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LETTERS To the Editor
LETTERS To the Editor
To me it is encouraging to see a revisitation, as it were, to problems of so controversial a nature. There was a considerable problem as you know in even getting the Yale Scientific Magazine to press six years ago . . . At the time I was strongly convinced that Velikovsky should be given a fair and open hearing in the scientific journals. I, myself, have run into the censorship effects of the scientific establishment at one time or another. The only scientific test, and one of objectivity, is that of time. If any theory stands the test of time, then we must consider it. As you have outlined in several of the articles in the issues of Pensée, many of Velikovsky's predictions have been borne out. However, there still exist some points that he makes which I am certain require a bit more clarification. On face value they are still questionable. I cite, for one example, the reference in some of the articles to the article by Smith in the Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists relating to petroleum found in very young sediments. As you know, Velikovsky and A. T. Wilson have both said that the petroleum came as a rain from above. While this is open to discussion, the fact of the matter still is that the chemistry of petroleum found in recent sediments such as outlined by Smith and that found in ancient sediments are not the same. One would still have to explain the ways in which each of the differences are brought about. It is possible under Velikovsky's thesis that there have been other rains of petroleum, but I find it rather difficult to believe that such a repeat of circumstances occurs frequently in geologic time. In any event, I still feel that he deserves at least an open assessment of his predictions. If they do not stand the test of time, then they will of course have to be reevaluated.
I had the pleasant opportunity of meeting and speaking with Velikovsky when he visited the University of Kansas and found him a very sincere and learned individual. In spite of what many of the leaders in the academic and scientific fields have said about his work in the last few years, I think the burden of proof has now swung to the other side. It lies upon the back of the scientific establishment to prove Velikovsky wrong. Much of what he has predicted is turning out to be right. It is impossible to predict what percentage of his other predictions will continue to be right in the future.
I have enjoyed reading these magazines very much and bringing myself up to date regarding the problems raised by Velikovsky. I feel certain that the undertaking Pensée is presently carrying out will come to a fruitful conclusion.
Image of Scientific Community
To The Editor:
The history of scientific thought is marked by significant breakthroughs which, at the time, were either neglected or derided by the scientific community of those days. Indeed, as Professor Kuhn has clearly demonstrated in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the established scientific community has always tenaciously resisted innovating paradigms.
Although Velikovsky may not have been trained as a physicist or an astronomer, he has been committed throughout his life to the scientific enterprise—that dialectical interplay between thought and reality which continuously tests hypotheses by an appeal to evidence rather than authority. His grappling with geological and astronomical problems in such works as Worlds in Collision is marked throughout by a responsible concern for objective evidence. Such concern surely deserves a critical evaluation by scientists even though their conclusions might be such as to reject Velikovsky's hypotheses on the grounds that his evidence is either insufficient or misleading. The key factor, it would seem to me, is not Velikovsky's scientific credentials but his scientific commitment. His hypotheses should be weighed as would those of any scientist who was exposing his thinking for a critical evaluation. Surely, if his hypotheses are without merit, the scientists should have no difficulty exposing the fallacies of his reasoning, the limitations of his knowledge, and the inadequacy of his evidence.
Since Velikovsky's efforts to publish and disseminate his views have exposed the scientific community to the charge of muzzling, censoring, and suppressing free scientific inquiry, it seems to me vital that Velikovsky's hypotheses be given a full and open hearing so that the image of the scientific community be brought once again in line with the scientific ideal of the unhindered pursuit of truth and knowledge. As a Fellow of the AAAS, I would like to support Professor Roberts' call (Pensée, fall, 1972, p. 44) for a symposium devoted to clearing up the Velikovsky Affair.
Fair Appraisal Needed
To the Editor:
I would like to endorse the proposal of Walter Orr Roberts in the Fall, 1972, Pensée that the American Association for the Advancement of Science hold a symposium on Velikovsky's views. I also endorse Dr. May's proposal to establish a scholarly society to consider the Velikovsky theories.
I am interested in Velikovsky's views not only because of actual content, but also because of the implications of the controversy for the philosophy of science. A symposium would help the scholarly community to fairly appraise Velikovsky's ideas.
Herold S. Stern
A Moon for Venus?
To the Editor:
I want to congratulate you heartily on your first two issues of Pensée and on your decision to publish a series of 10 such issues. This type of formal (but open) interchange is essential, I think, to the process of objective evaluation of Dr. Velikovsky's theories and to stimulation of further research.
As to the difficulties that Dr. Velikovsky has had with blind and unfair criticism of his work, I think that such reactions are regrettable, but natural. Part of the human method, including the "scientific method" is to develop tested and trusted theories which allow the infinite amount of available information to be filtered so as to select material of digestible quantity and quality. Such a process is an absolute essential to the development of the web of human knowledge. Velikovsky's theories are now forming a new web. Crosslinks must be created before association with the larger web can begin in earnest. Such notions are presented in a recent article, "Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery" by Gunther Stent (1). Velikovsky's theories were once clearly "premature" in Stent's sense, but they are becoming less and less so today.
Prof. Roberts' suggestion for an AAAS symposium on scientific logic with the Velikovsky case as a specific example seems like an excellent idea. It should be organized carefully, though, to avoid muckraking and to concentrate on defining, examining, and legitimizing the many links of Velikovsky's theory to the accepted bodies of knowledge in the many fields that it touches upon. The most useful output of the conference would be a large set of legitimate questions to be examined later. These would serve to fuel further research.
With regard to Dr. Velikovsky's specific prediction in Worlds in Collision that the rotation of Venus might be retrograde, it should be pointed out that Prof. Thomas McCord (now at the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department of M.I.T.) has offered an alternative explanation (2, 3, 4). McCord proposed that Venus originally had had a retrograde satellite which, because of tidal-friction effects, would have collided with the planet at some time in its past history. Conservation of angular momentum could then have resulted in a retrograde rotation. (Conservation of energy would have resulted also in heating of the planet.) As to the further question of how the rotation could have become synchronous, one must assume that adequately strong dissipative mechanisms exist for the gradual reduction of the retrograde angular velocity to a point of resonance with the earth.
Duncan B. Cox, Jr.
(1) G. S. Stent, "Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery," Scientific American (December, 1972). 84-93.
(2) T. B. McCord, "Dynamical Evolution of the Neptunian System," The Astronomical Journal, 71, no. 7 (September, 1966), 585-9.
(3) T. B. McCord, "The Loss of Retrograde Satellites in the Solar System," Journal of Geophysical Research, 73, no. 4 (February 15, 1968), 1497-1500.
(4) C. C. Counselmann III, "Outcomes of Tidal Evolution," manuscript in publication.
Nature and Politics
To the Editor:
In recent issues of Pensée and in Velikovsky's own work ostensibly little, if anything, has been said which would interest the student of politics. Yet I believe that certain questions can arise from Velikovsky's work concerning this matter. What is most directly suggested to me is a question concerning the type of regime (and its actions or policies) and the stability of the natural order. By today's standards, the regimes of very ancient cultures would be considered most oppressive and immoderate. A clue to types of regimes existing in very ancient times could come from the fact of an unstable natural order. We notice today, for example, that unstable social situations are often met with an increase in governmental coercion. If this is a natural response, then societies affected by natural instability (either in their current memory or by respected folklore) may give rise to "irrationally repressive" regimes. The specifics of any regime would, of course, depend upon a variety of influences, but more basic elements of a regime's character may follow directly from the stability or instability of the natural order. The fact that very ancient regimes appear to us to be chaotic and unprincipled may be due to the simple fact that nature herself was in such a state.
Moreover, one might hypothesize that one of the reasons for the relatively late development of political philosophy (or philosophy as such) in man's history was due to the inability of otherwise intelligent men to find a natural order stable enough to give rise to genuine comprehensive principles.
Even if these conjectures are totally fallacious, it seems clear to me that if Velikovsky is bringing us to a new wave of interdisciplinary synthesis, the student of politics will have to be included also.
Douglas Den Uyl
To the Editor:
W. Plummer (Pensée, fall, 1972, p. 46) states that he has "personally measured the amount of real stalagmite which is deposited over a ten-year period." He states that it is rarely more than a thickness of 0.010 inch. Plummer is here assuming, perhaps blinded by the Doctrine of Uniformity, that the process has been going on at the same slow rate indefinitely.,
Plummer then writes that stalagmites can be dated by the radiocarbon method. "Typical measurement for the outer inch or two of large cave formations show ages up to thirty thousand years." The validity of radiocarbon dating has been debated in other pages of Pensée—here I only intend to show that thicknesses exceeding two inches can, and have been, formed in less than a century.
In the Juxtlahuaca Cave, not far from Chilpancingo in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico, there is a vast chamber, known as the Hall of the Dead, in which a massive cave-in has piled the floor high with fallen rocks and debris. Among and under some of these rocks one can still see the remains of human skeletons. All of these skeletons are covered with a stalagmite crust. These skeletons are not millions of years old. They belong to the Olmec period, which archaeologists have dated, through the same radiocarbon dating technique used in dating CO2 accumulation in stalactites, at 1200 B.C.
The rate of growth of stalactites, however, has not only varied through the ages but continues to vary from one locality to another.
In Haynes Cave, West Virginia, a wooden trough was left behind by nitrate miners. Today that trough is encrusted within and without with a stalagmite coating that is easily four inches thick all around. At the rate of growth that Plummer suggests (0.010 inch every ten years), this trough should be at least 4000 years old, dating it somewhere near 2000 B.C. In actuality that trough couldn't be much more than 150 years old.
An even faster rate of growth is to be seen in the so-called Petrified Well at Knaresborough, Yorkshire, England. Not a well in the true sense, one can there see water dripping off an overhang. This water is heavily charged with dissolved limestone (calcium carbonate) and carbon dioxide. Any object hung in this dripping water becomes "petrified" (that is, encrusted with calcite) in the course of a few (one or two) years.
So the present rate of calcite growth varies in different localities with the varying rate of water flow.
The problem, however, goes even further. G. H. Duty, in his The Face of the Earth (Penguin, 1959-60) states that "in actuality, the development of limestone caverns is not fully understood." "Small underground tunnels are readily explained by solution along planes of bedding and joining. But enormous caverns pose an altogether different kind of problem."
In France there is the underground network of the Dent de Crolles in the Grande-Chartreuse area. The Dent de Crolles is slightly over 11 miles long. The mountain in which it occurs, 6,186 feet high, is riddled with a labyrinth to which there are five different entries. It took a team of explorers twelve successive years to complete its entire survey from the upper limestone platforms to Guiers-Mort, 1,809 feet below.
The Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico are 30 miles long and boast enormous chambers with magnificent dripstone decorations. The largest of its chambers lies some 1,300 feet below ground level. The so-called Big Room is 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and about 350 feet high.
The largest single chamber in Europe is to be found in the Giant Cave near Trieste. It measures 720 by 390 feet and is over 420 feet high. It is big enough to contain the entire basilica of St. Peter in Rome, dome and all.
These are colossal cavities and it is with reason that Dury states that their vastness poses an "altogether different kind of problem." It must have taken enormous volumes of water to excavate these vast underground chambers before stalactites and stalagmites could start forming.
Dury supplies his readers with a description of the origins and formation of these caverns as is usually found in textbooks. Then he adds: "As so often happens, however, a study of actual cases reveals that developments have been complex—in particular, that no cavern system can be understood unless allowance is made for significant changes in local conditions." (Italics mine.)
The Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico are located in a region where the present climate is notably dry. The Juxtlahuaca Cave complex is located in the bone-dry Tehuacan Valley. As a matter of fact, most of these caverns, although by no means all of them, are located in arid, or semi-arid, regions. Dury was forced to conclude: "one must suppose that the caverns were opened in conditions wetter than those now prevailing."
In a study of the Pennine caverns, Sweeting showed that the floor-levels of these caves were arranged in the same horizontal series according with the heights of the erosional platforms on the surface. In other words, the development of the Pennine caverns appears to have been regulated by the erosional deepening of the outside valleys. These, in turn, must have controlled the level of the waterbeds under the adjoining hills (Dury).
There were vast watersheds above and/or bordering these limestone caverns. The watersheds are now gone. The rate of growth of both these caverns and the formations within them must have been drastically reduced since these watersheds disappeared.
A Spelunker's View
To The Editor:
In the May, 1972, issue of Pensée (p. 15), there appeared a small item dealing with caves and the validity of certain statements made by Isaac Asimov concerning them. Dr. Asimov had employed caves as a disclaiming argument against Immanuel Velikovsky's theory that a great global cataclysm could have occurred 3500 years ago, since such an upheaval would have inevitably destroyed all of the stalactites and stalagmites in limestone caves throughout the world.
As a spelunker, I became interested in this matter and should like to report some of my own observations pertaining to caves and their formations. When studying caves, one finds that speleologists are not always in agreement when considering "cave behavior." Although the generally accepted rate of growth for speleothems is one inch of length per century, tested formations have proven to be much younger or older than their length would indicate.
It has often been observed that stalactites and stalagmites grow rapidly under bridges and limestone monuments. This is due to the fact that chemical changes (an increase in calcium hydroxide) have rendered mortar limestone much more soluble than virgin rock. These changes occur during the heating and crushing process at the quarry. However, Worlds in Collision (hardcover, p. 91) gives accounts of a great heating of the earth, when subterranean water vaporized and lava flowed from the ground.
One could consider the possibility that the same changes which occur in the quarrying operation could have taken place in natural caves. If one believes (and I do not) that cave formations were destroyed, then one could also consider that the same series of events brought about chemical changes which rapidly rebuilt the formations.
If the heat (perhaps from within the earth) was sufficient, the same chemical change that takes place during mortar processing may have occurred in natural limestone caves. If their water was boiled off and the rocks heated (perhaps even crushed) it may have produced the necessary calcium hydroxide. When water found its way again into these chasms, it could have created a veritable "Alka-Seltzer" whose increased solubility would rapidly rebuild new formations. The rate of growth could then have declined over the centuries, leading us to believe that the rate of growth of all speleothems has been slow and constant.
From my own point of view, though, it seems more likely that the caves with their formations withstood the shock of the proposed upheaval. Air and water conduits would absorb much of the shock, as would the limestone bed itself, which is a flexible sedimentary rock. There are many highly decorated caves in this country and if one compares a map of cave density to one of earthquake probability, one would tend to conclude that caves and their formations are not so susceptible to land movements as Asimov would have us believe. (The earthquakes may have even contributed to the formation of caves by allowing a greater opportunity for water penetration whose flow would erode weak joints in the limestone bed thus forming the major cave passageways.)
It appears unlikely that any of the numerous decorated caves in this country would exist if their ability to withstand shock were as feeble as Asimov seems to believe. On the contrary, our caves stand "as mute evidence" that their ability to withstand shock is considerable. Floating like buoys on submerged beds of water, they may in time prove to be more stable than our beds of "solid" rock.
To The Editor:
In the National Geographic (October, 1953), in the article "Carlsbad Caverns in Color" by Mason Sutherland, there appears the photograph of a bat "entombed" inside a stalagmite. As a medical man I find it extremely difficult to persuade myself that this unfortunate animal could have survived the rigors of bacterial decay and/or the action of predators for the thousands of years required on the uniformitarian assumption of infinitesimally slow (0.001 inch per annum or so) rates of stalagmite accretion.
Dr. Felix Fernando
On Caves and Bat Guano
To The Editor:
Some 25 years ago I visited the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and one of the tid-bits of information that is predigested for the tourists stuck in the back of my mind. As I recall, it seems that about two million bats inhabit the upper caves, and on their nightly forays they consume several tons of insects. Now, this makes for an awful lot of bat guano over the years, and, indeed, it is commercially harvested for fertilizer.
Since reading William T. Plummer's letter in the Fall, 1972, issue of Pensée it occurred to me that an important secondary source of cave dating may have been overlooked. Following this up, I chatted with Dr. Irving Taylor, an archaeologist specializing in the Americas, at the UCLA radiocarbon lab. Coincidentally, it had occurred to him and some of his colleagues that this should be looked into. In addition, it appears that the literature on the subject is rather sparse. But, according to Dr. Wayne H. Davis, of the University of Kentucky and former editor of Bat Research News, there have been core samplings and analyses of guano deposits.
Unfortunately, since bat guano is quarried like a mineral resource, it may be too late in some areas to exploit the radiocarbon age-dating technique by core samplings of these cave deposits. As a supplemental method to dendrochronology, it (cacochronology?) would in effect aid in the characterization of seasonal variations.
In brief, a program of core samplings on guano deposits, of sufficient depth and including fossilized eolites, should be comparable to that involving tree-rings. Stratification of the deposits, it is conjectured, should show climatic changes in temperature and humidity, where variations would reflect how plentiful the insect population was coincident with any seasonal changes. The effect on the bat population would be shown by how thick and extensive a given stratum would permeate a guano deposit.
Radiocarbon dating of these strata, especially the fossilized feces, could also determine the earliest dates in which the caves were inhabited, or if they were abandoned for periods of time during their bio-history, whether due to physical disaster, disease or deprivation.
Chemical analysis of the guano by amino acid or other separatory assays, however, is hampered by the action of anaerobic bacteria, which convert a large part of the nitrogen-containing protein into free ammonia and other degradation products. Also, it may be extremely difficult to determine, by observation and analysis, if the chitinous wing and other exoskeletal insect parts found in very old strata are of the same orders and genera found today.
Thus, just from my perfunctory look-see at this potentially fruitful area of research, it appears quite challenging. So, for those who would find this exciting, I suggest getting out the hip-boots.
Frederic B. Jueneman
Politics of Scientists
To the Editor:
I congratulate the editors of Pensée on their energetic pursuit of evidence and information related to Velikovsky's theories and the treatment of the man himself. The politics of scientists is no less significant than the knowledge of science, for it's by the former that we come to the latter. Perhaps the editors will consider, after this experience, taking on the role of Ombudsman for the scientific community. Lord knows, we need one!
Richard W. Chadwick
Mathematical Support Needed
To the Editor:
Pensée is performing a valuable function in giving a public discussion of the theories of Velikovsky and allied theorists. As was pointed out, the dominant scientific publications are negligent in such a review. However, to date Pensée has not published mathematical treatments of the various aspects of the theories. Such a perspective would greatly enhance the development of a proper critical analysis. It would be greatly appreciated if in the future Pensée request and publish the mathematical support for the various quantitative claims presented.
Duane A. Burchick
PENSEE Journal III