Immanuel Velikovsky’s book Worlds in Collision caused quite a controversy when it was released in 1950 despite the success it enjoyed initially, spending 27 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. While the book was popular it was also almost universally rejected by scholars and professional scientists and greeted with hostility. I remember Frederick Crownfield who taught the philosophy of science class that I attended spoke with unusual passion in dismissing Velikovsky and his theories during an exchange in one class. Dr. Crownfield made it very clear that he found no scientific merit in Velikovsky’s theories.
Crownfield’s categorical rejection of Velikovsky piqued my curiosity, especially since his unequivocal dismissal was the only time I had witnessed Fredrick take such a harsh, closed-minded stance. Sometime after college I happened to read Oedipus and Akhenaten by Velikovsky during a new age phase which included among other persons and philosophies–Edgar Cayce and Eckankar. A few years later while rummaging about in a church bazaar book sale I discovered an unused copy of Worlds in Collision which I promptly purchased for a fee that even Dr. Crownfield would have considered a bargain. Unfortunately, my interest in Velikovsky had flagged by the time I bought his book so it never received a cover to cover reading. It should be obvious that anyone who has roamed freely among the likes of Paul Twitchell, Edgar Cayce, Jeanne Dixon, Ruth Montgomery, and Ignatius Donnelly–just to name a few–is not averse to dabbling in a genre of quasi-religious fantasy; however, as unbelievable as the myth of Atlantis appears, or as unlikely as the possibility of soul travel with the living ECK master might be, one could make the case that the current state of world affairs seems just as implausible.
While Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision approaches fable, a good story constructed upon a foundation of pseudo-science, its basic building blocks lack the stability of scientific mortar to support its soaring edifice. Velikovsky’s cosmology seems to have settled in a niche as far removed from Plato as it is from Steven Hawking or Brian Greene. On the other hand, the compounded effects of natural events such as an earthquake and tsunami coupled with faulty architectural design and failed emergency systems in six nuclear reactors in Japan threaten to exceed the fantastic elements described in the cataclysmic constructions of Velikovsky’s imagination.
Perhaps imagination is less a villain than is our irrepressible arrogance. Perhaps we are incapable of holding fast to the truths distilled from the crucible of experience; we jettison them with the first blush of popularity, or success. Whenever we stumble we assume it is the path that causes us to lose our balance; we do not assay our loss of agility because we attribute our failings to exterior causes despite the fact that we may have abandoned the healthy exercises that kept us alert and fit.
As we reflect upon the past three years including the present, the climate, literally and metaphorically, may be seen as being under a state of siege. Many of the countries of the world are engaged in an economic and financial struggle that may very well leave them in ruin. Some governments are collapsing in the Middle East from the weight of their own insufferable cruelty and indifference. Autocrats, dictators, monarchies, and oligarchies that have been the principal political structure of many Middle Eastern countries are on the verge of collapse: some will evolve more peacefully; others will inaugurate change with inevitable sanguinity as it appears to be the case in Libya.
Meanwhile the US is still expending egregious sums of capital, assets, and lives in the two wars in which it is currently engaged: Iraq and Afghanistan. Our country has been at war since 2003 with no clear resolution in view. Political campaigns have faded into memory along with the politicians who rallied for war or railed against war or who managed to cling to both views simultaneously; however, we and the world are left with an unending debacle of demagoguery and insouciance on the part of the few, the super rich, and the powerful that is a constant reminder of their failure and our gullibility; and, it is our fate that the burden of recompense comes at our expense; and, this debt is most often tendered in blood and shattered lives. We’ve suffered through eight years by one of the worst presidents in our history, George W Bush; no book, not even one authored by the most exquisite ghostwriter in history can remove the stain left by this man and his cronies; their duplicitousness and cowardice, the mention of their names is anathema.
When I checked off Barack Obama’s name in the voting booth I was confident that Sam Cooke had it right: a change is gonna come. Of course, even Parmenides, was forced to deal with change, if only to say that it was an illusion. But change did come, indeed it came with rapidity and ferocity: the cost of an unnecessary war that was not funded, the house of cards that passed as the housing industry, and the rapacious and unethical tactics of Wall St bankers and hedge fund managers. This alignment of toxic elements triggered the domino effect that brought the world economy to the brink of ruin. The meager assets of the average citizen evaporated almost overnight. Jobs, houses, lives were lost and the future for many was so bleak it was unimaginable despite their living it daily. Homelessness was no longer the idle person appearing on a busy thoroughfare with a crudely lettered sign pleading for aid of one description or another; it could very well be one’s neighbor on that corner, a friend, or depending on one’s luck, it might be you standing there mortified and confused. Obama was visited with change even before he could effect his own brand of change.
Policies continue to be debated even as the country drags itself onto an incrementally more secure financial plateau; unrelenting demagoguery led to the formation of the Tea Party, a particularly vociferous and mean-spirited group determined to set things right by clinging adamantly to a plan of reduction that has failed miserably in the countries that have adopted a similar approach to governmental solvency. Parrying with the Tea Party ended after the 2010 elections when Democrats were tumbled from their majority when they failed to respond adequately to the opposition’s strident fear-mongering which was focused primarily on the steps taken to solve the economic collapse and to reform healthcare with the passage of a comprehensive healthcare bill. Even before the Republicans gained a majority in both the US House of Representatives and among the states’ governors, Obama began steering his political tiller in the direction of the right and ended up overcompensating: appeasement and compromise are not synonyms and concession is not a necessary derivative of pragmatism. Obama’s decision to expand our military presence in Afghanistan was modeled on the Surge and was indicative of his desire to pursue re-election in 2012. Our latest misstep has been to become involved in the incipient civil war in Libya and bears closer resemblance to an experiment to test the existence of the psychological state deja-vue than it does to diplomacy. I’d be willing to bet that by now even the Iranians are familiar with Yogi Berra’s aphoristic gem: Deja-vue all over again!
Velikovsky writes with telling irony in the preface: Worlds in Collision is a book of wars in the celestial spheres that took place in historical times. In these wars the planet earth participated too. What war doesn’t fit Velikovsky’s definition? We have a distinct tendency to deify our causes so that the right for which we brandish arms and shed blood is always an antecedent of divinity. While Velikovsky’s was a respected psychologist and psychoanalyst who played a role in the founding of the University of Jerusalem in Israel the scientific basis of his cosmological theories are more appropriate to the company of Plato and myth than the equally mystifying realm of current cosmological treatises derived from the physics of quanta and strings. Nevertheless, he managed to conclude his preface to Worlds In Collision in 1949 with an eerily prophetic paragraph.
The years when Ages in Chaos and Worlds in Collision were written were years of world catastrophe created by man–of war that was fought on land, on sea, and in the air. During that time man learned how to take apart a few of the bricks of which the universe is built–the atoms of uranium. If one day he should solve the problem of the fission and fusion of the atoms of which the crust of the earth or its water and air are composed, he may perchance, by initiating a chain reaction, take this planet out of the struggle for survival among the members of the celestial sphere.
It is inaccurate as well as disingenuous to apply Velikovsky’s cosmological analysis to current world events beyond the obvious coincidence of metaphor. Although the collision of ideas and political entities may have worldwide implications it doesn’t follow necessarily that our folly will initiate a cosmological cataclysm. Our tendency is to regard events in isolation which may translate to a state of disconnected naiveté where we find ourselves continually surprised by, and, immersed in, the catastrophes that recur with disquieting frequency. The steady stream of revelations coming from Japan concerning all aspects of its nuclear reactor program is unnerving proof that our selective amnesia conceals the important details often suppressed in the rush to do business, especially when vast sums of money are involved. The same could be said of our role (still largely undetermined and/or undeclared) in Libya. After all with the proper application of casuistry and semantics we may actually put troops in Libya and engage in another war while subscribing to a completely humanitarian action. Barack Obama is intelligent, a supremely gifted speaker, and perhaps too adept at convincing himself with nuance. Perhaps we need to take a cue from Ockham and strop our razors and revisit the logic of medieval philosophy.