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Open letter to science editors

 

Compendium

Review

WHY PENSEE?

    Reflections upon completion of our tenth issue

    Looking to the future

With a certain regularity Pensee receives--and rejects--manuscripts demonstrating the ultimate "nature of the universe," confuting Einstein, exhibiting new and fundamental laws of material behavior, proposing "keys" that unlock the mysteries of the past . . . . (the list could be completed from the correspondence files of any scientist who publicly engages controversial questions).  With only somewhat less regularity our rejection of these manuscripts evokes the bitter reply: "You're treating me the same way they treated Velikovsky."

It is easy to stereotype such persons and to dismiss unthinking their peculiar vision of the truth.  The press of editorial duties often requires such dismissal, and no less an authority than Polanyi congratulates it:

"Journals are bombarded with contributions offering fundamental discoveries in physics, chemistry, biology or medicine, most of which are nonsensical.  Science cannot survive unless it can keep out such contributions and safeguard the basic soundness of its publications.  This may lead to the neglect or even suppression of valuable contributions, but I think this risk is unavoidable." (Minerva, [Summer, 1967], p. 539)

That there is practical truth in such a remark cannot be denied; that it provides the unspoken rationale for many an editorial act is certain.  Yet, we do well to pause over this situation, for there is indeed legitimacy to the plaint of him who stands, rejected manuscript in hand, wondering how often he must listen to the same wearisome words.  He has been treated "the way they treated Velikovsky."  Nor should this be taken as referring to the bare fact of rejection: such would place him in a class, not alone with Velikovsky, but also with every fool and charlatan who has met the same fate.  His retort penetrates deeper than that.

Discussing Phaedrus in The Ethics of Rhetoric, Richard Weaver cites Plato's "true lover" as a figure of the true rhetorician, observing that

"Love is often censured as a form of madness, yet not all madness is evil.  There is a madness which is simple degeneracy, but on the other hand there are kinds of madness which are really forms of inspiration .... Mere sanity....... is inferior to that madness which is inspired by the gods and which is a condition for the highest kind of achievement."

Now, Polanyi's advice--sensible enough for that editor or referee who would protect mere sanity from madness--scarcely suffices for distinguishing among the forms of madness.  And it is precisely the failure to make this latter distinction which saddens our rejected author.  For he knows his vision to be true, if unrecognized by his fellows.  We need only to see as he sees, and we, too, shall be converted.

It will not do to reply, "Surely nonsense will always reveal itself as nonsense to the objective editor or scholar.  The purveyor of nonsense has no rightful claim upon our attention."  There is, again, a legitimacy to the complaint.  That legitimacy, intimately related to the function of a journal like Pensee, must be explicitly stated and defended.  Hopefully, we may accomplish that here.  But it remains, first of all, to define Pensee in more prosaic terms.  Judging from the inquiries of our readers, there exists a considerable curiosity about the origins and organization of this journal.

                                                                 *    *    *    *    *

Pensee is an unlikely publication.  Founded in 1966 and soon thereafter allowed to lapse for several years, it was revived in 1970 as an unofficial student magazine distributed on Oregon campuses.  Confronting a highly politicized campus press that was, in those burn-the-campus-down days, almost without exception "far left" or radical, Pensee offered a "rational alternative"--political conservatism.         Most of its articles were written by students.

Late in 1971 the editor and publisher, personally familiar with the work of Immanuel Velikovsky, conceived the idea of finding someone qualified to write a major article describing Velikovsky's theories, their implications, and their reception.  Subsequent contact, first, with Velikovsky himself, and then with several persons knowledgeable about his work, led to the May, 1972 issue of Pensee, now escalated to a special issue titled, "Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered." The issue was advertised nationally in several scientific and general-interest periodicals.  The highly charged response, especially from academia, was persuasion enough for us to offer a continuing forum for the Velikovsky debate.  Our ten-issue series was born, Pensee "went national," and all local campus ties lapsed.

The course of events these past two and one half years is clear enough to anyone who peruses these ten issues.  Few there be today, even among Velikovsky's strongest detractors, who would deny the ugly reality of that "Velikovsky affair" which ensued upon the publication of Worlds in Collision in 1950.  The occurrence of six major scholarly symposia--five during the past ten months--leaves little doubt that Velikovsky's work will receive detailed and rigorous scrutiny, despite the efforts of many, even until now, to declare him outcast from all scholarly deliberation.  And the second generation of research spawned by his scholarship is already producing exciting new discoveries--justification enough for the boldness and imagination with which Velikovsky approached the ancient records of mankind.

That little of this could be foreseen in May of 1972 gives all those associated with Pensee's efforts good cause to be grateful.  It also raises new questions, for Pensee is not at all a "normal" scholarly journal.  It has no ties with societies or associations, no by-laws, no Nobel-studded board of directors (no board of directors at all), no ponderous machinery for ensuring unblemished scientific respectability.  In short, Pensee lacks everything it "ought" to have in order to be counted a reputable member of the scholarly publishing fraternity.

But that is not all.  Having entered upon its current series of issues with a very sizable debt, and lacking any kind of sustained financial backing, the magazine has struggled from crisis to crisis.  An informally assembled, small, volunteer board of editors, a paid editorial staff of two, and a total paid staff of four must account for all aspects of the publication.  A windowless, one-room office serves for editorial functions, circulation, production, and warehouse.

It was, understandably, with freshening hope that we received the suggestion of a sympathetic British scholar that an international learned Society be formed, exercising both research and publishing functions; Pensee, so the thought went, might logically become the Transactions of the Society.  The establishment of bylaws and the regular election of officers would lend a credibility and weight to such a society and its publication--credibility which an unsponsored, unvouched for journal must necessarily lack.

The idea was good and, indeed, such a Society now looms as a very real possibility.  But the questions it would pose for Pensee are not easily resolved.

In our day the choice between risk and security is rarely a genuine choice; security beckons so seductively that few would think of rejecting her.  Organizational security--with regular and dependable funding, standard operating procedures, and a sense of stability--should certainly appeal to any magazine editor or publisher.  And yet, in the search for truth, risk may be preferable.  The truth is rarely susceptible to orderly, systematic, bureaucratic attack.  If a single lesson emerges from the history of science, it is that the truth cannot be guaranteed by any organizational superstructure.  It is noteworthy that one of the chief sources of unrest cited among scientists today is the over-organization of their profession.  And yet, despite this unrest, it is hardly likely that that administrative structure will be toppled which now renders the powerful secure and gives to the secure, power.

In seeking to avoid such a trap, Pensee's surest course may be to embrace the risk of failure and admit the danger of scientific blunder; to realize that truth's delicate, hardy flower is as likely to blossom on the desert floor as amidst the lush greenery of the plains; to accept the dangers as those which must always accompany the most promising advances toward truth; in a word, to pursue the hope of madness rather than the safety of mere sanity.  If such be its choice, Pensee may not survive the future; but if it dies, its decaying body will leave the soil for scientific inquiry more fertile than it was before.

                                                                 *    *    *    *    *

Above all else, Pensee is an interdisciplinary journal.  A key to understanding what this means may be found in a term which, for the scientist, carries all the negative connotations of religion: conversion.

During the lifetime of most men there occur, on at least one or two occasions, moments of "conversion": a sudden yielding to a broad, new perspective which conflicts fundamentally with prior belief.  The actual moment of conversion may be marked by temporary confusion; a world of possibilities--some previously unthought of, others once forbidden--flood the consciousness.  To find himself beholding as possibilities what once were clear absurdities intoxicates the convert with a sense of freedom and disorients him with a lack of familiar definition, introducing a fear born of insecurity.  These feelings dissolve as the newly embraced point of view becomes second nature, re-defining his intellectual perspectives.

It is not only its connection with religion that renders the term "conversion" distasteful to the scientist; more generally, we speak of a person who "acts like a convert" as one who wholeheartedly gives himself over to the service of some belief, doing so, in fact, with such enthusiasm as to raise the suspicion that he wilfully blinds himself to contrary evidence.  The danger is real (although we do well to realize that it presents itself as temptingly to the proponent of scientific orthodoxy as to the advocate of any other orthodoxy, or to the heretic).  But this danger may prevent us from seeing the scientifically desirable aspects of the convert's experience.

What has conversion to do with science?  We may note in passing that the difference between conversion and the seeing of any new scientific truth is one of degree only.  But more importantly, there is a sense in which the man of science, in evaluating a new hypothesis, must deliberately simulate conversion.  It is his responsibility temporarily to change his mental framework, to place himself within the context of the new hypothesis and look out upon reality as if that hypothesis were true.  Only by doing so can he fairly assess the fidelity of the hypothesis to the universe of fact it purports to describe.  In failing this mental shift, his criticism of the hypothesis must necessarily beg the question; that is, he will demonstrate it to be false by first assuming it to be false.

Now it may be that the disciplined and rigorous mind can perform this simulation with impressive thoroughness and fairness, even while convinced that the hypothesis in question is hopelessly wrong.  And yet-especially where a hypothesis radically conflicts with accepted views-it is doubtful whether such a disciplined use of one's analytical faculties could ever subvert his normal, unconscious manner of organizing reality to the necessary degree, allowing him to "see" this new hypothesis with the eyes of a convert.  To gaze from great heights upon an ill-defined and hazy panorama far beneath, from which one is separated by a conceptual abyss, differs critically from plunging into that abyss with the jolting realization (a realization triggering a rush of mental re-organizing activity) that the panorama below may be true after all, may be the real world.  In cases where the hypothesis containing this new vision is sufficiently startling to be termed an "inspired form of madness," surely such a conversion, or near-conversion, is a pre-requisite to its fair evaluation.  Otherwise, no matter how detached and objective the critic, the task of consciously re-organizing the facts and categories of his mind is simply too great.

To the unconverted man, it is usually of little use to submit the proposition that new syntheses of fact, radically conflicting with current knowledge, are possible.  He is likely to assent, ritually and unthinkingly, to the proposition, while dismissing the possibility altogether in the case of any particular theory, X.  For, it is clear to him that a set of well known facts rules out X.  And so they do, as long as he is looking at them in an unconverted context.  It is typically the case that, for the real plausibility of X to be seen, one must suspend his previous judgment on such a broad range of taken-for-granted and revered propositions that simply to urge the necessary shift of mental vantage point is to earn the appellation "madman."

We come, then, to the function of a publication like Pensee.  As a journal of interdisciplinary studies Pensee is dedicated, not to the belief that any particular theory is correct, but rather to the conviction that a scholarly journal, resisting the ossification of knowledge, ought continually to encourage its readers to see facts in new relations--that is, its task is not to convert, but to provide the opportunity for conversion.

For this cause Pensee's interdisciplinary character is essential.  A departmentalization which severs one class of fact from other classes of fact leaves the specialist with almost no reason to reshape--except on the most puny scale--the theoretical structures into which his predecessors have molded their narrow allotment of facts, and to which he adapts his own, still narrower allotment.  A carpenter confined to a single room of a great mansion has little incentive to tear down the walls of his room and redesign it, interior and all.  Indeed, should he attempt to do so without a knowledge of the mansion's larger plan, the effort would be folly.  But an architect, moving freely from room to room and perceiving the plan of the whole, might easily recognize a jarring, unharmonious element in that single room, and might quite as easily work those changes in the several rooms of the overall structure which would reestablish harmony.

Our rejected revolutionizer, with whose plight we have sympathized, asks precisely this of us: that we assume his architect's vantage point so as to see his vision of the whole, thereby subjecting ourselves-so far as we succeed to see with his eyes-to the genuine possibility of conversion.  Failing in this effort-and it requires a very real effort-we must acknowledge the truth in his charge: we have treated him "the way they treated Velikovsky."

We must confess that, for us at least, such an effort is rarely possible, despite our realization that there is no individual whose private vision is totally devoid of some germ of truth-and therefore of value.  And so, to these rejected ones--and to those who will surely meet the same fate at our hands in the future--we offer herewith our apology.

                                                                 *    *    *    *    *

With the January-February issue of Pensee we shift to a bimonthly publication schedule.  At the same time, our ten-issue series title ("Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered") will be dropped from the cover; in its stead will be our permanent subtitle, "a journal of interdisciplinary studies."  We expect to remain the journal reporting on and publishing what may be termed "Velikovskian research" (although we are hopeful that the not-too-distant future will see other journals springing up in response to the great diversity of such research now underway).  However, our coverage will broaden to encompass evidences for and against catastrophism in general; new investigations throwing light on the recent history of the Solar System, including Earth, and on man's past; in-depth examination of the underpinnings supporting uniformitarianism and conventional evolutionary theory; and bold efforts to spotlight scientific misbehavior and delineate the nature of the scientific process.

We are aware of a tension between two ideals: on the one hand, we seek to keep the contents of Pensee within reach of the non-specialized reader who lacks extensive scientific training; on the other hand, as our writers probe the issues ever more deeply, there is natural tendency for articles to become increasingly complex and technical.  We have not always maintained the desired balance.  However, we now pledge to our readers that in the future we will take every step necessary to do so.  It is our strong conviction that scholarly writing need not be opaque or abstruse to the general reader, and that even the more technical articles can usually be written so that their gist is fully accessible to the non-specialist.  If nothing else, we can guarantee that the coming issues of Pensee will make fascinating reading.  And we predict that the visual appearance of the magazine will become steadily more attractive.

Here are a few examples of articles scheduled for publication in our next issue or two:

    In a paper published recently in the Soviet Union, Professor S. K. Vsekhsviatskii, director of the Kiev astronomical observatory, defends his powerfully supported thesis that many comets are youthful, that they originate from within the Solar System, and that they testify to catastrophic occurrences.  His paper will appear in English for the first time when Pensee publishes it.

    Israeli archaeologist Dr. Eva Danelius reassesses, in the light of Palestinian archaeology, Velikovsky's identification of the Queen of Sheba as the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut.  She concludes that the evidence for Velikovsky's contention is even better today than when Ages in Chaos was published in 1952.

    Startling research results concerning the nature of radioactivity have been published during the past several years in Nature, Science, and other leading journals.  The implications of these results, however, have gone virtually unnoticed, despite the fact that they undermine nearly all current notions about terrestrial origins.  The research involves analysis of "pleochroic halos" in Earth's "oldest" rocks, and suggests with disarming simplicity and unsettling cogency that conventional interpretations of radioactive phenomena require radical revision.  We are preparing an extensive report on the subject, to be followed by an analysis of the applicability of radioactive dating procedures to catastrophist investigations.

    "The Dingle affair"-so it has been called.  In challenging Einstein's special theory of relativity on straightforward logical grounds, Herbert Dingle (professor emeritus of history and philosophy of science, University of London) has, for 13 years, sought without success for an answer to a question simply put, if not simply answered.  His odyssey has carried him to the pages of Nature (earning him, at one point, an apology from Nature's editor), to the Royal Society, and into correspondence with many of the most learned and famous scientists of our day.  His recent book, Science at the Crossroads, documents his incredible (or all too credible?) story.

In a special section we will publish a defense of Dingle's position by Professor Ian McCausland (department of electrical engineering, University of Toronto); a reply by Professor O. R. Skinner (department of physics, University of Saskatchewan); a summary of the "affair" by H. L. Armstrong (department of physics, Queen's University); and a critique of the claimed experimental proofs of relativity by Dr. G. Burniston Brown (department of physics, University College, London).

    Professor Jan Terasmae, geologist from Brock University (Ontario), will review The Nature of the Stratigraphic Record by Derek Ager.  Ager, born and raised a uniformitarian geologist, finally revolted, proposing to replace traditional doctrines with "uniformitarian catastrophism."  His newly released book will surely send tremors through the geological community.

Our expanding review of the literature will also include, among others, Dorothy B. Vitaliano's Legends of the Earth: Their Geologic Origins; Y. Kozai's The Stability of the Solar System; Gribbin and Plagemann's The Jupiter Effect; and Colin Renfrew's Before Civilization.

PENSEE Journal X

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