An article on Immanuel Velikovsky to better understand the path that led him to write his shock book: Worlds in Collision.
Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979) was a Russian doctor and psychoanalyst.
He first appeared to the public in the 1920s when he founded the academic journal Scripta Universitatis in Berlin and later created the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Velikovsky was an intensely curious man who had learned a lot in many different fields of study as varied as science, medicine, philosophy, ancient history and laws.
He studied psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud's protégé, Wilhelm Stekel.
Velikovsky first worked with Albert Einstein in Berlin, when he published mathematical articles in the journal Scripta Universitatis, and again with him during their efforts to participate in the creation of the Hebrew University and later in life as close friends and colleagues at Princeton University.
In 1939, Velikovsky took his family to New York, planning to spend the summer doing research at Columbia University's library.
He compiled a psycho-historical text to sketch the many intriguing parallels he had discovered between the Greek literary character Oedipus and the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten.
This research was soon put aside when Velikovsky came across an Egyptian papyrus called "Ipuwer's Warnings" (or "admonitions"), a text that seemed to provide historical confirmation to biblical accounts of Egypt's 10 Wounds at the time of Moses.
Intrigued by the fact that the biblical account could perhaps be based on real historical events, Velikovsky began to look for other ancient references that could be used to confirm this point of view.
Using the techniques of specialists in comparative mythology, Velikovsky began an exhaustive review of ancient texts around the world that dated from the same period, and created a body of supporting evidence that turned out to be more substantial than originally imagined.
The ancient texts presented what he considered to be a kind of universal theme related to a global calamity - descriptions of fire raining from the sky, violent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the displacement of large volumes of water and similar disasters of mythical appearance.
At the same time he also began a search for references that would converge on a physical agent capable of inflicting the kind of misfortunes described in the Book of Exodus.
He finally concluded with the theory of a comet's rapprochement with the Earth because this was the kind of natural event that best matched the profile of the destructive consequences described in the texts.
This attempt at a conclusion was reinforced in his mind by many explicit ancient references to a frightening errant comet associated with the great calamity.
References to this comet were found in different cultures under various names such as Seth and Typhoon.
Velikovsky was disturbed to learn that in some cultures, the names that had originally been assigned to this frightening comet were later associated with the planet Venus.
Meanwhile, Velikovsky realized the sudden emergence at about the same time in history of an apparent global obsession to follow Venus' movements.
Many different cultures were beginning to carefully keep written accounts of the number of days between the rising and setting of Venus.
The follow-up of Venus is the probable motivation cited by historians who would have inspired the oracle texts on bones - the first known form of written recording to exist in China.
For Velikovsky, these facts taken together seemed to implicate Venus as the agent for fear of the terrible events that he believed could have ravaged our planet.
Velikovsky associated this same period of destruction with the fantastic eruption of the volcano Théra on the island of Santorini, the sudden fall of the Minoan empire in the Mediterranean and the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt around 1500 BC.
To support this unorthodox thesis, Velikovsky noted that the texts of the oldest cultures prior to 1500 BC - especially that of the Indus, Babylon and Egypt - referred only to four planets - Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Mercury.
References to Venus before this date are inexplicably given with words and symbols that were traditionally reserved for comets.
They describe Venus, which appears "hairy" or refers to its "horns" or "long tail".
(There are references before 1500 to goddesses like Innana in Sumer, however the iconography associated with these goddesses usually involves images of comets.)
Two independent but synchronized groups of ancient astronomical archives - one from China and the other from Korea - describe the first appearance of a supernova at the same observation date and both compare it in size and luminosity to Venus "with its rays".
In addition, all ancient cultures went through a virtual period during which they ranked Venus with the sun and moon, rather than with the planets, based on its brilliance.
Although it is true even today that the planet Venus, under appropriate circumstances, can remain visible during the early hours of the day, there are ancient writings that report that Venus' brilliance rivaled that of the sun.
Velikovsky changed the focus of his study from Oedipus to the origins of Venus, and in 1950, MacMillan and Co. published his highly controversial book on the subject, entitled Colliding Worlds.
In the book, Velikovsky postulated - based on a wide variety of ancient narratives and references - that the planet Venus must have formed during the historical memory of humanity as a consequence of the impact of a large astronomical body with Jupiter.
This event was recorded in the Greek myth in which it was said that Jupiter had swallowed entirely a pregnant goddess named Métis, which Athena made shortly after gush from Jupiter's head.
According to Velikovsky, Venus - whose Greek name means "The Newcomer" - "radiated at first as brightly as the sun" by criss-crossing the sky, far from the Newtonian limits of its current familiar orbit.
He proposed that Venus, in its vagrancy, had caused considerable chaos in the solar system, that its trajectory had brought it almost into contact with the Earth around -1500 and that Venus had directly impacted Mars.
This impact, in turn, forced Mars to leave its orbit and become the catalyst for a second series of close connections between Mars and Earth. The worst happened, according to Velikovsky, around - 750.
A serious consequence of this final interaction with Mars, he said, is that it affected the orbital period of the Earth, extending it from an annual revolution of 360 days to the current one of 365 days and ejecting Mars into its present orbit.
Several factors conspired to help make Velikovsky's book situation one of the best sellers.
The first was that Velikovsky's personal reputation and his long-term association with high-profile projects and people, all this combined made him a difficult heretic to ignore outright, as he already had a well-established reputation.
The second was that his theory of a recent birth of Venus directly contradicted modern planetary theory and scientific conceptions of the correct movement of planets.
The third could have come from the pure amazement of the traditional scientists to whom Velikovsky was supposed to offer a theory that opposed the traditional boundaries of many academic disciplines, and took him out of his own field of expertise and into another - namely astronomy - to express his opinion.
The fourth was that he considered it appropriate to cite as evidence of his theory old text references which, according to the estimation of many astronomers of the time, were classified as being as probative as fairy tales for children.
This evidence - which came from fields of ancient history and archaeology - also fell far short of the capacity of most astronomers to even try to evaluate it, let alone refute it.
With the help of very effective publicity - including a digest of the book that appeared in a popular magazine and preliminary copies of the book sent to several leading astronomers - the astronomers' indignation was effectively maintained.
Their professional rage helped the book to propel itself to bestseller status.
The popularity of Velikovsky's book on the rise turned the astronomical world upside down.
The heckling directed against Velikovsky the heretic approached levels unknown since Galileo's notorious persecution by the Catholic Church in the mid-1600s.
In retrospect, the outrage was understandable: in the world of 1950, which had become increasingly Darwinian, Velikovsky's theory threatened to revive a kind of apocalyptic religion that the scientific world had fought for over a century to eliminate.
Similarly, by contradicting the vision that all planets must be billions of years old, Velikovsky's theory threatened to undermine the uniformitarian visions that served as the foundation for Darwinism itself.
Darwin's theory required a stable and unchanging universe to set the processes in motion with an imperceptible slowness of the evolution he proposed.
Several renowned astronomers wrote to MacMillan's management to urge the company to block the publication of the book.
Dr. Harlow Shapley (then director of the Harvard Observatory) conspired to organize a boycott in colleges and universities of MacMillan's highly profitable book, hoping to put financial pressure on them to stop the sale of the book.
MacMillan - hoping to defuse the boycott without really submitting to the astronomers' requests - took the unusual step of transferring his lucrative rights to publish the book to Doubleday, one of his competitors who had no sales interest.
At the time of the publication of Colliding Worlds, many aspects of Velikovsky's theories were categorically described as pure nonsense by the authorities in the world of astronomy.
The truth would later surface that some of Velikovsky's toughest critics had never really read his book before making their statements, but had based their criticism only on the book's summaries before publication.
Certainly Velikovsky's vision of a young and warm Venus went against the conventional wisdom of 1950, which assumed that Venus had an Earth-like atmosphere and would eventually prove itself colonizable.
The acrobatic conditions apparently necessary for the movements of Venus described by Velikovsky in his book - moving first as a comet but then eventually coming in one way or another to possess one of the most circular and regular orbits of all the planets - seemed to contradict categorically Newton's laws of motion.
Carl Sagan pointed out that the large amount of energy required to eject a body the size of Venus from Jupiter would probably have vaporized large portions of Jupiter and left these areas intensely warm, even today.
Even Einstein, whose natural impulse was a sympathy towards his friend and colleague, initially took sides against Velikovsky, clearly dismissing his suggestion that electromagnetic forces should play a significant role in the dynamics of the planets.
Velikovsky's theory, when considered carefully, brings several logical possibilities or consequences which, if they were not all within the reach of scientists to prove or disprove experimentally in 1950, would surely become verifiable one day soon.
For example, a geologically recent birth of Venus would require that the planet be intensely warm (according to recent studies, there would be 470° on its surface).
Similarly, it would imply that Venus shows an undeveloped set of geological formations.
Moreover, if Venus had criss-crossed the solar system for centuries as a solitary astronomical body, then we would expect to find some anomalies in its orientation and rotation by comparing it to other planets.
We would finally be able to detect whether Mars or Venus had once suffered a direct impact with a body the size of a planet.
If Venus and Mars had approached very close to Earth in ancient times, we could identify chemical, geological or magnetic signatures associated with these events.
Velikovsky himself had provided a long list of his own "prognostics" - observations arising from what he felt he would ultimately have to prove to be real, if the facts confirmed what he considered to be the immovable pillars of his theory.
Shortly after the publication of the book, some of Velikovsky's "prognostics" began to be confirmed, not always for the precise reasons given by their author.
For example, Velikovsky's controversial opinion on the role of electromagnetism in the interaction of planetary bodies - the one Einstein had initially refused - was confirmed by the accidental discovery of radio emissions from Jupiter and the acceptance of the existence, based on Van Allen's work, of a substantial magnetic field surrounding the Earth.
In the 1960s, Velikovsky was considered a sufficiently credible authority on astronomy issues to be hired by a renowned television network to become a consultant and commentator on NASA's live moon landing in 1969.
In 1974, a symposium of scientists (including Velikovsky) was held in San Francisco to discuss Velikovsky's theories, which ended with several major criticisms buried against him.
The official "interpretation" that emerged from this conference - and the impression left on the audience - was that Velikovsky's theories had finally been definitively refuted.
Yet since then, as new evidence continues to emerge, a persistent trend towards new discoveries that - at least openly - seem to support much of Velikovsky's "prognostics".
When new recent discoveries are made that could potentially remind us of the controversy, they are most often presented without an official mention of Velikovsky's name.
Instead, they are usually announced wrapped up in a new accompanying theory, the net effect of which is to distance themselves from Velikovsky's controversial theories.
For example, when evidence showed that the planet was in fact intensely hot - a key point cited by Velikovsky as a crucial demonstration of the accuracy of his theory - scientists completely dismissed the question by assuming an uncontrolled greenhouse effect in advance to explain this unexpected high temperature.
When it was discovered that Venus had far fewer impact craters than one would expect for a planet several billion years old, astronomers again proposed that "unknown geological forces" had somehow caused a global, geologically recent resurfacing of Venus, thus erasing the crater problem.
With some of Velikovsky's proposals that seemed at first glance far-fetched - especially his dubious fantasies about the chemical interactions he supposed to have occurred between the atmospheres of Venus, Mars and Earth - there is a perspective from which we could benefit by carefully considering some aspects of his theory.
For example, his suggestion that a planet could form as a result of a large impact with a giant gas planet seems as reasonable as one of the two traditional dominant theories of planetary creation - some astronomers believe that both theories suffer from serious (or even fatal) theoretical difficulties.
Similarly, the theory of the formation of our moon as a product derived from an impact is already partially accepted.
It is certainly not unreasonable to think that what can happen on a small scale in our solar system could also happen on a larger scale.
Some critics of Velikovsky say that it is unreasonable to think that Venus' vagabond orbit as a comet could have made it circular as a planet in such a short time - and yet it is well known that there are comets that have apparently made circular orbits around our sun.
Theories suggest that a comet tail can provide the necessary training to make its orbit circular.
Others claim that the gravitational forces of the tides can cause orbits to become circular.
Presentation of the book worlds in collision by P. Jovanovic
Source: Colliding worlds (Immanuel Velikovsky); bistrobarblog.blogspot.com/ ;
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