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"Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from insanity." Vox Day's 1st law

A Lead to Follow

A look back over the Immanuel Velikovsky Recon­sidered series by the compiler of this Index.

Whatever assessment is made of Velikovsky's work in future years--and we must surely believe that it will eventually receive the respect which it deserves--honour will also be due to the editors and publisher of Pensée for the large part played by their series of issues, "Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered", in bringing that work to the notice of the academic world and giv­ing it a new impetus.  It therefore seems appropriate, in publishing an Index to the series, to attempt some assessment of its impact.

Firstly, it must be said that the production and presentation of the journal maintained a very high standard--indeed, the standard was high at the begin­ning of the series and improved as it progressed.  With the help of a small team of dedicated scholars, Stephen Talbott succeeded in matching up to the best commercial publications, and in many respects Pensée set standards which other interdisciplinary journals will do well to emulate.

Reading through these ten issues of Pensée, which were published over a three-year period from 1972 to 1974 (and how eagerly they were awaited by those who, particularly in Britain, had for years been frustrated by the absence of any informed debate on Velikovsky's work, as well as by the non-appearance of the long-promised sequels to Ages in Chaos?) one is immediately aware of a marked development towards a more mature approach to that work.  In 1972 the trend towards a greater openness to unorthodox ideas, and greater wil­lingness to examine one's own assumptions, was less well established than today.  Velikovsky's voice had been crying almost unheard in the wilderness for over twenty years, and it is not surprising that the first issue, from which the ten-issue series developed, should have had a strongly evangelistic flavour, with great stress on his successful predictions and his harsh treatment by the academic establishment.  Clearly, many of the contributors were wholly convinced that his theories were correct--or if they had doubts they were not admitting to them--and the element of debate was almost wholly absent.

But necessarily, as the series progressed, the em­phasis changed.  The majority of the contributions were still sympathetic towards Velikovsky and the catastro­phist viewpoint, and indeed the whole series must be seen as an attempt to win academic respectability for that viewpoint, but even in the early issues the editor was able to gain contributions and statements from many university professors and lecturers, and one wonders whether the academic emphasis was the right one to adopt. The great majority of those who turned Worlds in Collis­ion into an instant best-seller must have been non-acad­emics, and there is a danger that "interdisciplinary studies" may become yet another area of specialization, whose practitioners are not interested in communicating with amateurs.  The reports of the various symposia which were held (largely as a result of the Pensée initiative) show clearly that in debate between specialists and non-specialists (let alone between academics and non-academics) it is very difficult to avoid time-wasting digressions and to make real progress.

Undoubtedly, interdisciplinary study in itself (on whatever topics) has its own problems, which are far from being solved, and we should not be surprised that the quality of the contributions to Pensée was, espec­ially at first, somewhat variable.

Among these contributions, the greatest number from any one pen are by Velikovsky himself, though the maj­ority of these were not written specifically for Pensée; some-are reprints from other publications, but a number ­are taken from material which had been set in print for the various volumes of the Ages in Chaos series and so far remained unpublished.  All of these will have whet­ted the appetites of his admirers, who have long been waiting for these books to appear, and perhaps the most important of them is "Astronomy and Chronology" (IVR IV, and now in print as a supplement to Peoples of the Sea), his detailed analysis of the weaknesses of the "astronomical" basis of the conventional Egyptian chronology.  This crucial paper surely is the key which could open the way to a wider acceptance of his histor­ical reconstruction, and one wishes that it could have had a wider circulation from an early date (it was written in the 1950s), perhaps through one of the spec­ialist historical publications.

A topic which is debated by a number of contributors (including Velikovsky himself) is that of the validity of carbon-14 dating, and of the tree-ring dating sys­tem which is used for cross-checking and calibration.  To what extent did the C-14 level in the atmosphere vary, as a result perhaps of worldwide forest fires, changes in the amount of water in the oceans, or the intrusion of carbon from extra-terrestrial sources?  Is it possible that, as the work of Anderson and Spangler suggests, the radioactive decay constant was at times changed by massive electrical discharges?  Have C-14 dates unfavourable to the conventional chronology been (deliberately or otherwise) suppressed?  Can the tree-ring sequences be matched with the accuracy claimed by the dendrochronologists?  All these questions are dis­cussed, and one cannot escape the feeling that histor­ians, both orthodox and unorthodox, are prepared to grasp at scientific techniques when the results support their preconceptions, and to ignore or discredit them when they do not.

Approaching the revised chronology from a more con­ventionally archaeological standpoint, we find strong support for the abolition of Dark Ages in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean in articles by Isaacson and Greenberg, as well as a challenge by Stiebing (of which more later).  On the other hand, MacKie's work on the megalithic monuments of north-eastern Europe and their probable astronomical alignments appears to pose prob­lems for the kind of radical changes in the Earth's motion in the 15th and 8th centuries BC proposed by Velikovsky.  Here it is encouraging to find contributors able and willing to go beyond discussions of the details of Velikovsky's claim and to bring the results of their own research to bear on the questions which he raised.

In the cosmological field also, Pensée contributors have done pioneering work.  There are several analyses of possible combinations of planetary orbits which might fit in with the conclusions drawn by Velikovsky from traditional accounts of cosmic conflict.  And in IVR II we find a very bold proposal by Juergens to give electrical phenomena a far more prominent place in cel­estial mechanics, and especially in the generation of radiant energy in thesun and stars.  Nevertheless, none of these contributors was able to suggest an energy ­exchange mechanism (electromagnetic or otherwise) capable of accounting quantitatively for the orbital chan­ges proposed in Worlds in Collision.  How welcome, then, were two papers in IVR VIII by Robert W. Bass, a special­ist in celestial mechanics, stating categorically that--contrary to widely-held beliefs--a Newtonian solar system (in which gravity plays the major, if not the only part in planetary motions) is not necessarily stable.  The "proofs" of stability by Laplace and others are shown to be based on unwarranted assumptions and non-rigorous mathematics, and Bass claims that the present apparently stable situation does not preclude "wild motions" and exchanging of orbits in the past. This authoritative statement will undoubtedly encourage those who had rejected Velikovskian catastrophism as physically impossible (even if attractive on other grounds) to reconsider their position--indeed, it is to Bass's work that we owe the presence of Professor Roy at the Spring 1978 conference at Glasgow University. These two papers are of primary importance and deserve to be widely publicised, even if the mathematics of perturbation theory is too complex for most of us to follow, except at a respectful distance.

Another contribution which, though brief, has explo­sive potential is that of Anderson and Spangler (IVR IX).  Their claim is that, under laboratory conditions, the radioactive decay "constant" has been shown exper­imentally to be influenced by external factors, par­ticularly electric fields.  The impact of this discov­ery, if it is confirmed, on many fields of science and technology, will be dramatic --not least in the area of radiometric dating.  Mention must also be made of Juergens' study of the surface features of Mars and the Moon in the light of the hypothesis that many of them may have originated in interplanetary electrical discharges.  This is a good example of work which bridges the gap between the strictly scientific and the purely speculative, and it is to be hoped that the correspon­dence on cosmic electricity in Pensée may be a precur­sor of greater interest in this potentially fruitful field of research.

In general, then, the quality of the papers printed in Pensée was high, bearing in mind the inherent prob­lems of interdisciplinary work and allowing for some over-enthusiasm towards Velikovsky and his theories--­for theories they remain at present.  However, on some occasions when direct debate was attempted, the results were disappointing.  Two contributions directly critical of Velikovsky were published--one by Straka (IVR II) and the other by Stiebing (IVR V).  In each case Veli­kovsky replied, and there was a further exchange of comments.  Straka attacked his cosmology, Stiebing his history, and each attempted to demolish him in a couple of pages--a brevity which suggests that they unwisely expected his complex structure of ideas to collapse at the touch of an authoritative finger.  Not surprisingly, Velikovsky counter-attacked, accusing Straka of errors of calculation and Stiebing of failure to understand his methods.  Both exchanges petered out with a smell of acrimony, and it was clear to the reader that none of the protagonists had any willingness to admit that his opponent might be right, even in part.  Straka's intemperate charge of "anti-science" obscured any val­idity in his claim that electromagnetic forces are quantitatively inadequate for the role proposed for them.  Similarly, between Stiebing and Velikovsky, and again between Kruskal and Juergens, non-comprehension of the other's position is very apparent.  But it is in the reports of the AAAS symposium in San Francisco that we see the unwillingness to enter into genuine debate most clearly and sadly displayed.  But can we expect anything different?  To ask an established scholar to submit the most basic tenets of his own field to scrut­iny (usually unsympathetic), criticism (frequently ill ­informed) and debate (not always respectful) is to ask a great deal, and we should not be surprised that few enter into open debate with any enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, it does seem as if a genuine swing to open-mindedness is in the air, and it remains for those who have been inspired by the pioneering work of the great innovators to continue with the less exciting but equally necessary task of weaving new and old ideas into one harmonious fabric.  In this task,Pensée has given us a lead; let us not be slow to follow it.

J. D. M. START

PENSÉE SUBJECT INDEX

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