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Open letter to science editors

 

The Center Holds
William Mullen

During any revolution it is wise to keep thinking ahead to the new order that will emerge once victory is secure.  Velikovsky's work may well catalyze a scientific revolution for which not even the familiar cases—Copernicus, Newton, Darwin—are adequate precedents.  His reconstruction of the history of the solar system will not be accepted widely unless articulate readers who have found it sound persist in demanding objective consideration from the scientific community.  Yet it would be wrong for them to devote energy exclusively to debating.  Some corner of the mind has to be reserved in which one can act as though the struggle has been won and begin surveying the new domain.  There is a growing literature on the phenomenon of Velikovsky's rejection and on the ceaseless confirmations of his advance claims, but the body of work which simply assumes him correct and proceeds to further research is still insignificant.

Velikovsky himself has been aware that research is not best carried forward amid vituperative debate.  He has followed his numerous confirmations closely and at all times been open to debate scientifically conducted, but most of his energy has gone to further study, lucid and patient.  Like Confucius he eschews rancor, preferring to extend his knowledge of particulars.  Over 20 years ago, in the epilogue to Worlds in Collision, he succinctly surveyed the major problems still unsolved.  I would like here to elaborate a little on them in each of the disciplines he takes up.

PHYSICS

These disciplines can be seen as a spectrum of which physics and history form the extremes, the one dealing with general laws for living and non-living phenomena alike, the other with specific records left by the most complex single form of life, man.  It is not surprising that in 1950 physicists felt absolved from considering Velikovsky's historical evidence because it contradicted their "known laws."  He foresaw conflict from the beginning, and in the original preface defended his procedure explicitly: "If, occasionally, historical evidence does not square with formulated laws, it should be remembered that a law is but a deduction from experience and experiment, and therefore laws must conform with historical facts, not facts with laws."[1]

Methodologically this is unassailable.  Still, tactically speaking, sooner or later it is necessary to meet the physicists on their own ground.  From the historical facts established in Worlds in Collision more adequate physical laws still wait to be formulated in detail.  The specific laws the book was thought to contradict are those of the celestial mechanics which assumes the solar system to be electrically sterile and on that assumption successfully calculates planetary positions.  It should be well known that since the early Fifties radiology and space probes have rendered such an assumption false many times over.  However, the accusation is still heard that if Velikovsky dethrones Laplacian celestial mechanics, he must offer something better in its place; until then he has not approached the problem "quantitatively" and therefore physicists are still absolved from considering it.  The less generous among them even assume that he was not aware of the problems involved.

The physicist must consider the possibility that an ancient myth or document might require a reconsideration of physical laws or geological doctrine; the anthropologist or historian must admit the importance of celestial mechanics or paleontology for his own discipline.

It is not so well known that in his correspondence and discussions with Einstein, which grew in complexity till the latter's death in 1955, the relationship between electromagnetic and gravitational forces was the principal subject.  That was only as it should have been, since Einstein's own work in his last years was towards a unified field theory explaining the two orders of phenomena in common terms.  It makes sense that Einstein should have chosen this undertaking since, if successful, it would have satisfied in the highest degree the requisite of generality which makes any scientific theory valuable.  He was involved in a search for first principles.  As he once put it himself, "The idea that there are two structures of space independent of each other, the metric-gravitational and the electromagnetic, is intolerable to the theoretical spirit."[2]  Is it fair that a synthesis which Einstein after decades of work was not able to conclude satisfactorily be demanded of Velikovsky before his evidence from other disciplines is even considered?  The space probes have only shown that a more comprehensive celestial mechanics, based on a physics in which electromagnetism and gravitation are explained by common laws, would have been necessary even if Velikovsky had never raised the issue.  It should also be obvious that if gravitation can in fact be cogently described in terms of some more fundamental forces, this does not mean that Newtonian physics need be "thrown out"; Velikovsky never suggested that it should be.

What remains is a major task.  It is to carry forward study of celestial mechanics to the point where the behavior of a magnetized solar system in hypothetical catastrophic conditions can be quantitatively described.  Only then will the possibility of the actual behavior Velikovsky reconstructs seem to physicists a subject verifiable by their own discipline.  Obviously specific paths of the planets in catastrophic events of the past can never be calculated with the same precision that their present stability allows.  Such precision would in any case be pointless.  But a very satisfactory proof of the physical possibility of such events can be made through approximation.  Assume certain masses, charges, and paths for certain planets such that they cannot help disturbing each other's motions, then calculate in precisely what ways these motions would be disturbed.  If the same effects which Velikovsky presents descriptively can be deduced to many decimal places, then the exact science of physics will be contributing its share.  And in so doing it will be impelled to broaden its theoretical understanding of a problem which Einstein singled out as crucial, the co-operation of electromagnetism and gravitation in the same domain.

GEOLOGY

The second relevant discipline dealing with inorganic materials is geology.  Velikovsky considered its problems the most imperative and turned to them after finishing Worlds in Collision.  Earth in Upheaval has left no doubt that the house of geology needs to be rebuilt from the cellar up.  At no point however does this book claim to be a textbook—it only collates a certain kind of evidence as proof that certain events occurred.  In fact, it devotes only limited space to chronology of catastrophes described in Worlds in Collision; much of the material is meant only as decisive evidence for catastrophism in general.  The geologists therefore are left with the enormous labor of distinguishing, to the limited extent possible, among effects of a series of catastrophes extending indefinitely back in time.  No longer free to appeal to the uniformitarian notion that the record is incomplete, they will have to pay more serious attention to the fact that alterations between strata are abrupt.

It is, of course, impossible to reconstruct celestial events from the geological record alone.  Confronted with evidence from times before the memory of man, the geologist can only describe the nature of the change the earth underwent.  Nevertheless his position is unique because no other discipline has any access at all to these earlier catastrophes.  Celestial mechanics can only go a very little ways back through approximate retrograde calculations, while human mythology and history obviously cannot be expected to contain accounts of events in pre-human times.  The geologist, left with a framework of epochs (Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic, etc.) which has been given new meaning, will have the last word.  However, it must be added that this last word has no chance of making sense in his current terminology.  Earth in Upheaval, exposes a number of terms as simply ad hoc inventions to describe phenomena they do not explain.  "Erratics," "moraine," "till," "upthrust," "faulting," "vulcanism," "igneous...... sedimentary," not to mention "Ice Ages" —these and many other terms will be useful to a revised geology only if their present associations are purged away.

PALEONTOLOGY AND BIOLOGY

Inseparable from the geological record is the paleontological and biological.  This touches a part of Velikovsky's work which can legitimately be called a theory—that of catastrophic mutation.  The bulk of his effort has been towards a reconstruction of specific events, while the term "theory" is better applied to a general account (verifiable by experimentation).  Darwinian evolution lays claim to the status of a theory not because it can be experimentally verified, but only because it claims that processes that occurred in the past are also occurring unnoticeably in the present.  Velikovsky's theory of mutations, on the other hand, is supported by experiments already performed (cf.  Muller's subjection of vinegar flies to x-rays).[3]  Here future possibilities are endless.  It is even a bit frightening to speculate how techniques of inducing mutation might be sophisticated through experiments.  From the point of view of historical reconstruction, however, knowledge thus gained will be invaluable.  Like the geologist, the biologist will have to face more seriously the fact that between strata many new species appear abruptly.  His task is to devise laws of mutation refined enough to explain how a given species came from one preceding it and why it took the form it did.  The early 19th century evolutionist, Etienne Saint-Hilaire, speculated that birds might have been generated directly from fish through sudden mutation in catastrophic circumstances, but he was not prepared to explain the mechanics.

A second large subject for biological experimentation is the old Lamarckian theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics.  It has never been decisively disproven.  If anything, increased experimental sophistication has only revealed greater complexity in genetic structures, leaving the possibility of the subtlest kinds of transmission wide open.  Inheritance of behavior patterns laid down in catastrophic circumstances might explain a number of biological enigmas—bird migration; swarming; acute sensitivity of many species to the subtlest earth tremors, solar eclipses, etc.  The inheritance of memory has already been suggested by experiments on rats and worms.

PSYCHOLOGY

Here, without any perceptible break between disciplines, one touches a major premise of Velikovsky's psychology, barely adumbrated in the epilogue to Worlds in Collision.  Referring to Freud's idea of an archaic heritage of traumatic memories transmitted from generation to generation, and also to Jung's concept of a collective unconscious, he wrote: "In the light of these theories, we may well wonder to what extent the terrifying experiences of world catastrophes have become part of the human soul and how much, if any, of it can be traced in our beliefs, emotions and behavior as directed from the unconscious or subconscious strata of the mind."[4]  If biological experimentation offers concrete proof that instincts acquired under catastrophic circumstances might be transmitted genetically, then the whole psychology implicit in this sentence is objectively grounded.  Whatever their accounts of the content of the unconscious, Freud and Jung agreed that one of its principal compulsions was to act out what has been repressed.  If the collective unconscious of man contains memory of catastrophic experiences which his collective consciousness represses, then in a sense he may be doomed to act those experiences out.  Many irrational rituals—war and religion chief among them—would thus be grimly explained.  Resistance to such an aetiology will naturally be intense.  The more comprehensively a theory relates past events to present behavior the more readily is it denounced as deterministic.  There are already enough schools of psychology at each other's throats, and none more beleaguered than Freudians who hold to an original orthodoxy or Jungians who champion their apostate.

But this is not the place either to expound or defend Velikovsky's psychlogical hypotheses.  I wish only to make two points about them.  First, his deductions are less problematical than those of his predecessors because his first principles are not in themselves psychological: he does not have to fabricate a primal psychic complex, like Freud's father-murder, nor an innate psychic content, like Jung's archetypes.  His psychology accepts data objectively established by other disciplines.  At most he borrows a psychological mechanism, the so-called "repetition-compulsion," and any theory explaining wars will hardly be able to deny that, for whatever reason, they are being compulsively repeated.  Second, if these hypotheses contain any correctness at all, then they constitute the most urgent aspect of his work.  There is a paradox here: before one can accept his diagnosis, one must be satisfied with his conclusions in all the other disciplines, but none of these others claim nearly the same immediacy to our present situation.  One cannot resolve this paradox, one can only seek a mean.  Velikovsky himself in recent lectures has often given the psychological aspect prominence and has mentioned that it is the subject of a separate, unfinished book.

MYTHOLOGY

Psychology studies a specific realm of organic behavior—man's—in its least rational manifestation.  The subject closest to it might well be mythology, one of man's earliest manifestations of a rational impulse.  As Hermann Broch wrote, "Myth is the archetype of every phenomenal cognition of which the human mind is capable."[5]  The popularity of Levi-Strauss's structuralist school indicates the respect accorded nowadays to primitive thinking.  Followers of Velikovsky need have no quarrel with the structuralists.  Their approaches are complimentary and await synthesis.  Levi-Strauss has shown that the logic of many myths is as rigorous as that of science, Velikovsky that the subjects of many myths are as real as those of science.  Their subjects are events, and "the event is the unit of things real" (Whitehead).  Primitive cultures grow enormously in stature once it is realized that the bizarre cosmological myths central to their traditions in fact describe the major events in the history of the earth.  And they do more than describe; in their own way they attempt to explain and master what would otherwise have paralyzed by its terror.  Isak Dinesen remarked that there is no event too terrible to bear so long as men can make a story about it.[6]

But just as Earth in Upheaval does not set out to be a geology textbook, so Worlds in Collision is not concerned to analyze the mechanisms of myth-making or systematically describe any particular body of myths.  These enterprises remain.  Anyone who has ever entered the labyrinth of an archaic culture's mythical compendia (the Pyramid Texts, the Vedas, the Theogony) can testify to a desperate suspicion that there is no thread of objective reality.  Velikovsky has provided the common thread; it remains for the labyrinths to be explored one by one.  This not just for the sake of completeness.  Only when we have grasped relations of the specifically catastrophic to the rest of a given culture's myths can we appreciate its full intellectual and ethical achievement. (Velikovsky's remarks on the emergence of Judaic monotheism are a case in point.[7])  And only someone who has grasped the unity of mythical thought in a number of cultures will be in a position to formulate general laws for its mechanisms.  Of course such synthetic efforts have been made already, ever since classical times.  What is extraordinary is that never before Velikovsky have so many disciplines been united to illuminate those major events which myths were first to describe.

HISTORY

The final discipline dealt with in the epilogue to Worlds in Collision is history.  Velikovsky has described himself as a psychiatrist by vocation and an historian by avocation.  It might be added that if any single disciplinary method took precedence in the researching of Worlds in Collision it was the historical.  There is a certain logic in the fact that, of all the problems mentioned in the epilogue, Velikovsky has himself given the most energy to revising ancient chronology: the first volume of Ages in Chaos appeared shortly after Worlds in Collision and several more are now in preparation.  Insofar as his task there has been to align records left by the ancients, he has been engaged in an activity, historiography, which is in itself a mode of behavior—organic, human, rational—that forms its own subject.  While the conventional material out of which "history" is made—battles, usurpations, conquests—often show human behavior at its most irrational, the art of historiography by contrast is a highly civilized manifestation.  And in Ages in Chaos the historiography of the ancients is always given first place as evidence by which to reconstruct the sequence of events.

Massive as it is, however, Ages in Chaos covers only one major area of the ancient world, stretching from the Middle East to the central Mediterranean, and has one circumscribed purpose, to correct Egyptian chronology and all others based on it.  Two assumptions from Worlds in Collision are taken as fundamental: first, that no chronology using retrograde calculations of the positions of heavenly bodies is reliable earlier than -687; second, that the principal clue for synchronizing histories of ancient nations should be the breaks caused in all of them by the catastrophic events.  Both assumptions are equally valid for a number of other civilizations which Ages in Chaos does not touch, China and India chief among them.  Of these China has the more developed historiography, with a list of dynasties, kings and hypothetical dates reaching roughly as far back as the Egyptian.  Like the Egyptian, some of the more ancient dates have been arrived at through retrograde calculations of the position of constellations ( cf. the Canon of Yao in the Shu King)[8] and are therefore baseless.  Many later dates, on the other hand, synchronize to the day with Biblical and Egyptian records, and there is no single ancient document which dates each episode in the most recent series of catastrophes more meticulously than the Spring and Autumn Annals, beginning with the year -776.  Again like the Egyptian, Chinese remote antiquity is divided into three major phases, the Hsia, Shang and Chou dynasties.  Whether the breaks between them are in each case to be coordinated with global catastrophes is a problem which the stratigraphist and the historian should together be able to solve.  India has no such detailed historiography, but the combination of myth and history in her epic and other literary traditions should yield richly to a similar effort.  The total destruction of the Indus Valley Civilization in -1500, like that of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, gives a firm starting point.

THE INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH

Having traversed the range of disciplines between physics and history, I would now like briefly to consider it as a whole.  Just as all the colors in a spectrum united make a white light, so all the disciplines in science united make one mode of knowledge.  Not the least effect of a Velikovskian revolution should be to make scientists unable to forget that certain problems can be solved only if data from the most widely divergent fields are considered together.  Interdisciplinary research will have to be regarded not as a luxury but as an essential.  A case in point is the problem which Velikovsky sets first in his epilogue,[9] that of the great catastrophe preceding those described in Worlds in Collision but still part of human memory, the Deluge.  An ideal researcher trying to reconstruct this event would have to consult in detail both the latest findings of the space probes and the pyramid inscriptions of Old Kingdom Egypt.  Obviously not every young scientist should be educated towards multi-disciplinary mastery.  Nevertheless certain options should be left open to a few.  It would not be unthinkable to institute an interdisciplinary program in which an undergraduate would give four or more years to mastering rudiments of each of the disciplines I have dealt with—physics, geology, biology, psychology, mythology, history—and only at the graduate level choose one of these as a field in which to begin acquiring skills needed to research a specific problem related to catastrophism.

Inevitably each will be tempted to plead that he cannot pass judgment on any novel thesis beyond his own field.  This can lead to obscurantism but is tolerable so long as he is ready to admit that a solution to a problem within his own field might still be reached by someone working in other fields.  The physicist or geologist must consider the possibility that an ancient myth or document might require a reconsideration of physical laws or geological doctrine; the anthropologist or historian must admit the importance of celestial mechanics or paleontology for his own discipline.

Ultimately the interdisciplinary synthesis Velikovsky's work calls for, should have more than academic reverberations.  The better we comprehend how celestial mechanics and ancient mythology meet in the same nexus, the closer we come to bridging the abyss between material and spiritual realities.  It is paradoxical that rediscovery of the facts of chaos in the solar system should lead to new principles of order for the human intellect.  One must simply learn to look at the matter from two opposite points of view until they become the same.  Awesome as catastrophic events may be, they remain subject to comprehensible laws.  Comprehensible as their laws may be, the events of the past remain awesome.  In the poet Rilke's words, "Beauty's only the beginning of terror we're still able to bear."[10]  Such thoughts seem to lie at the center of man's earliest metaphysical speculations, and scientific revolutions may be only a means of returning to them.

REFERENCES

[1]  I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (Doubleday, 1950), vii.

[2]  Cited by Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein (Time Inc., 1962, originally published by Harper and Bros., 1948), 102.

[3]  I. Velikovsky, Earth In Upheaval (Doubleday, 1955), 253.

[4]  I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, op. cit., 383.

[5]  Hermann Broch, "The Style of the Mythical Age," introduction to Rachel Bespaloff's On the Iliad (Harper Torchbook, 1962, originally published by the Bollingen Foundation, 1947), 15.

[6]  Cited by Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future Viking Press, 1961), 262.

[7]  I. Velikovsky, Worlds In Collision, op. cit., 382-3.

[8]  The Shu King, trans James Legge, The Chinese Classics (Hong Kong, reprinted 1960), 19; cf I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, op. cit., 103.

[9]  I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, op. cit., 381-2.

[10]  R. M. Rilke, Dulno Elegies 1. 4-5.

Dr.  William Mullen, teaches in the departments of classics and comparative literature, and in the division of interdisciplinary general studies, University of California (Berkeley).  His avocation is Egyptology.

PENSEE Journal I

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