There’s a new second hand book store in Albuquerque: “Organic Books”, located in the Nob Hill area at 111 Carlisle NE. I plan to bring a stack of used books to donate when I drop by this Sunday, at 3:00 pm, to read from an issue of “ABQ InPrint”, a locally published literary periodical in which an essay of mine appears. Well maybe I won’t bring too large a stack, since for the next month or so I’ll be hobbling around with a fractured ankle.
The owner, Steve Brewer, an author himself, encourages his fellow local writers with a table for local books—for which he purchased my three books.
While I was at Organic Books a few weeks ago I found a used copy of “Beyond Velikovsky”, by Henry Bauer, which brought back the mid 1970’s, when–working as deckhand on a barge that transported ore trucks back and forth across Lake Babine in Northern British Columbia–I had lots of time to read.
In “Worlds in Collision”, Velikovsky puts forth the radical claim that Venus was expelled from Jupiter and, within historical times, passed so close to Earth that it caused the events recorded in the Biblical story of Exodus (as well in legends still remembered around the world). His thesis it that when Venus passed close to Earth, it cometary train fell as manna from heaven and caused fire in the sky when it entered Earth’s atmosphere. Velikovsky also asserted that Venus shifted our planet’s axis and caused the Sun to stand still and then change direction.
What struck me most strongly in “Worlds in Collision” was that Velikovsky presents his theories (that catastrophic events have occurred within historical memory) as a straight-forward reading of the recorded observations of people who spent a lot more time outside under the heavens than occurs often in our modern society. He asserts that our society is suffering from a collective amnesia and can’t even conceive that our world may have been subject to such catastrophic events as the appearance of a new planet or a shift in the tilt of Earth’s axis.
Sitting in the wheelhouse of the Noranda Copper Mine barge, I was fascinated by what seemed a well-documented account of relatively recent events of a cosmic nature, which modern humankind, so infatuated with our own theories and technological discoveries that we dismiss older kinds of knowledge as mere stories from a more primitive time.
“Beyond Velikovsky” is written by a scientist who—perhaps more thoroughly than ever before—examines Velikovsky’s claims in the light of the well-established findings of the physical sciences, such as physics, astronomy and cosmology; and he concludes that Velikovsky didn’t actually operate as a scientist himself and in many important ways did not understand the scientific findings which he regularly cites in support of his thesis.
I found one example of this tendency particularly strange. Velikovsky claims that gravity is not a real force and those phenomena which are interpreted as due to bodies attracting one another in proportion to their mass are actually electrical phenomena. According to Bauer, Velikovsky thereby confuses two levels of physical reality: the subatomic and the cosmic; which Bauer presents as a failure to respect that differences in scale matter; that in the well-established science that studies cosmic bodies, electrical forces are not ignored but that their effects are observed to be negligible to that of gravity; and that in the study of electrically charged subatomic ‘particles’, the effect of gravity is likewise found to be negligible; so that Velikovsky’s claim that gravity doesn’t exist as an independent force merely reveals his lack of scientific knowledge and competence.
Bauer acknowledges that Velikovsky was very widely read and that he had a huge impact on the reading public for decades. But as a psychoanalyst he was not trained in any of the physical sciences; moreover, when he delves into astronomy and celestial mechanics he cherry picks the results and conclusions which support his overall thesis.
Perhaps the spiritual maxim “As above, so below” doesn’t really apply to the scientific approach, in which experimentation and observation are applied equally wherever matter and energy can be found. And it seems that when Velikovsky tries to collapse the gravitational force operating between massive bodies into the electrical force which successfully accounts for subatomic behavior he is actually applying another maxim: “as below so above” (exporting subatomic dynamics into the realm of the planets and stars). Besides, even in the spiritual realm, the maxim, “As above, so below” is only a helpful comparison if we keep distinct in our minds that our lives in a physical world offer a portal into another level of being in which the physical does not predominate, and in which, in fact, waves of energy and light may be the currency of the realm.
I’m not in a position to evaluate the critique of a trained scientist who has clearly put a lot of time, effort, and honest interest into his examination of the “Velikovsky Affair”, which for decades caused a dramatic split between working scientists and the general public.
I see this split as similar to the respective approaches of science and religion: with science contributing a great deal to our understanding of the world, but having very little to say about the human mind and its potential to evolve into greater awareness; and with most religious institutions having little to say about how our world is itself sacred since it offers our only doorway into the mysteries of the infinite and the eternal.
In my essay, from which I’ll be reading this Sunday, I explore this further.
Meanwhile I can sense my own limitations in how I responded to Velikovsky as I sat in the Noranda barge wheelhouse forty years ago. I was, and still am, cherry picking observations, interpretations and theories that support whatever view of ‘reality’ I have already determined works for me. As I am discovering increasingly, this is a very limited approach to the mysterious realm in which I find myself living. Perhaps the certitudes of science are also subject to that limitation; and that in building up any construct, such as the scientifically-certified view of our world, inertial tendencies and self-collaborating assumptions can shut out the light of wonder. Could our belief that we will eventually understand, if we just continue to follow the path we are already on, be incomplete?