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Open letter to science editors

 

REVIEW, NOTES AND LETTERS

ARGON DISCOVERED ON MARS

Last March 28 Izvestia reported that the Soviet Mars 6 spacecraft detected "several tens of percent of an inert gas"--presumed to be mainly argon--during its descent through the Martian atmosphere. The probe, which rendezvoused with Mars on March 12, touched down in the southern-hemisphere region known as Mare Eyrthraeum. Professor Vassily I. Moroz, head of the Department of Lunar and Planetary Science at Moscow's Space Research Institute, announced the finding.

A few days later American scientists connected with the Pioneer 10 project expressed bafflement over unexpectedly high temperatures in the atmosphere of Jupiter. "We do not understand these findings," remarked the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Dr. Arvydas Kliore--they are "very difficult to explain." The observed temperatures of several hundred degrees seemed in the eyes of some to imply a surface temperature for the giant planet comparable to that of the Sun.

These discoveries lend support to two of Velikovsky's most enigmatic claims.

In Worlds in Collision ("The Atmosphere of Mars") Velikovsky asks: "What contribution did Mars make to the earth when the two planets came into contact?" Through a rather obscure process of elimination he concludes that argon and neon comprise that contribution. The claim was originally voiced in a 1946 copyrighted lecture ("Neon and Argon in Mars' Atmosphere"), and repeated as recently as Velikovsky's AAAS paper, published in this issue. On August 7, 1969, Velikovsky wrote to H. Hess: "I expect that neon and argon will be found as main ingredients of Martian atmosphere, as I claimed for almost quarter of a century." Until now, the claim has been cited by critics as unproven.

The Soviet finding, should it be confirmed, clearly adds yet another item to an amazing list of successful predictions by Velikovsky. What is not so clear in this case is the exact line of reasoning by which Velikovsky arrived at his conclusion, and its evidential bearing upon his reconstruction of man's historic past.

It would be helpful if Velikovsky or his supporters could offer further explanation, now that the claim appears to have been substantiated.

Much the same course of action can be urged on Velikovsky in connection with his prediction ("Forum Address" Supplement to Earth in Upheaval) that radio noises would be found coming from Jupiter. Says he: "In Jupiter and its moons we have a system not unlike the solar family. The planet is cold, yet its gases are in motion. It appears probable to me that it sends out radio noises as do the sun and the stars. I suggest that this be investigated." The story of this claim, made on October 14, 1953, and its verification only a matter of 18 months later when Burke and Franklin announced the unexpected discovery of strong Jovian radio emissions, is certainly familiar to most Pensée readers. What is neither familiar nor quite clear, however, is the chain of deduction by which Velikovsky arrived at this claim. There is only the rather cryptic comment in Worlds in Collision ("Epilog") that "I intend to go further back into the past and piece together the story of some earlier cosmic upheavals.... There I hope to be able to tell a little more of the circumstances preceding the birth of Venus from the body of Jupiter and narrate at length why Jupiter, a planet which only a few persons out of a crowd know how to find in the sky, was the main deity of the peoples of antiquity. . . ."

In his "Rejoinder to Motz," (Yale Scientific Magazine [April, 1967], p. 14), Velikovsky cites the above passage and also appears to support, in some measure, the idea that Jupiter was (or is) a star: ". . . it was found recently that Jupiter emits almost three times as much energy as it theoretically should if, as generally assumed, it were an inert planet obtaining its energy solely from solar radiation. It is certainly in a very active state, and it was lately termed 'a star' and the Sun-Jupiter system 'a binary' by G. Kuiper and others."

A stellar history for Jupiter was a fairly popular idea among astronomers in the nineteenth century, and it may be that this same concept finds a place in Velikovsky's thinking. His reference, in the wording of his prediction, to sending out "radio noises as do the sun and the stars" surely suggests as much. But clarification nevertheless seems desirable.

"COLLECTIVE AMNESIA" AND THE CRITICS

In Worlds in Collision Velikovsky posits a "collective amnesia" among the descendants of those experiencing planetary near-collisions, in order to explain why subsequent generations failed to recognize the import-and even the existence-of these catastrophes. Velikovsky describes "collective amnesia" as follows:

"The memory of the cataclysms was erased, not because of lack of written traditions, but because of some characteristic process that later caused entire nations, together with their literate men, to read into these traditions allegories or metaphors where actually cosmic disturbances were clearly described." (Worlds in Collision, "A Collective Amnesia.")

This hypothesis. intended as an extension of the psychoanalytic concept of traumatic amnesia to the body politic, was thus concerned with the reasons for the subsequent misinterpretations of extant texts pertaining to cosmic catastrophes, and not to the existence of those texts. This seemingly straightforward distinction was to be buried underneath the mountain of vituperation which followed upon the publication of Worlds in Collision.

On March 13,1950, for example, Time magazine ran a bizarre review of Worlds in Collision which, in addition to other peculiarities, explained how Venus is supposed to have "frightened the whole human race into a 'collective amnesia' which kept her misbehavior from being recorded." And "The myths [which Velikovsky cites] speak cryptically, and Dr. Velikovsky thinks that that is probably because folks were gagged by 'collective amnesia."'

In a note to Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin's review of Worlds in Collision, the editors of The Reporter (March 14, 1950) likewise asserted that collective amnesia was "The reason why ancient texts are so obscure about these cataclysms. . . ."

So it was that a theory solely aimed at the perception of the evidence for catastrophes was misconstrued to mean that the evidences for the catastrophes were non-existent.

Writing in the November, 1951 Scientific Monthly, Laurence J. Lafleur observed that "The large mass of unreliable literary evidence used by Velikovsky to prove his point is outweighed by the much larger mass of literary evidence that apparently proves the opposite: cultures whose histories, legends, and traditions make no mention of the events which supposedly happened and that could hardly have been ignored. So Velikovsky proposes a theory of cultural shock, akin to traumatic shock in psychology, which produces a sort of cultural amnesia. The arbitrarily selective nature of Velikovsky's evidence is thus clear, as well as the fact that if cultural amnesia exists, the evidence upon which his case rests is even more unreliable than we have so far painted it." It should be noted that Lafleur cites no cultures lacking traditions of such catastrophes.

And yet again, L. Sprague de Camp wrote in his book, Lost Continents (1954 page 90): "Why, if these events happened in historic times, don't the records describe them in clear language? Because, says Velikovsky, the human race suffered 'collective amnesia.' Mankind's subconscious was so terrified by these occurrences that it decided to forget all about them!" Similarly, Martin Gardner wrote in his book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957), page 31: "Even so, the ancient records often fail to come through to Velikovsky's satisfaction. When this is the case, he blames the silence on 'collective amnesia."'

One begins to suspect that either the critics are not reading Worlds in Collision or that they are in fact too busy reading each other to check back to the original source in order to discover Velikovsky's actual definition and usage of the term, "collective amnesia."

Willy Ley, in Book Week, July 11, 1965, failed to note the existence of Earth in Upheaval when he commented that "Another case against Velikovsky is that animal life went through the fateful years of 1500 B.C. and so forth without any disturbance. Velikovsky invented a 'collective amnesia' as an explanation of what happened to people of that time. Does such a collective amnesia apply to bears, hedgehogs and insects, too?"

Velikovsky has gone a step further in his analysis of the import of this collective amnesia, to suppose that--as in the life of an individual--mankind's violence and self-destructive nature may have some roots in the forcing of the memories of these cataclysms into the unconscious. But instead of addressing themselves to this most provocative and potentially important concept, critics continue to either ignore collective amnesia, or misconstrue it to mean an ad hoc argument ex silentio.

To illustrate that this situation has not yet changed, one need only note the aside in an article on Atlantis by Arturo F. Gonzales Jr., in the May, 19 72 Science Digest, in which he points out that "A Russian cosmologist named Velikovsky insisted that Jupiter erupted millenniums ago and spewed up a fiery comet which sped past the earth in 1600 or 1500 B.C., swamping Atlantis in the same roaring tide which parted the Red Sea and conveniently allowed the children of Israel to pass into the promised land. He explains that historians make no record of this event with the convenient rationale that the human race suffers from 'collective amnesia."'

It is not necessary to agree with Velikovsky's psychoanalytical interpretations of collective amnesia to realize that the critics have grossly misread Worlds in Collision. This is not a matter of celestial mechanics, or of the interpretation of this myth or that, but rather an instance of a straightforward statement being twisted around by an entire generation of writers in order to ridicule a man's scholarship.

CENSORSHIP

  • Scientific American

Readers of Pensée are aware that advertisements for the "Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered" series have been refused by Sky and Telescope and Natural History. (See Pensée, Fall, 1972, p. 37.) More recently, Sky and Telescope has held to its original position ("Velikovsky is in exactly the same category as astrology"), whereas Natural History, reversing its stance, accepted an advertisement for Pensée in its April, 1974 issue.

Last February, Pensée submitted an ad to Scientific American, and received word back from Harry T. Morris, advertising director for that publication, that "I have taken the matter up with our publisher and I am sorry to inform you that he has rejected your proposed advertisement for publication in Scientific American."

Pensée's request for an explanation of the criteria by which the ad was refused brought no response. However, the attitude of Scientific American's publisher, Gerard Piel, emerges clearly enough in his advice to a correspondent:

"This magazine exists to publish accounts of new, original and significant research in the sciences by the scientists engaged in that work. We have not encountered a single scientist working in any of the many fields, from archaeology to astrophysics, on which Velikovsky touches who finds any interest whatever in anything he has to say. That is why you have not seen any account of Velikovsky in our pages.

"The controversy seems to be generated wholly by Velikovsky and his sympathizers. They cry "foul" because he is ignored and attempt to make an academic freedom case of it. The controversy is thus quite secondary. As I see it, the threat to academic freedom comes the other way around: by such tactics the Velikovsky party tries to compel interest by scientists in work in which they can find no interest."

"THE BONDS OF THE PAST"

Velikovsky has been the subject of two major television documentaries in Canada and Britain: "Velikovsky: The Bonds of the Past," produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (reviewed in Pensée, Fall, 1972); and "Worlds in Collision," produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (reviewed in Pensée, Fall, 1973). The Canadian film is now in world-wide distribution, and serves as an excellent introduction to Velikovsky and his ideas.

The address for obtaining the CBC film, as given in Pensée, Fall, 1972, is no longer valid. The current distributors of "Velikovsky: The Bonds of the Past" are as follows:

USA: Gene Walsh
Vision Quest Inc.
7715 N. Sheridan Road
Chicago, Illinois 60626
Tel. (312) 338-1116

Gord Lutz
Vision Quest
Box 206
Lawrenceville, N.J. 08648
Tel. (609) 896-1359

Vision Quest
389 Ethel Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Tel. (414) 388-9094

Canada: George Ritter
George Ritter Films Limited
38 Yorkville Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4W 1L5
Tel. (415) 964-6927

Europe: Philip Strick
Visual Programme Systems Ltd.
Circus House
21 Great Titchfield St.
London WIP 7AD, U.K.
Tel. 01-580-6201

Australia: John Fitzgerald
D. L. Taffner/Australia Pty. Ltd.
P.O. Box 314
Milsons Point, NSW 2061
Australia
Tel. 949-8710

HAIR-RAISING DOCUMENTATION

To The Editor:

Your article "Ash" is indeed a hair-raising documentation of the academic run-around, the pursuit of complacency inundating the pursuit of truth! Dr. Ralph's refusal to allow reprinting of her letters to Dr. Velikovsky seems, in a way, the grimmest reflection of all of the pressures within the academic community, since she at least momentarily allowed the pursuit of truth to take priority over the ignoble attitudes revealed in so much of this correspondence.

Pensée may well be performing as significant a service in unveiling sordid facets of the academic community as in its more obvious function of providing a long-needed forum for the responsible discussion of Dr. Velikovsky's work.

R. Glenn Martin
Associate Professor
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta

THE ATMOSPHERE OF VENUS

To The Editor:

At several points in the course of his otherwise excellent review (Pensée, Winter, 1973-74, p. 24), Burgstahler makes a choice between hydrocarbons and other chemical species in the atmosphere of Venus. Nearly always he rules, somewhat arbitrarily considering the paucity of data, against the hydrocarbons. At one point he describes the evidence for their presence "tenuous at best". In fairness it should be pointed out that, for example, the experiments of Plummer do not necessarily rule out the possibility of gaseous or even liquid hydrocarbons in the upper atmosphere. In the lower regions, not only is there insufficient data to exclude the presence of hydrocarbons, but the infrared spectrum (Fig. 3 in Burgstahler's review) has several features consistent with hydrocarbons, and compounds with C-C and C=C bonds (e.g. hydrocarbons) as well as those with C-N and C-O bonds, should have been included by him among the species absorbing in the 8-12 micron region.

The hypothesis that the outer layers of cloud consist of an aerosol of sulfuric acid dehydrate is an interesting one, although one would expect that compounds of iron, adduced, inter alia, to account for the yellowish tinge of the clouds, would be oxidized to the FeIII rather than the FeII state. Another explanation for the yellowish color might be the presence of unsaturated hydrocarbons in solution in sulfuric acid as carbonium ions. It is likely that sulfuric acid would be gradually decomposed by solar radiation of ultraviolet and shorter wavelength, particularly in the presence of iron compounds (Dainton, F. S., and F. T. Jones, Transactions of the Faraday Society, 61 [1965], 1681) to give hydrogen and oxygen. This process would also be expected to result in the preferential retention of deuterium, as discussed in another context in Burgstahler's review. Because of this and other chemical reactions, sulfuric acid might well have a relatively short lifetime, consistent with a recent installation of the planet in its present orbit.

The presence of sulfuric acid in the clouds of Venus is still only hypothetical. The ratio of water to acid is chosen so as to agree with the observed refractive index, and the infrared spectrum of this mixture, while consistent with that of the atmosphere, does not completely account for it. Nor does the spectrum of the acid exclude contributions by other substances such as hydrocarbons. But Burgstahler proceeds to the assumption that if sulfuric acid is present, it eliminates the possibility of coexistent hydrocarbons. This appears to be too hasty a judgment. Although most unsaturated hydrocarbons are attacked by (concentrated) sulfuric acid, they are not necessarily destroyed by it. Olefins may be polymerized to higher molecular weight olefins, or reacted with paraffins to give other paraffins, a process widely used in the manufacture of isooctane. Paraffins are inert towards sulfuric acid. In the hotter regions of the atmosphere, where Burgstahler assumes the sulfuric acid to be decomposed to water and sulfur trioxide, sulfonation of paraffins could occur. The resulting sulfonic acids, descending to regions of still higher temperature would then decompose regenerating olefins. In the virtual absence of oxygen, a steady state is conceivable in which the acid species and hydrocarbons could coexist, just as free ammonia coexists with sulfuric acid, if the data and the hypothesis are to be believed.

Until further direct observations are made to decide the issue, the data cited by Burgstahler can be interpreted in support of the hypothesis of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere of Venus.

Peter R. Ballinger
Albany, California

EARTH WITHOUT A MOON

To The Editor:

Velikovsky (Pensée, Winter, 1972-73, p. 25) refers for proof that Earth has been without a Moon in historical times to Job 25:5 and Psalm 72:5. Although I fail to see how (also in view of the context), Job 25:5 can be translated, "before (there was) a moon," it is especially Psalm 72:5 which clearly cannot be referred to for support.

Velikovsky translates "before (the time of) the moon." In Hebrew the word "libnay" is used, which literally means "in the face of," "in front of," and so primarily means "before" in a local sense. It is indeed sometimes used in a temporal sense also, but this is not the common use. Now in Psalm 72:17 the same word is used in connection with the Sun and should, if Dr. Velikovsky's translation in verse 5 is correct, be translated there the same way. This would mean that also there has been a historical period of time when Earth was without a Sun.

Psalm 72 therefore does not support Dr. Velikovsky's thesis. It is a pity, however, that Dr. Velikovsky dismisses the first chapter of Genesis as a myth, a tale brought down from exotic and later sources. Dr. Velikovsky, in doing this, follows the lead of Bible-critics of the uniformitarian-evolutionist school. It was students of this school who also dismissed Dr. Velikovsky's discoveries as exotic and mythical.

Yet Genesis 1 leaves room for Dr. Velikovsky's thesis that earth has been without a moon in historical times. Although most commentaries explain Genesis 1:16 as referring to the creation of the Sun and the Moon, this is not necessarily so. Genesis 1:16 in the King James version reads: "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: (he made) the stars also."

Most Bible-interpreters deem it obvious that the lesser light must be the moon; however, the words "he made the stars also" could very well be rendered this way: "namely the stars." Then with the lesser light the stars are meant, and no moon is mentioned.

There is good reason to read it this way, because of verse 14. Here we read: "And God said: let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." It is remarkable that seasons and days and years are mentioned, but that months are omitted. And the month derives its meaning and its name from the moon.

Rev. D. De Jong Canadian Reformed Church Edmonton, Alberta

WHO NEEDED VELIKOVSKY?

To The Editor:

Somewhat belatedly reading your Fall, 1972 issue, I noted the comment of Walter Orr Roberts (p. 44): "The controversy is very confusing to a layman, who has no real way to evaluate either the validity of Velikovsky's reasoning, or the validity of that of his critics."

One wonders if this is indicative of the scientific community's evaluation of the intelligence or knowledge of the "layman." I have never majored in any of the physical sciences (hence, presumably, would qualify as a "layman"), but I have majored extensively in philosophy and history, and I do not find the controversy all that confusing. Rather I get the impression it is primarily the scientists who find it difficult to evaluate Velikovsky's reasoning--perhaps because of their various professional biases.

When I read Shapley's diatribes on Velikovsky in your first issue, my reaction was: does he really think the average "layman" is so stupid as not to see the fallacy of his reasoning? It would insult the intelligence of an alert high-school student. I have never read any of Shapley's writings; but on the basis of his evaluation of Velikovsky, I doubt if it would be worth doing so.

Stephen Jay Gould remarks (Fall, 1972 issue, p. 36) that "a man cannot wear the mantle of Galileo" simply because he is rejected by the establishment. Nevertheless, even if Velikovsky were wrong, the conduct of the establishment bears too many close parallels to the Galileo case to be so readily discounted. Galileo's opposition, it may be noted, objected not only to his alleged conflict with the Bible but even more to his rejection of Aristotle's Physics--which to the ecclesiastical establishment of that day was as much a sacred cow as Lyell's uniformitarianism today.

Loren Eisely (ibid. p. 38) describes catastrophism as an expression of man's "romantic" tendencies. Yet evidences of catastrophism abound all around us, while it would be hard to find more sheer romanticism than in the lyric descriptions characteristic of uniformitarianism-the "wary pioneers," the "endless small accretions," etc., to quote Eiseley's own phrases. From such philosophy masquerading as hard science, Lord deliver us.

If and when we are delivered, doubtless men like Shapley and Urey will be saying they knew it all along--who needed Velikovsky?

Joseph A. Partee
Ganado, Arizona

PENSEE Journal VII

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