Friday, September 14, 2007

Velikovskian Catastrophism

Immanuel Velikovsky's book Worlds in Collision, which "proposes that many myths and traditions of ancient peoples and cultures are based on actual events," was one of the best books I came across as a high school kid. (Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods, which I came across earlier, categorically was not.)

His approach was interdisciplinary, a rarity in the 20th Century, taking into account astronomy, physics, chemistry, psychology, ancient history, and comparative mythology. He noted, for example, that Venus, the second brightest object in the night sky, was not mentioned by the earliest astronomers. He proposed that the planet was a newcomer to our solar system, a comet, appearing in historical times with an irregular orbit that caused catastrophic events on our own planet.

Coming in close contact with the Earth, the latter's rotation altered, making it appear that The Sun had stood still, a phenomenon reported on in the Book of Josue. What has come to be known as Joshua's Long Day is corroborated by the texts of the ancient Chinese, Japanese, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Mayans; the East Asians reporting a extremely long sunset, the Mexicans reporting an extremely long sunrise.

Immanuel Velikovsky was too imminent a scholar to be dismissed outright as a kook, and he counted some respected people among his friends. (See The Einstein-Velikovsky Correspondence). Nevertheless, his Catastrophism was rejected outright by a scientific establishment that couldn't stomach an interdisciplinary challenge to its dogmatic Uniformitarianism, even after Velikovsky's predictions about the temperature of Venus and radio activity from Jupiter were proven true.

Here's a 1972 CBC documentary which gives an excellent introduction to the ideas outlined above─Immanuel Velikovsky: The Bonds of the Past.

Or, if you prefer, a smug dismissal of them from a show I used to love as a kid─Cosmos: "Velikovsky".

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