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Open letter to science editors
Vol. I, No. 1
A Word about the Planetary Debate
One of the major segments of catastrophist research involves our attempt to
reconstruct what may have happened to the Solar System in the past four or
five millennia. This domain, however, is riddled with confusion and
misunderstanding, not only about the topic but also about how to deal with
it. What follows is a map of the debate and a few guidelines I think we
should follow, presented in a series of short points leading to my
conclusion about what we ought to be doing. Some theorists do believe that
these points are self-evident, yet I will strive to make them clear. I am
personally acquainted with most of the planetary theorists, admire their
work and hope they will take what follows (which applies to different
theorists to different extents) as constructive criticism.
Point One is to establish what we are talking about. Some theorists call it
the Saturn problem, but this is unacceptable. Such
nomenclature is the result of territorial aggression. I prefer to call it
the planetary debate because many planets may be involved; but even
that term may be incorrect, for the answer may also involve comets or meteor
showers, planetary debris, comet debris, or assorted stellar material, over
indeterminate periods of time. The point is that we have no way of knowing
what the final solution will be, so it is quite inappropriate to label the
question with the name of any single planet.
Point Two is that there are many theorists in the field, despite the
impression certain camps try to give. I count at least 15
Catastrophists, each one of these contributing his respective view or
theory to the planetary debate: Immanuel Velikovsky,
Lynn E. Rose,
Earl Milton and Alfred De Grazia,
Victor Clube and William Napier,
and, probably, Gunnar Heinsohn. Even if we arrange the names into
families, that leaves eight or nine distinctly different camps. What is
evident here is that we do not have just one unique planetary issue but
at least nine of them, because each camp not only pursues a different
answer but also asks a different question. If we were to present this
plurality of theories as a diagram, it would have "Catastrophism" at the
top and would ask, Did recent catastrophes occur in our Solar System?
We all agree that they did. Beyond that, however, we would have in our
diagram several different branches of inquiry as subsets of the central
issue. There is no agreement, however, even on these, so our diagram
must show different sub-subsets branching further down, more
sub-categories below that and, finally, four strata down, the region of
the sub-sub-sub-subsets, where we find the individual theories. Each of
the nine is, therefore, a four-level subset of the general question, and
all are different. To illustrate this, our diagram would have several
sub-categories taking the form "All the events belong to Saturn," or
"Some belong to Mercury," or "They must be distributed among Saturn,
Jupiter, Mars and Venus," or "They are the product of a disintegrating
meteor stream," and so on. However, because each of these is a separate
question irreconcilable with the rest on its stratum, and the
irreconcilability continues all the way down, then we end up with some
15 (or nine) completely separate lines of inquiry. If we take the
Saturn subset as an example, the next stratum down, that of the
sub-subsets, might contain the categories "All the alleged Saturn events
occurred during catastrophic periods," or "All the alleged Saturn events
occurred during pacific periods." If we narrow our focus to the
sub-subset "Pacific," we then could have the sub-sub-subsets "All the
phenomena were seen at once," or "The phenomena occurred and were seen
sequentially." If we follow the sub-sub-subset "Seen at once," it
branches--at the moment--into two streams, Talbott's tumbling-dumbbell
and Zysman's ice-dome theories,
which are separate sub-sub-sub-sub-sets of that particular chain. The
question which these two sub-sub-sub-subsets are trying to answer can be
assembled from the appropriate segments further up the chain and might
be phrased as, What model can best explain a certain set of phenomena
(let us call it the Talbott set) which was seen at once under pacific
conditions sometime in the past when the sky was not the same as it is
now? That is Talbott's question, which Zysman also tries to answer, but
is not Velikovsky's question, nor Danino's nor Zemel's nor Rose's nor
Ginenthal's nor Milton and de Grazia's nor Clube and Napier's nor Heinsohn's,
and so on. We, therefore, see that each branch line leading to a
specific sub-sub-sub-subset asks a different fourth-stage question and
that each one is mutually irreconcilable.
Point Three is the data. We agree that there are essentially two major
kinds in this debate, cosmological and mythological. Turning first to
the cosmological, I believe that there is almost certain cosmological
proof for recent solar system catastrophism but that there is almost
certainly no cosmological proof for any individual catastrophic
theory. It simply does not exist, so no one has any right to say,
"Here's the physical evidence, let's see which theory fits it best and
that's the right one." This cannot be done because there is no
uniquely-applicable physical evidence. How, for instance, can any
theorist even begin to try to pinpoint what specific item of solar
system devastation was caused by the Uranus events as opposed to the
Cronus, Jupiter, Venus, or Mars events (if these occurred)? How can
anyone tell one catastrophe from another? Nor can we even say "Here's
the physical evidence, let's decide on the correct question." That
cannot be done because we do not know what the correct evidence is.
What is our conclusion? Not only do we not know what the correct
planetary model is, nor what the correct specific questions are which
rival planetary theories must ask, but there is no physical evidence to
prove any of them.
Point Four involves the mythological data. In a word, this doesn't
exist either for any of the theories. Certain people have used the term
"the mythological record," but that is a naive falsehood, for there is
no single, unique mythological record. You can't go into a library and
ask for the mythological record and consult its index. What there is is
one theorist's mythological record, or a second theorist's, but
this is nothing more than a series of private constructs put together by
the constructor. This is his preference and his grouping, and
everyone's grouping can differ.
The "record," as it is self-servingly called, is usually drawn from
religion, mythology, ancient history, fairy tales, legends, anecdotes
and folklore. The process, however, is not at all straightforward, but
quirky, irregular and inconsistent. Anthropologist Roger Wescott,
after decades of study in and of the field, describes the mythological
as a bouillabaisse, a thick, impenetrable, heterogenous soup or stew
filled with any number of odds and ends. Into this the mythographer
drops his hook, but what he fishes out is no more than what he has
caught. The soup, however, contains much more. The theorist
simplistically calls what is on his hook the data, which means
given, but Wescott urges that nothing in mythology is given. It is
taken by the mythologist, so Wescott prefers to call each separate body
of evidence capta, in that it is picked and so formed by the
theorist. It is his private creation out of the soup.
We would do well to heed Wescott's warning. I see the mythological
reservoir as a vast smorgasbord. Each individual theorist comes along
with his little plate and chooses from among the almost infinite items
available, so what ends up on his plate when he finishes is his
selection, created by himself. That becomes his question, which he
seeks to answer, but it need not be the same as anybody else's, so all
we have are different plates filled with different combinations, as at
any buffet. Each theorist naturally invites us to eat off his or her
plate, but whichever we choose is our preference only, which doubles the
preferentiality involved, or even squares it. That is how we must see
the mythological data for each theory. We share the belief that
somewhere in the sources lie correct clues to the past, but beyond that
all is preference. Conclusion? Not only are there many concurrent
theories and we do not know what the correct questions are that they
should ask, but there is no unique, cosmological or mythological proof
for any of them.
I should add that the same state of indecision exists in many fields,
one of them being elementary-particle physics. I have written several
articles, in the domains of literature and science, reporting that
ultimate physical reality is at present unknowable because the quantum
observer, each separate time he tries to observe--let us say--an electron,
creates the observation he sees due to the influence of the question he
asks, the instrument he uses, the disturbance he cannot help causing in
the minute thing observed because of the very act of observation with
gross instruments, and the methods he uses to select and interpret his results.
Each combination of these variables is unique, so what he finally
produces from each observation is not an absolute report of physical
reality in itself, but only of his particular interaction with it at
that time. This results in what he can know or go on. It need only be
added that, if this self-doubt exists in physics, the hardest of hard
science, as Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr and Max Planck and Werner
Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger and Wolfgang Pauli and David Bohm and
Max Born agree, how much more so must it exist in the shifting, elusive,
amorphous field of mythology. It is extremely difficult to decide what
lies behind the data.
Henry Zemel and Earl Milton have offered amusing illustrations of the
complexity of the planetary issue. At the Spring 1992 Society for
Historical Research (SHR) conference in Albany, Zemel held up a
composite picture of 12 or 15 celestial objects. Galileo had set this
forth as a puzzle around the year 1600, and it took many decades before
it was finally surmised correctly that they were all drawings of the
rings of Saturn at different times and angles. If something that now
seems so evident to us confused the best minds of the 17th century for
59 years, says Zemel, imagine how much longer it might take for modern
theorists to make sense out of today's planetary issue, which is vastly
more complex and ambiguous. Milton, at the 1984 conference of the
Canadian Society of Interdisciplinary Studies (CSIS), drew a group of
dots inside a square on the blackboard. He then jestingly went through
various interpretations of what they might represent, by themselves or
connected, before telling us they were stations along a railway line in
western Canada. The point he made was that the planetary theories, like
the dots, did not have sufficient accompanying data for sense to be made
of them as they were. It is, therefore, rather presumptuous for someone
to say that we are on the verge of solving the whole thing.
Point Five concerns the relative standing of the individual theories and
some misconceptions about how to evaluate them. in my opinion, no weight
can be given either to how well a theory has been advertised or to how
often it has been discussed. That is a description of the
aggressiveness of the theorist but not of the correctness of his
theory. If Forshufvud, or Driscoll, or Jueneman, or Clube and Napier
lived in the northeast and pushed their ideas at every conference, they
too would get attention, but that is irrelevant. Nor can any weight be
given to whether one theory accounts for more data than does a second,
because we do not know what the correct data is and each theorist
selects his data to fit his answer, or vice versa. That too is
irrelevant. It is a quantitative but not a qualitative description.
After all, we should remember Ptolemy. His theory fit the data
completely and was discussed by everybody. It had only one problem--it wasn't true.
Nor is it important which theory is further ahead or which one began
earlier. These are chronological but not qualitative descriptions.
Such considerations might apply in less ambiguous circumstances, but are
simply meaningless about the planetary problem and to advance them in
support of any particular theory is irresponsible.
Point Six concerns how we assess the absolute value of existing
theories. To me, the planetary debate is somewhat like a lottery. If
its chances are, let us say, one in 14 million, then adherents of a
particular ticket can certainly point to it and say that it might be the
winner. That is undeniable, for the ticket might win, but so might any
of the remaining 13,999,999, and we will not know if the statement is
correct until the draw occurs. The statement, therefore, is meaningless
beforehand. What is even more damaging, none of the tickets may be the
right one, or maybe it will be the one purchased tomorrow. No one can
tell, and that is how I see the state of events in the planetary debate
now. Because we do not know what the correct questions are and because
there is no conclusive data, we are unable to determine if any of the
existing theories will be correct, or even partly so, nor can we predict
what promising theories might come along in the future. The conclusion
we must reach about the 15 (or nine) theories we have now is that they
are the products of 15 intelligent, imaginative, creative people; but
who knows what new interesting theories might be produced by a second
group of 15 such people, if we could interest them in catastrophism, and
then by a third, and so on, and who knows which one could be correct?
What we have at the moment is, therefore, simply the result of those who
happen to be working in the field, with no indication whether any might
be on the right path. To assert, therefore, that any specific
extant theory is the solution is absurd.
Point Seven is that we cannot naively say that anyone who criticizes a
theory and proposes an alternative, or spots a problem and proposes an
alternative, must, therefore, be equally right in both parts.
Velikovsky seemed to believe it, but there is no intrinsic philosophical
necessity for this to be so, as is illustrated by the fact that all of
us support Velikovsky's general questioning of 1940's science but few of
us accept his specific alternatives. Similarly, if Talbott, for
example, spotted that a Saturn question may exist, that is laudable, but
it does not mean that his solution is correct, nor that the next
alternative to his must be, nor even that the question must have value.
Quite the contrary, the moment two answers appear to a question, it
creates the possibility that any number of rival answers may appear and,
if the issue is undecidable, any of them or none of them may be correct,
or the question may not be. It is not an either-or situation. To say,
therefore, as some do, that the answer to the planetary puzzle must lie
between Theories One and Two, for example, or whichever pair one
chooses, is rash. There are no grounds for making an assertion of this
kind, for we have no way of knowing what the solution will be.
Point Eight, What general conclusions should we therefore reach? In my
opinion, there are three. First, if we agree on the overriding issue
but do not know what the correct questions are beyond that, if there
isn't any conclusive cosmological or mythological proof for any
individual theory, and usual considerations--like support for or
fullness of a theory--are irrelevant, then our reply to, Which of the
extant planetary theories is true? would either have to be "We don't
know," or "None of the above." We cannot say more because at this time
we simply cannot tell which, if any, theory might turn out to be on the
right path. Second, we cannot superficially assert that some
combination model drawn from related theories might provide the answer,
for, while there is overlapping, this occurs among the nine only at the
edges, if at all. At the center, each is so irreconcilable with its
rivals that, should one appear to be right, the rest must be deemed
wrong and, should a better theory appear tomorrow, all the extant
theories may be wrong. We cannot claim to solve the planetary puzzle
applying the disintegrating meteor stream
theory and the polar configuration
theory and the ice-dome
and contracting sun rings
and binary system
theories all at the same time. Third, because we have spent far too
little time doing the fundamental work of asking if we are asking the
right questions, this means that any or all of the present theorists may
be trying to answer the wrong questions, which would make their results
not merely inconclusive but meaningless.
Point Nine, If what has been said up to now is true, what then are we to
do about the planetary debate? Give it up altogether because it can't
be done at present? Many among us feel this way, but I do not agree. I
think our answer is to be found at the very end of Worlds in
Collision, where Velikovsky himself seems to realize the magnitude
and complexity of his "program of inquiry into the architectonics of
the world and its history."
After outlining many areas not yet dealt with, he concludes with:
"[W]hoever tries to cope with such a task should ask in all humility the
question put at the beginning of the volume: Quota pars operis tanti
nobis committitur--Which part of this work is committed to us?"
There is only one reasonable answer to this question for us at this
time. Our part, in humility, is to keep the debate alive because, even
though it has grown vaster than Velikovsky could foresee, and even
though we cannot know at present what the answer to the planetary
riddle will be, we are the only ones who think that the question
exists. That is the mission of the CSIS and the SHR and the Society for
Interdisciplinary Studies (SIS) at the moment, and it is crucial. No
one can tell if we, or a later generation, will find the solution, and
it is, therefore, only the quest that matters now.
Point Ten, How can we best do this? I will reply through two analogies,
the first of which is a running track. The planetary issue is like a
race to be run. The problem is, we don't know how to start the race, we
don't know how long it will be, and we aren't sure we can determine when
it's over. It is like an Absurdist drama, but we believe there is a
race and so our first function must be to keep the track open. To say,
therefore, that entry has been terminated or that we must concentrate on
one theory only among the ones that exist would be irresponsible. It
would be a dereliction of duty.
The second analogy is the game of Snakes and Udders. Our race, in my
opinion, is a combination of the running track and this game. What I
mean is that the race is so constituted than an early leader who loses
support will slide down a snake, perhaps even back to Square One, while
a late starter who gets support may climb rapidly up a ladder and move
ahead. The game is, therefore, constantly changing; every new theory
which climbs a ladder retrospectively validates its new questions and
all work done on old questions becomes questionable. For this reason,
it is impossible to predict the end of the game at any point before the
end, and so the situation on the board at any given moment is
irrelevant. It merely indicates the current state of the game, but the
game won't be over "until the fat lady sings," and in this instance I do
not think she has even come into the arena yet.
Point Eleven, Given all these drawbacks and restrictions, how can we set up
the game to be most effective? I say we must establish and adopt certain
general principles and see that they are adhered to. First, planetary
debate must continue, for progress will only be made if many keep working at
the questions. It must continue in an unrestricted manner, and to achieve
this we must welcome every well-thought-out theory on the principle that all
such theories are legitimate and every theorist, therefore, has the right to
carry on his research as long as every rival theorist has the same right.
Only after a consensus has been reached will we agree on what the correct
question is, which will be validated retrospectively by the answer. Until
then, because no present theory can claim priority, we must be free to
pursue all interesting avenues concurrently, and so every path must be left
open. No one has cornered Catastrophism. Second, we must accept that no
theory owns its data. Any item must be free to be appropriated by anyone
else in a different way, because neither can we have any idea in how many
different ways it might be used in the future nor which theory, if any, will
turn out to be correct. Third, we must understand that progress might be
slow and jerky, and we must be patient enough to be grateful for every small
gain when it comes. These principles would make for a free and fruitful
race, and that is where my loyalty lies: To the race more than to any
racer. That has my dedication, and I will do what I can to ensure that the
state of exploratory freedom just described will continue.
Point Twelve, How then, in the light of all this, should we perceive the
theorist? The correct relationship is one of simultaneous encouragement and
restraint. Let me explain it this way--to do his research correctly, each
theorist must believe that his theory, and his alone, is correct, or at
least he must act as if he believes it. He cannot get very far along his
road unless he is committed. This requires much subjectivity on his part,
but at the same time we, his audience, must never lose our objectivity, or
we will not be able to furnish any helpful feedback, as has happened to some
among us. If we are to pursue together the goal outlined in Points Nine and
Ten (that of keeping the quest alive), it will only occur when both of the
previously described attitudes exist simultaneously, when the (necessary)
arrogance of the theorist is tempered but not doused by the better sense of
the audience. It is a delicate balance, not always easy to maintain, but in
my opinion it's the only way to see that the debate goes on in an unbiased,
and, therefore, productive manner.
This requires that we respect every theorist as a contributor, but at the same
time never forget to respect ourselves as evaluators; for individuals will
continually produce new speculations, but it is we as a whole who must
control the general path of the debate and we as a whole who must ultimately
decide the value of each theory. This means that the group's role is as
important and perhaps as difficult as the theorist's, and that only if both
do their jobs properly will the quest continue as it should. To put it
differently, it has been said that war, as a political instrument, "is too
important to be left to the generals." I believe this also holds true with
the planetary debate--our quest to discover the truth about our collective
past is too critical to be left to the theorists alone.
Point Thirteen, Where does all of this lead us? I think to a cautious
optimism. it is true that the data pool is too meager for certainty and that
none of the extant theories is conclusive or convincing, which means that
the issue is undecidable at present, but we do keep producing and improving
theories, which is good. They are different spokes looking for the same
hub, or different roads seeking Rome. However, we have not gotten very far
along the road to the answer to the planetary question. If the quest is a
race, we have progressed but a few yards from the starting line. We are
still groping in the dark, but are nevertheless groping (in many senses of
the word), which is better than standing still (also in several senses of
the term). Whether, therefore, any of the extant theories under debate will
contribute to the final answer, we cannot say; but it is possible that some
of them may turn out to be helpful directly or indirectly, and even very
wrong theories are useful in that their faults can help us eliminate false
paths or unproductive methods. Every theorist has brought new things to
light, every theorist has taught us something. From these points of view
the exercise is worthwhile.
Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds In Collision (New York, 1950)
. To be published.
Presented at the Albany conference of the Society for Historical
Research [henceforth SHR], Spring 1992.
Lynn E. Rose,'Variations on a Theme of Philolaos,' KRONOS I:
1 (Fall 1979): 12-26.
Earl Milton and Alfred De Grazia, Solaria Binaria (Princeton, 1984).
David Talbott, The Saturn Myth (New York, 1980).
Articles and papers in KRONOS, AEON.
Articles and papers in KRONOS, AEON.
Victor Clube and William Napier, The Cosmic Serpent (New
Milton Zysman, 'Ice-dome Canopy,' presented at the Canadian Society
for Inter-disciplinary Studies [henceforth CSIS] in Haliburton,
Canada, Summer 1986.
Ragnar Forshufvud, 'On the Circularization of the Orbit of Venus,'
KRONOS VII: 2 (Winter 1982).
Robert Driscoll, 'The Saturn Myth: A Tentative Physical Model,' AEON
1:4 (1988): 50-59.
Frederic B. Jueneman, 'The Polar Column: A Physical Model of Myth,'
AEON 1:4 (1988): 36-49.
Charles Ginenthal, 'Binary Stars with Planets: A Model of
Alignment,' in preparation.
Driscoll, loc. cit.
Jueneman, loc. cit.
Gunnar Heinsohn, 'Did the Sumerians and the Akkadians Ever Exist?'
AEON I:2 (1988): 17-53.
David Talbott, 'On Testing the Polar Configuration,' AEON 1:2
(1988): 96-132. He calls the record "a unified theory of Myth."
Roger Wescott, SHR conference, Albany, Spring 1991. See also,
Wescott, "Indeterminacy: Temporary, Permanent or Indefinite,"
Catastrophism 2000, ed. Milton Zysman and Clark Whelton
(Toronto, 1990), pp. 293-295, which is reproduced elsewhere in this
Max Planck, Annalers der Physik, IV (1901): 553.
Werner O. Heisenberg, Zeitschrift far Physik, Vol. 33 (1925):
879; Vol. 35 (1925): 8-9 and (1926): 557. For abstracts, see H.S.
Allen, The Quantum (London, 1928) and A. S. Eddington, The
Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge,1928): 206.
Claudius Ptolemaeus, "The Almagest," Great Books of the
Western World, trans. R. Catesby Taliaferro (Chicago,
Zemel, loc. cit.
Talbott, loc. cit.; Cardona, loc. cit.; Cochrane,
Zysman, loc. cit.
Zemel, loc. cit.
Ginenthal, loc. cit.
Velikovsky, op. cit., p. 389.