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Reexamination of the Foundations
The following is excerpted from a telephone interview with Dr. George Grinnell on March 15, 1972. Grinnell is a professor of history at McMaster University, Canada. His field of study is the history of science.
The strong reaction to Dr. Velikovsky is understandable to one who has done research in the history of science. Velikovsky has taken a look at the foundations of astronomy and geology, hitting at those very sensitive spots which were never empirically established. Uniformitarianism in geology was basically a political doctrine; it was never one that was verified empirically. Any suggestion that uniformitarianism is not scientific—Velikovsky does suggest that—is very embarrassing. Scientists cannot answer directly, they can only answer by attacking Velikovsky the way Lyell attacked the catastrophists of his day: by discrediting their person. The same thing is also true of astronomy, which likewise has some very weak points at its foundations. One of those weak points happens to be the gravitational constant, which was deduced as much for theological reasons as for empirical reasons...
We can't say for sure that Velikovsky has made a "great contribution" to scholarship. But by pursuing a certain idea, he has opened up the possibility that the foundations of a number of sciences are not so strong as we had originally thought. By going to the history of science we discover that these foundations never were very strong to begin with, but this fact has been forgotten.
This gets very involved—I've been doing research in this area for 15 years. There are three areas that specifically need further research. First, I do not think that any physicist could actually derive, or historically show how was derived, the concept of gravity. That concept is extremely shaky in its original derivation. We have become accustomed to it through habit, but there is very little justification for it.
Second, I've already mentioned the uniformitarian hypothesis, which was introduced by a lawyer, not by a professional geologist. Lyell argued the uniformitarian case like a lawyer would argue it; it was not something that issued from research.
Third, and most controversial is the evolutionary question. I have done a great deal of work on Darwin and can say with some assurance that Darwin also did not derive his theory from nature but rather superimposed a certain philosophical worldview on nature and then spent 20 years trying to gather the facts to make it stick.
We have now become very used to dealing with evolution, uniformitarianism, and gravity, and we have forgotten what their foundations are. But Velikovsky should not be rejected on the basis of 100 years of tradition. It may be that these 100 years of tradition have rested on very insecure foundations.
Scientist, Philosopher And Poet
The following is excerpted from a telephone interview on March 22, 1972, with Dr. Lynn Trainor, professor of physics at University of Toronto. Trainor, who is performing specialized work in nuclear physics and statistical mechanics, also maintains an interest in the social implications of science.
Velikovsky is a remarkable man of extraordinary intelligence and great insight, but he doesn't fit into the usual mold of scientists. He is partly a scientist, but also partly a philosopher and almost a poet.
In my own experience the best scientists are people with some kind of special intuition; they don't always follow the pattern of obvious logic. They make intuitive jumps in their thinking which they can't, themselves, explain at the time. Velikovsky does this more than most scientists because he has a very strong and highly charged intuition, and this puts him on the fringes of normal scientific activity.
In judging a person like Velikovsky it comes down to whether you have a higher regard for a certain cold self-evident logic or whether you have a higher regard for the intuitive powers of great people. Perhaps there is a balance between these. Personally, I think it is tremendously important to have such people around because, whether they are right or wrong, they jar one out of normal modes of thought and stimulate people to reexamine with more perspective the things that they've been doing.
Velikovsky (I'm speculating here) has a deep intuitive feeling that the usual kind of deductions scientists make on the basis of apparent facts are nearly always wrong in the light of history. When additional facts come in, those deductions are found to be too naive. Velikovsky has shown that some of our past ideas are too barren.
One of our problems is that we have gotten ourselves into little sub-specialized boxes. The more profound scientists I've come across have not only a good depth of knowledge in a particular field, but also a great breadth of interest. Science is a deeply human enterprise, but the tendencies in science are such as to squeeze the humanism out ...
In many fields there are certain things in vogue at a given time. Nearly everything published in high energy physics, for example, is junk. It has nothing to do with reality—it's a whole castle of cards. Yet you are on safe ground if you write a paper according to the currently accepted style. You will be published, especially if you make some curves and graphs that make it appear that you did some calculations. The fact that it is all a house of cards with very little reality to begin with is somehow ignored.
I think it's tremendously exciting that there are still people with Velikovsky's intelligence and the courage to range over a wide field and try to stimulate people. Even if he is entirely wrong, he still serves a very useful purpose. The fact that he causes a controversy is useful. God only knows, in pure science itself there isn't enough controversy.
As Velikovsky and others like him have discovered, if you come up with novel ideas that cut across the normal grain, it is very hard to get these ideas into professional journals. The editor writes back: "You needn't speculate; why don't you work it out." But if you get a paper published, then other scientists, who have the expertise to work through specialized problems, can do so.
For every scientist who can put forth a really new idea, there are many others who cannot, but who like problems to work on. But unless you can get an idea out, other people do not respond.
Velikovsky and the Scientific Method
The following is excerpted from a telephone interview with Dr. Lionel Rubinov on March 15, 1972. Rubinov is a professor of philosophy at Trent University, Canada, and a former professor of philosophy and social science at York University
One of the reasons Velikovsky elicits the kind of reaction he does from other scientists is his method, which is somewhat different from the ordinary methods of empirical research. He starts with myth and literature, developing hypotheses from these areas which he then applies to the interpretation of natural phenomena. His approach has been to speculate rather than to perform experiments. The incredible thing is that when experimental data finally is produced, it tends to confirm his hypotheses. And he's never claimed to be anything more than an hypothesis-giver, he's never claimed to be an empiricist in the sense of an experimentalist.
The greatest difficulty presents itself in the realm of astronomy and astrophysics, which is the realm in which his views reach their most dramatic expressions. One of the frustrations is the fact that there's very little you can do to set up experimental conditions under which you can either falsify or confirm Velikovsky's hypotheses. From the standpoint of a philosopher of science, one of the limitations of his approach is that his hypotheses do not include a specific statement of the conditions of their falsifiability, which is one of our normal expectations with respect to the logic of explanation. To say simply that it's false if it isn't proven true is a tautology. In a normal scientific enterprise you can usually outline precise experimental conditions and the kind of results that would be obtained if, in fact, the hypothesis is false.
It may turn out that the conditions we require of a scientific judgement—conditions we accept a priori—need to be reexamined. As a result of work by men like Velikovsky our concept of science may undergo change; Velikovsky is not the only one whose work points in that direction: others are suggesting that there are aspects of the concept of science which haven't been recognized.
There's not too much you can do now with respect to setting up conditions in which things that happened several thousand years ago can be recreated. However, historians and astronomers alike now have techniques for simulating these conditions or at least operationally reducing them to variables that can be located within our own experience. For example, Velikovsky's views on the reception of cosmic catastrophe, that is, the way people experience a cosmic catastrophe, can be evaluated in the light of current experiences. Another scholar recently studied how the people of Hiroshima experienced the atomic bomb, and comparing this study with Velikovsky's work, you may find patterns of similarity. I'm also interested in certain work that's been done with remnants of the Jewish people in Europe, who lived through the holocaust and experienced catastrophe.
This is what I mean by the comparative approach. In the comparative approach we may uncover criteria and principles that could constitute a basis of validation. But the whole science of "comparative this" or "comparative that" is still under development.
Testing of Velikovsky's hypotheses will be fully developed only when we have perfected a comparative approach to knowledge. The methods of verification which were once adequate to physics alone are no longer adequate for a physics which ranges over a wide variety of disciplines.
Silence is Not Acceptable
The following is excerpted from a telephone interview on March 17, 1972, with George Dubokovic, head of the department of modern languages, Selkirk College, British Columbia.
If Velikovsky is wrong, that should be proved. Silence is not an acceptable response; nor is telling everybody that "Velikovsky is not competent to pass judgement." Why not prove it, and then everyone will be satisfied?
It is very difficult for a layman—as I am with respect to the disciplines in which Velikovsky works—to say whether he is right or wrong. We can only say, "This seems to be plausible," or "this explains what some other theories do not." For example, Velikovsky's interpretations of certain catastrophic phenomena described in the Bible are much better than other interpretations which assume these descriptions to be only metaphors. Some of them are metaphors. But when the writers tell of actual occurrences—the shaking of walls and crumbing of mountains—I cannot accept these as metaphors because they are not necessary as metaphors. They are the statement of certain facts, however exaggerated.
Likewise, even before I read Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos, I saw the texts excavated at Ugarit, and it struck me as incongruous that the language in those texts should be as old as the established chronology makes it. When Velikovsky said the texts were in fact several hundred years younger, it made sense.
To The Editor:
I am very pleased to see that Pensee has undertaken this sorely needed review of the work of I. Velikovsky, especially in light of the mountain of data recently obtained from space probes, the Apollo project and other researches.
Those, such as myself, who have met and talked with Dr. Velikovsky can testify to his scientific honesty, his courage, his energy and his encyclopedic knowledge of the details relating to his fantastic theories. I am sure that most find his theories almost too incredible to believe, but his varied predictions and accounts of anomalous behavior have repeatedly been verified—such anomalies as the isotopic composition of lunar material and Venus' rotation period (found to equal its synodic period) are but two examples of many. Nevertheless, his theories depart too radically from accepted dogma to be acceptable unless other, more reasonable, accounts of the new discoveries are not forthcoming.
We wish Velikovsky well in the completion of his work and we eagerly await the promised new accounts of it from his publishers. We hope that this issue of Pensee will help to give Velikovsky's work the respect it deserves, whether or not his theories prove ultimately to be correct.
J. Dwayne Hamilton
Time for Open Discussion
To The Editor:
I commend Pensee for preparing a special issue concerning the works of Immanuel Velikovsky and the manner in which findings from a number of scientific disciplines have continued to offer support for those works. More than two decades ago Velikovsky was proposing ideas that were unthinkable at the time. Today many of those "unthinkable" ideas have become common knowledge among the scientific community and are accepted as truth. Velikovsky's priority to a number of the most spectacular and surprising findings in astrophysics remains largely unacknowledged. An acceptance of Velikovsky's ideas and methods by the scientific community could lead to an era of unprecedented fruitfulness in nearly every discipline.
It is encouraging that publications such as this special issue of Pensee can now be produced without harassment from those whose ideas have been challenged by Velikovsky. The time has come for free and open discussion of Velikovsky's works, especially in the scientific literature. The value of those works as a predictive tool establishes their valid claim as an alternative to many currently accepted concepts and argues strongly for their use in determining scientific policy.
David C. Carlyle, Ph.D.
The Last Word
To The Editor:
Three years ago Dr. Velikovsky gave a series of lectures at Rice University. During the question and answer period of the last talk, a student arose, fired a salvo of questions designed to embarrass the doctor before the audience, then stormed out of the lecture hall without even giving Dr. Velikovsky time to reply. The doctor did reply, however, and answered every question to the satisfaction of the large crowd which had gathered to hear his speech. As soon as the meeting was over and the crowd had begun to disband, the student returned and bragged to some friends, "I got in the last word. No matter what Velikovsky said, I didn't stay to hear it." Unfortunately, I have found just such an attitude among some other students and even some professors.
There seems to be a belief both on and off campus that by ignoring the man and his ideas, they will vanish; that silence can be maintained by insuring that certain publications, both scholarly and popular, do not print anything submitted by or favorable to him, and by taking punitive actions against his followers, often in the form of intimidation, sometimes in more severe forms; that by refusing to admit that revolutionary concepts exist, they do not exist; and finally, a belief that theories can be rejected without their having been examined and tested or even read. I am thus very pleased to note that Pensee is devoting an issue to the man and his work, that the staff and contributors have examined his writings and their reception, and that your readers will also be exposed to some of his many revolutionary concepts, whether by merely reading the magazine, or, hopefully, by having their interest sufficiently aroused that they will go out and read the material he has written.
All too often it has been the case that Dr. Velikovsky and his ideas are rejected offhand, but, in all fairness, whether one agrees with all, some, or none of his concepts, they should at the very least be given a hearing.
Eddie Schorr, Rice University '71, Houston, Texas
Editor's note: Mr. Schorr is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in archaeology, and has worked for Velikovsky on sequels to Ages in Chaos.
Presuppositions and Catastrophism
To The Editor:
My interest in Velikovsky was first aroused about 10 years ago when at the suggestion of a colleague I read Worlds in Collision. At that time I was not aware of the all but impossible task Velikovsky faced (and still faces) in trying to get a fair hearing for his proposition that within recorded history planet Earth has undergone violent upheaval due to close approach of some cometary visitor. I was especially intrigued by the impressive array of historical evidence which Velikovsky presented in support of his case; yet, what I knew from physics "demanded" that this cometary cataclysm be nothing more than some idle tale of fancy. I entered into discussion with a number of fellow students and professors and my suspicion was confirmed that Velikovsky must be nothing more than some erudite quack.
In the intervening years I began to reconsider my previous conclusion regarding Velikovsky while completing my studies and research for the Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry at Iowa State University. I then became more interested in the study of science history, with special interest in the presuppositions, including philosophical ones, which have either enhanced or impeded the progress of science. My conclusion thus far is that no one is presuppositionless. In other words, all men wear "glasses" which not only color what they see, but in large measure determine what they see, without altering what is actually there. I believe it is one's predisposition of mind, rather than what others have called paradigms of behavior, which is substantially and significantly involved in the question of why Velikovsky's views are not seriously considered by the scientific academia. When one's presuppositions preclude the possibility of cosmic catastrophe, then it is quite evident that any talk of there being such a catastrophe is nonsense...
One must beware of presuppositional arguments not supported by evidence, and when evidence is presented, one must then decide which evidence takes precedence. Is one to accept mathematical calculations extrapolated back into the past as more significant than the historical documents written by eyewitnesses? The answer to this question depends on one's presuppositions—what one's "glasses" will allow one to see. Science advances when theories are changed to fit "facts"; it is impeded when "facts" are changed to fit theories.
Whether or not Velikovsky's theory of cosmic catastrophe is correct is a matter that ought to be decided by the scientific community only after due consideration and discussion in the literature. My interest in the "Velikovsky affair" is primarily a concern with the quite disturbing question of why a man eminently qualified should be held in the highest form of contempt by being ignored.
Charles B. Thaxton, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of the History of Science, University of Harvard
To The Editor:
In October of 1968 Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky paid a visit to Denton, Texas. Despite the lack of official publicity, approximately 800 persons attended his lecture. His seminars, both public and private, were packed. Interested listeners unable to secure seats stood or sat on the floor. He spoke on a wide range of subjects. The experience was unforgettable.
During that visit, the Doctor named me to organize at North Texas State University a chapter of Cosmos and Chronos, campus study groups in interdisciplinary synthesis initiated by the late Professor Hess of Princeton and now worldwide. By virtue of this position I came into contact with many new Velikovskians, students and non-students who had recently read the Doctor's works and had been intelligent enough to recognize their greatness and well-educated enough to see that their implications for all fields of inquiry were unlimited.
The paramount hope of these people almost without exception, was to "do something" to further Dr. Velikovsky's work. One woman came to see me from a distant town and with admirable if questionable conviction expressed her intention to master any language if she might then be prepared to perform some service for the Doctor.
I understand this attitude because I experienced it. Unlike the others, however, I was fortunate enough to be able to express the wish to "do something" in person to Dr. Velikovsky. It was on the way to Love Field on the day of his departure for Houston and Rice University.
His response was an invitation to compile an analytical index of his deviations from accepted theory. The work has been underway for three years. August should see its completion.
Preparing such an index has certainly not been easy. Since Dr. Velikovsky "lays bare new fundamentals," there are concepts and events for which no scientific terms have yet been coined. The collision of planets, to select the most obvious example, is an astronomical phenomenon for which there is no term in the English language. The Hindu had several terms for planetary collisions, but unfortunately Hindu terms will not serve English-speaking readers. Another difficulty has been developing a system of cross-referencing which is not offensively repetitious.
The plan also calls for a complete bibliography of the Doctor's references, a series of charts, and a compilation of verified prognosis.
Entries have not yet been perfected, nor have all page references been collected. Even so, a few sample entries should serve to demonstrate for interested readers just what the index will be like. These immediately follow. (Abbreviations preceding page numbers are to Dr. Velikovsky's published works.)
Habiru - A Hebrew word found in the el-Amarna tablets (AC 279) meaning "bandits" and nothing else (AC 281).
Aphrodite - a Greek name for the moon (WC 170). Other references: WC 247, 250, 251, 361.
Ben-Hadad - A generic name for the kings of Damascus (AC 236). In the Scriptures, the king who with a coalition of kings fought against Ahab, king of Samaria (AC 246-302). Called Abdi-Ashirta in the el-Amarna letters (AC 236). Other references: AC 234, 237, 304, 308, 312, 326.
Hyksos - Identified as the Amalekites of the Hebraic records. Arabians who ruled in Mecca (AC 61) but migrated westward fleeing plagues (WC 130); moved into helpless Egypt after a natural disaster of global dimensions ended the Middle Kingdom (AC 37-39; EU 198), met and fought the Israelites in the desert (AC 57). Introduced the Apis cult in Egypt (WC 180-181), introduced a calendar of 360 days (WC 124, 338). Were contemporaneous with Middle Minoan III (EU 188). Ruled Egypt ca. 440 years (AC 76) from Avaris on wadi el-Arish (AC 86-89), became the most powerful nation of that time (AC 71), caused a Dark Age in the Near East (AC 74). Were defeated by King Saul and Pharaoh Ahmose in the eleventh century B.C. (AC 76-80) and finally crushed at Sharuhen in southern Palestine (AC 82). Other references: AC xxiii, 2, 3, 5-8, 10, 11, 37-39, 45-47, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53. 81-101, 103, 104, 113, 117, 123, 125, 145, 147, 156, 182, 210, 336, 337, 339; WC 124, 140, 180, 299, 336, 338; EU 188, 198.
Music of the Spheres - A Pythagorean term for trumpet-like sounds produced by the drawing together of two charged planets, varying in pitch according to the distance between them (WC 97-98). Also called theophany (WC 96). Other references: WC 292, 94; AC 17.
Mary Buckalew, Ph. D. Assistant Professor of English, North Texas State University
PENSEE Journal I