Velikovsky's Ghost Returns

The electric universe

by Michael Goodspeed


Abridged version



Source :

The Russian-born scholar Imanuel Velikovsky was a friend and colleague of Albert Einstein, a student of Freud's first pupil Wilhelm Stekel, and Israel's first practicing psychoanalyst. Some of his writings appeared in Freud's Imago. In 1930 he published the first paper to suggest that epileptics would be characterized by abnormal encephalograms. He was the founder and editor of the scholarly publication, Scripta Universitatis, the physics and mathematics section being prepared by Einstein.

It was while researching a book on Freud and his heroes that Velikovsky first wondered about the catastrophes said to have accompanied the Hebrew Exodus, when fire and hailstones rained upon Egypt, earthquakes decimated the nation, and a pillar of fire and smoke moved in the sky. Biblical and other traditional Hebrew sources speak so vividly that Velikovsky began to wonder if some extraordinary natural event might have played a part in the Exodus.

To explore this possibility, Velikovsky sought out a corresponding account in ancient Egyptian records, finding a remarkable parallel in a papyrus kept at the University of Leyden Museum, called the Papyrus Ipuwer. The document contains the lamentations of an Egyptian sage in response to a great catastrophe overwhelming Egypt, when the rivers ran red, fire blazed in the sky, and pestilence ravaged the land.

Velikovsky also encountered surprising parallels in Babylonian and Assyrian clay tablets, Vedic poems, Chinese epics, and North American Indian, Maya, Aztec, and Peruvian legends. From these remarkably similar accounts, he constructed a thesis of celestial catastrophe. He concluded that a very large body -- apparently a "comet" -- passed close enough to Earth to violently perturb its axis, as global earthquakes, wind and falling stone decimated early civilizations.

Before Velikovsky could complete his reconstruction, he had to resolve an enigma. He had found that in the accounts of far-flung cultures, the cometary agent of disaster was identified as a planet. And the closer he looked, the more clear it became to him that this planet was Venus: The converging ancient images include the Babylonian "torch-star" Venus and "bearded star" Venus, the Mexican "smoking star" Venus, the Peruvian "long-haired" star Venus, the Egyptian Great Star "scattering its flame in fire" and the widespread imagery of Venus as a flaming serpent or dragon in the sky. In each instance, the cometary language is undeniable, for these were the very symbols of "the comet" in the ancient languages.

By following the evidence, Velikovsky discovered that Venus holds a special place among the world's first astronomers. In both the Old World and the New, ancient stargazers regarded Venus with awe and terror, carefully observing its risings and settings, and claiming the planet to be the cause of world-ending catastrophe. These astronomical traditions, Velikovsky reasoned, must have had roots in a traumatic human experience, though modern science has always assumed that the planets evolved in quiet and undisturbed isolation over billions of years.

Based on extensive cross-cultural comparison, Velikovsky concluded that the planet Venus, prior to the dawn of recorded history, was ejected violently from the gas giant Jupiter, displaying a spectacular comet-like tail. Its later catastrophic approach to the Earth (around 1500 B.C.) provided the historical backdrop to the Hebrew Exodus, Velikovsky claimed.

In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky argued that the terrifying "gods" of the ancient world were planets -- those inconspicuous specks of light we see moving with clock-like regularity, as if to deny their chaotic roles in the past. The book recounted two close encounters of the comet or protoplanet Venus with the Earth. Included in the same volume was a large section on the ancient war god, whom Velikovsky identified as the planet Mars. He claimed that centuries after the Venus catastrophes, Mars moved on an unstable orbit intersecting that of Earth, leading to a series of Earth-disturbing events in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.

For many years after publication of Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky was persona non grata on college campuses. He was denied the opportunity to publish articles in scientific journals. When he attempted to respond to critical articles in such journals, they rejected these responses. The attitude of established science was typified by the reactions of astronomers. Michigan astronomer Dean McLaughlin exclaimed, "Lies -- yes lies." In response to a correspondent, astronomer Harold Urey, wrote: "My advice to you is to shut the book and never look at it again in your lifetime."

For Velikovsky, this was the beginning of a personal "dark age". But remarkably, his friendship with Albert Einstein was unaffected, and Einstein met with him often, maintaining an extended correspondence as well, encouraging Velikovksy to look past the misbehavior of the scientific elite.

Things grew more promising for Velikovsky. In 1962, two scientists, Valentin Bargmann, professor of physics at Princeton, and Lloyd Motz, professor of astronomy at Columbia, urged that Velikovsky's conclusions "be objectively re-examined." In support of this reconsideration, they cited his prior predictions about radio noises from Jupiter, the terrestrial magnetosphere, and an unexpectedly high temperature of Venus.

Then, in 1972, at the invitation of the Society of Harvard Engineers and Scientists, Velikovsky returned to the site from which the original boycott was launched. His presentation produced a standing ovation. "I survived, as you see," he said. "I have been waiting for this evening for 22 years. I came here to find the young, the spirited, the men who have a fascination for discovery."

Before he died in 1979, Velikovsky grew darkly pessimistic, telling those close to him that the battle was over, that the critics had won. Mainstream science, he said, would never permit an objective hearing on the subject of Worlds in Collision.

But in the awakening of public interest seven years earlier, something had occurred that Velikovsky did not anticipate. Even as the controversy faded into the background, a number of independent researchers labored quietly in their own fields, seeking out the remaining pieces of the puzzle Velikovsky had laid before them. Unanswered questions ranging from the role of electricity in the universe to the mysteries of Venus and the origins of ancient mythology would preoccupy these researchers for decades.

Today, almost fifty-five years after publication of Worlds in Collision, those who forged this independent inquiry WILL be heard. They are no longer dependent on established journals and academic institutions to gain a public hearing.

Other scientists and social scientists that showed deep interest in Velikovsky's work included astronomer Walter S Adams; archaeologist Cyrus Gordon; and Horace Kallen, one of America's most respected scholars. In 1950, when Worlds in Collision came out, Kallen was a personal friend of Harlow Shapley, the Harvard astronomer who led the original scientific attack on Velikovsky. But later, Kallen recounted Shapley's role in the "Velikovsky Affair," and he ridiculed the hasty and pretentious manner in which the defenders of orthodoxy had dismissed Velikovsky's hypothesis.

Kallen's biting criticism of scientific dogmatism is every bit as appropriate today as it was 30 years ago. In the debate with McCanney, Morrison opined that Velikovsky may have sounded intelligent to the untrained, but that when you look more closely, "nothing is there." Velikovsky was "simply wrong," said Morrison, "demonstrably wrong."

Here, on the other hand, is the opinion of the two authors of Thunderbolts of the Gods, each having investigated the thesis of Worlds in Collision for more than three decades. David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill write: "The authors of this book believe that Velikovsky was incorrect on many particulars, some of them crucial to a proper understanding of ancient events. But his place among the great pioneers of science will be secure if he was correct on the underlying tenets"

Talbott and Thornhill do not accept Velikovsky's specific chronology of events, and they place the age of planetary upheaval just prior to the flowering of monumental civilization, which they see as a creative act of human REMEMBERING. Rather than declare Velikovsky to be categorically "right" or "wrong", they cite these claims as crucial to any assessment of Velikovsky's contribution to science--

1. The present order of the planets is new. In geologically recent times the planetary system was unstable, and at least some planets moved on much different courses than they do today.

2. Erratic movements of the planets led to global catastrophe on Earth.

3. Through rigorous cross-cultural comparison of the ancient traditions, an investigator can reconstruct the celestial dramas.

One more principle must also be included, according to the authors. Velikovsky said that the key to reconciling his claims with scientific theory would be ELECTROMAGNETISM, a force in which astronomers and cosmologists had no interest in 1950. He stated that if the Sun and the planets are not the "electrically neutral" bodies astronomers assume, then even "the law of gravitation must come into question."

In the years since Velikovsky wrote these words, a new perspective has emerged from space age discovery. A universe teeming with charged particles-the "Electric Universe" of Wallace Thornhill and others -- is redefining everything we see in space. But you would not know this by listening to David Morrison, whose words still echo the electrically inactive, purely gravitational 1950's vision of the heavens.

The electrical theorists say that the picture of the universe has changed, and all of the theoretical sciences will give way to a revolution in human understanding. The authors of Thunderbolts of the Gods summarize the new view in these words:

"From the smallest particle to the largest galactic formation, a web of electrical circuitry connects and unifies all of nature, organizing galaxies, energizing stars, giving birth to planets and, on our own world, controlling weather and animating biological organisms. There are no isolated islands in an 'electric universe.'"


Morrison expressed supreme confidence in the Big Bang, one of the most popular themes in scientific speculation today. The Big Bang is well supported and secure, he said, and we see "no contradictory evidence." Here he was only reflecting the posture of official science.

Here's the truth: Scientific confidence in the Big Bang has already collapsed. The dogmatic Doppler interpretation of redshift (shifting of light from distant galaxies toward red on the light spectrum) has crashed and burned. It was this uncompromising interpretation of redshift that led astronomers to place newly discovered, strongly redshifted quasars at the farthest reaches of the universe. But now we know that quasars are found in energetic and physical connection to nearby galaxies. We've even seen a quasar in front of a nearby galaxy. All of the most critical evidence is now against the Big Bang. See: Big Bang Broken and Can't Be Fixed.

But should this come as a surprise? Plasma cosmologists--including such distinguished authorities as Anthony Peratt of Los Alamos Laboratories and astrophysicist Eric Lerner--have long argued that the pillar of Big Bang reasoning is refuted by what we see in space and what we observe in scientific experiments. In fact, the world's leading authority on peculiar galaxies, astronomer Halton Arp, has been warning the astronomical community for decades now that it is following a dead-end path. He paid for these warnings dearly, losing his telescope time and being forced to move to Germany to carry on his work at the Max Planck Institute. Its too bad Halton Arp and Immanuel Velikovsky never had a chance to compare notes on the role of sacred cows in the sciences.

Peratt, Thornhill, Fred Hoyle, Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, and many others have long claimed that astronomers were overlooking evidence essential to the question of redshift. There is evidence that plasma discharge can produce intrinsic redshift--that is, redshift with no inherent relationship to velocity or distance. Our own Sun exhibits an unexplained excess redshift at its limb. This is no small matter. If plasma discharge is involved, the electrically neutral universe of the 1950's must be abandoned once and for all. And we're not talking about a small problem here, but the biggest mistake science has made in modern times. Virtually all of the theoretical sciences have been held captive by the same conjecture, which started as a guess, then hardened into the pretentiousness of pure mathematics, divorced from the rigors of observation and experiment.


From start to finish, Morrison refused to acknowledge the distinction between fact and theory. Here are his precise words with respect to the origins of planets: "The planets in the solar system formed out of a spinning dust cloud, a circumstellar disk it's called, right along with the Sun, and so they all have the same basic motion coming from their origin, and they formed together with the Sun."

You can see he is confident in a theory that has been around for years, though the theory did not predict any of the milestone discoveries of the space age. The nebular theory is, in fact, one of the primary reasons why every major planetary discovery has come as a surprise. We can now view the planets up close and personal. Their surfaces do not speak for isolated and incremental evolution, but for an unstable solar system in the past.

The appeal of the nebular theory early in the twentieth century was based on observations later revealed to be incorrect. At that time, astronomers believed that only one galaxy, the Milky Way, existed. When they observed what they called "spiral nebulas" and "planetary nebulas," they imagined these clouds to be the birthplaces of stars and planets, formed by the "gravitational collapse" of gas and dust.

But the early "observations" proved to be erroneous. With better telescopes, astronomers realized that "spiral nebulas" were actually galaxies beyond the Milky Way. They could tell us nothing about an imagined "gravitational collapse" of clouds into stars and planets. Then, with still better observational tools in the latter decades of the twentieth century, it became clear that "planetary nebula" were not gas clouds coalescing or accreting into planets, but the remains of EXPLODING STARS.

Thanks to our better telescopes now, we DO see evidence of planetary formation. For example, the discovery of gas-giant planets orbiting nearby stars should have forced a complete review of the assumptions behind the nebular theory. But it did not. Most such bodies are moving on exceedingly close orbits to their primary (star), the opposite of what was predicted by "planetary nebula" models. Faced with this contradiction, the theorists concluded that the gas-giant planets must have moved inward after they were formed. But if that were a normal occurrence, then Jupiter should be closer to the Sun than Mercury, and Earth and its neighbors should not exist. Either way, the picture certainly does not suggest planets coalescing from a cloud, and then remaining in place for billions of years!

Morrison is not the only astronomer desperately needing an education in plasma physics and electric discharge. Astronomers working with gravity-only models have failed again and again to anticipate the new view of space. This record of failure can now be compared to the striking success of "plasma cosmology," rooted in the work of Kristian Birkeland, Irving Langmuir, and Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfven, the father of modern plasma science.


Morrison insisted that the Sun is known to be electrically neutral, but his only defense of this claim was a reference to the "neutrality" of the solar wind. He did not mention the fact that the charged particles of the solar wind are accelerated away from the Sun (something that was not known when Velikovsky wrote Worlds in Collision). In contrast to Morrison's bold assertions, the known FACT is that electric fields accelerate charged particles. This acceleration is the best measure of an electric field's strength. Unless someone can demonstrate (not merely hypothesize) something other than an electric field that can accelerate charged particles, there is simply no integrity to Morrison's sweeping assertions.

The Sun is a glow discharge according to the modern pioneer of the electric Sun, Ralph Juergens, whose work has been further developed by Wallace Thornhill and Donald Scott. See: Of Pith Balls and Plasma.


It was surprising to find that the debate included no meaningful discussion of comet theory. This was unfortunate, because ideas about comets could be the Achilles Heel of dogmatic science.

On July 4, 2005, the Deep Impact probe will reach comet Tempel 2 and fire an 800-pound projectile into the comet's nucleus. NASA's comet investigators do not doubt that hidden beneath the surface of comets is a great abundance of water ice. How else could comet tails be produced, except by ices sublimating in the heat of the Sun?

The revolutionary electric Sun model set forth by Juergens in the early 70's included a view of comets as electric discharge phenomena. If the Sun is a glow discharge at the center of a radial electric field, then comets moving on highly elliptical orbits through this electric field will experience increasing stresses that can only be relieved through electrical arcing, removing material and accelerating it away from the nucleus, along the path of solar magnetic field lines.

Though electrical experts cannot categorically say there are no volatiles beneath the surface of comets, they all consider it most likely that the projectile will strike a solid rock and not a pile of ice and rubble. According to Thornhill, some of the water we normally detect in comet tails appears to be a result of electrical exchange within the coma of the comet.

So the Deep Impact mission could prove to be an acid test. The electric theorists have made their position clear, and there won't be much wiggle room for the conventional "dirty snowball" hypothesis. If water is not observed to explode from the surface at the projectile's impact, a domino effect will be set loose. An absence of water would mean there is no mainstream model left, only the electric model would remain. A single event could thus alter the mindset of all who work in the theoretical sciences: it would mark the end of the imagined "electrically neutral" universe lurking behind every statement we heard from David Morrison.


Morrison confidently dismissed the idea of recent catastrophe in the solar system, telling us that the real catastrophes occurred "4.5 billion years ago." How does he "know" this? The confidence begins with a rigid adherence to the nebular theory, and ends with a practice at which the electric theorists can only grimace: counting craters to determine the ages of a planet's or moon's surface. The fewer the craters, the "logic" goes, the more recent the events that re-surfaced an area.

Even orthodox planetary scientists are coming to realize that crater counting doesn't work. See article - "Crater Count Led Mars Historians Astray", March 2005 New Scientist.

For the cosmic electricians, the idea of counting craters is absurd. They see the defining surface features of planets and moons as the signature of brief catastrophic episodes of electric discharge, in a phase of solar system history that continued until surprisingly recent times. According to these investigators, every planet shows electrical re-sculpting from pole to pole, often with strange hemispheric differences as if scarring occurred briefly from a single direction. They propose a simple and direct way to resolve the question. Since plasma discharge events are scalable, they claim the dominant features on planets and moons can ONLY be produced by electric discharge, and they are eager to see rigorous testing of this extraordinary claim. Without any funding from NASA, they have already begun the process, and the results are simply staggering. (See: Martian Blueberries in the Lab.


In agreement with Immanuel Velikovsky, many proponents of the Electric Universe contend that our early ancestors witnessed Earth-changing catastrophes. So on this point, they do not just speak of scientific evidence, but of HUMAN TESTIMONY. They tell us that only a few thousand years ago the sky was ablaze with electrical fireworks and that humans witnessing these events recorded them through every means available--

They drew pictures of plasma formations in the heavens.

From one land to another they recounted stories of cosmic thunderbolts that altered world history.

In ritual prayers and monument building, they constructed imitations of the plasma formations in the sky.

And in their astronomical traditions they preserved a global memory of PLANETS as the towering gods of a former time.

In laying the groundwork for a new approach to solar system history, Talbott and Thornhill write--

"A costly misunderstanding of planetary history must now be corrected. The misunderstanding arose from fundamental errors within the field of cosmology, the 'queen' of the theoretical sciences. Mainstream cosmologists, whether trained as physicists, mathematicians, or astronomers, consider gravity to be the controlling force in the heavens. From this assumption arose the doctrine of eons-long solar system stability-the belief that under the rule of gravity the nine planets have moved on their present courses since the birth of the solar system. Seen from this vantage point, the ancient fear of the planets can only appear ludicrous.

"We challenge this modern belief. We contend that humans once saw planets suspended as huge spheres in the heavens. Immersed in the charged particles of a dense plasma, celestial bodies 'spoke' electrically and plasma discharge produced heaven-spanning formations above the terrestrial witnesses. In the imagination of the ancient myth-makers, the planets were alive: they were the gods, the ruling powers of the sky-awe inspiring, often capricious, and at times wildly destructive."

It has been said that no great advance has ever been made without controversy. More than 5 decades after the Velikovsky firestorm, questions first posed by Velikovsky can no longer be ignored. At stake here is not just the billions of dollars NASA has wasted chasing chimeras, but the very integrity of scientific exploration. Also at stake is the ability of the sciences to attract and inspire new generations. And nothing is more inspirational than a sense of being on the edge of discovery.

No matter the outcome of this long-standing battle, the time of reckoning is at hand. The voice of Velikovsky's ghost WILL be heard.


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