be possible for anyone to have discovered a more accurate picture of natural history than the existing scientific model by these new and generally distrusted methods? The already established sciences recoiled at the very idea and over the years generally maintained an attitude expressed from the pinnacle of astronomical authority at the beginning of the controversy - If Dr. Velikovsky is right, the rest of us are crazy. And seriously, that may be the case. It is, however, improbable." [Harlow Shapley, 1946]

Shapley probably did not know how much Velikovsky might have agreed with the first part of his comment. One of the major implications of Velikovsky's psychoanalytic theory was that the cataclysmic events had somehow left a permanent impression in the human mind. What lay most repressed in the modern unconscious was terror of catastrophe from the skies; not the primal instincts as proposed by Freud nor the abstract evolutionary archetypes of Jung's theory. The psychological illness of humankind lay primarily in a deep collective amnesia for upheavals in the natural environment and not in the nature of the race itself.

In the context of his theory and the psychoanalytic principal that repressed traumas resist attempts to bring them to memory, Velikovsky had every reason to expect a certain amount of negative emotional reaction from the scientific community. But the intensity, persistence, and extremes of the response went far beyond anything he had anticipated. In his speech to the AAAS in 1974, [Velikovsky and Establishment Science, p.16] Velikovsky emphasized the contemporary psychological implications of his work and noted the consistency with which the scientific reaction had followed the patterns of an analytic patient about to face long hidden and painful memories. Something obviously had been aroused besides the scientific intellect.

It is this side of the controversy more than any other which clouded the question. Velikovsky often complained that part of the negative reaction came from the general failure to understand the psychoanalytic and historical methods by which he had arrived at his conclusions. As the confirmations of his claims accumulated the problem became particularly embarrassing but few from the established sciences conceded that there might be something to his contributions after all. Instead, more rationalizations ranging from It pure chance" to "will power alone" avoided the real issue in Velikovsky's unprecedented successful forecasts of major scientific discoveries. That lie might have done so by the avenue of a psychological breakthrough into the human past was and still is an unacceptable thought to most. Yet, how else but by valid psychological and historical methods could he have anticipated so many discoveries no one else expected?

Velikovsky's rationale and its psychological roots were not, after all, so difficult to understand. Anyone with basic reading in psychology could have understood his reasoning and that the tests requested from the astronomers were primarily to confirm or deny the validity of his new approach in psychoanalysis. But his critics chose not to emphasize this or that a major breakthrough in psychological science may have occurred - that Velikovsky could have discovered a key to psychoanalytic riddles that his predecessors had only partly resolved.

Like other early students in the field, Velikovsky had met Freud. He had published his own psychoanalytic research in Freud's journal, Imago, and was thoroughly grounded in the specific theoretical views of Freudian psychoanalysis. But, again, like many of Freud's early associates, Velikovsky too had reservations about certain aspects of psychoanalytic theory and the degree to which Freud's own personality was being reflected in it. As an approach to these questions Velikovsky began a study of Freud himself.

Of particular interest was the substance of a work Freud published late in his career in which he concluded that Moses had been an Egyptian - not a Hebrew. This startling conclusion, along with clues from Freud's dreams and from his other writings seemed to Velikovsky to be particularly critical to his analysis. He came to the United States in 1939 for what was intended to be a few months of exclusive research into this question. But as he reviewed the ancient sources for clues to Freud's reasoning regarding Moses' identity and role in Egypt, Velikovsky became intrigued with another thought. To him the conditions under which Moses led the Israelites' Exodus seemed to be the occurrence of a series of widespread natural disasters before, during, and after their departure from Egypt. Descriptions of rains of hot stones, a prolonged period of intense darkness, widespread volcanic activity, tidal waves, repeated earthquakes, swarms of vermin, hurricane winds, all suggested an extended natural disruption of immense proportion.


To this point, Psychoanalysts had treated such epic stories of ancient heroes and the calamitous actions of nature often associated with their memorable deeds as products of the mind alone. Instinctive motives were thought to be expressed by these collective tales of ancestral origins - a general, common human dream derived from the unconscious mind but having no material reality. Velikovsky's conviction that this was wrong and that natural upheavals of a magnitude not known in present history are actually being described in these otherwise incredible stories, marked a radical change in the theoretical foundations of psychoanalysis. The major myths were not race dreams from the depths of the instinctive mind but distorted memories of actual events in the ancient world.

But if this were so, such upheavals must surely have left a mark not only in the Hebrew record of the Exodus but in the Egyptian annals as well. Why had no such apparent connection been found? Velikovsky's research into this question resulted in a solution which, if valid, required a revaluation of the actual historical time of the Exodus. It also challenged the accepted scholarly practice of assigning all ancient peoples their place in time according to the chronology worked out for ancient Egypt.

In the search for corresponding Egyptian testimony to the Hebrew account, Velikovsky had located an ancient Egyptian papyrus [the Papyrus Ipuwer in the Leiden Museum, Holland] from a date apparently several centuries before the supposed time of the Exodus. Yet it seemed to describe the same disastrous phenomena reported by the Israelites in their own story of the escape from Egypt and the years of wandering in the desert. By adopting the hypothesis that the two accounts were contemporary and that their similarity in content was because both Egyptians and Israelites had witnessed the same natural upheaval, Velikovsky began the years of historical detective work which brought the results he could not then have imagined.

If his thesis was correct, the proposed match of the Exodus with the time of Papyrus Ipuwer would help resolve other scholarly uncertainties and controversies about the dating of events since that time; the corrective effect should show all along the scale of ancient time. The result of this extended, intensive research indeed seemed to confirm the need for an overhaul of the conventional dating of ancient history. It grew into a work of several volumes, the Ages in Chaos series, in which he outlined and documented his case for a revised chronology of the ancient world.


But it was in this general search of the ancient record that he discovered accounts of the same basic disastrous events in the annals of other ancient peoples, including the great pre-Columbian civilizations

of the New World. For the first time, he began to perceive the calamities of Exodus and Ipuwer as global in extent. The catastrophe was not localized in Egypt but had affected the entire world. It was this realization that became the focus of the new psychoanalytic ideas which have so disturbed the scientific community for more than three decades now. Velikovsky had looked through the lens of the ancient mind and had seen a new cosmology. But most of all he had seen a new dimension in the mind itself-one with powerful implications for the modern world- and this was the ultimate message of his work.

The scientific community still maintains its general aversion to Velikovsky and Worlds in Collision though, from knowledge acquired since the early '50s, there is no longer any reason to believe that catastrophes of a magnitude he described could not have happened or that his revised chronology of the ancient world is unreasonable. The continuing general opinion that Velikovsky's psychoanalytic approach to history has no merit stands in stark contrast to the wide range of successful deductions generated by his methods. In any other field such a string of confirmations of advance claims would have led at least to serious scientific attention and probably general acceptance in principle.

But psychoanalysis has not itself generally been recognized as an established science. The fundamental objection to Velikovsky's acceptance was most probably his attempt to make it so. By perceiving the source of the most important unconscious motives as the universal experience of natural catastrophe Velikovsky had shifted the psychoanalytic focus from instinct to the environment and, in that sense, paralleled the views of the developing science of Behaviorism. Every new confirmation brought the realization a step closer that something profoundly important had happened in the analysis of the unconscious mind; but the ancient story that it told was to remain outside the domain of scientific consciousness.

Even W, the record of his success is now a matter of history. As the reader has seen, Velikovsky was neither charlatan, nor crank, nor crackpot. He was a serious and formidable scholar throughout his life and attempts to portray him otherwise are not only unfair but untrue. Whether any or ail of his specific reconstruction will stand over time remains to be seen Velikovsky himself left this question open in the preface to Worlds in Collision - but his general accuracy in foretelling the undiscovered in Nature must be accounted somehow. To do so without mysticism requires a new respect for the principles of psychoanalytic thought and Velikovsky's particular understanding of the ancient historical depths of modern unconscious motivation.

Recommended Reading:

Much of the biographical and historical material for this article came from the works mentioned in the text. The story unfolds in great detail in these books and periodicals. We encourage the interested reader to search here for a more thorough understanding of this intriguing episode in science. These and the foundational books by Velikovsky are listed below:

1. Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (Garden City, New York Doubleday, 1950).

2. Immanuel Velikovsky, Earth in Upheaval (N.Y., 1955).

3. Immanuel Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1952).

4. The Velikovsky Affair, edited by Alfred de Grazia, Ralph E. Juergens and Livio Stecchini (New Hyde Park, New York: University Books, 1966).

5. Velikovsky Reconsidered, by the editors of Pensee (New York: Doubleday, 1976).

6. Velikovsky and Establishment Science, edited by Lewis M. Greenberg (Glassboro, New Jersey: KRONOS Press, 1977).

7. KRONOS: A journal of Interdisciplinary Synthesis; esp. I:1, III:2, IV:2, & VII:1. Lewis M. Greenberg, Editor-in-Chief (Glassboro, New Jersey: KRONOS Press). [See advertisement, this issue.]

8. Scientists Confront Velikovsky, edited by Donald Goldsmith (Cornell University Press, 1977).

[*!* Image: Dr. and Mrs. Immanuel Velikovsky, 1972 Portland Symposium.]

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