Thursday, November 1, 2012
Velikovsky and The Catastrophists
[I think the title of this piece would make a fabulous name of a band of some sort].
When I worked at the Hayden Planetarium, there were a few words you did not use in the presence of an astrophysicist. Two of those words were "Immanuel Velikovsky", and if you were ever stupid enough to use those words in front of an astrophysicist, you made damn sure that they were not holding a cup of hot coffee or a knife, because out of instinct they would probably throw them at you.
Velikovsky was a "catastrophist", one of my favorite types of people. Scientists went apeshit when they were faced with Velikovsky's ideas.
A "catastrophist" is someone who believes that the history of this planet has at various times been subject to dramatic events, or catastrophes, that cause a complete collapse of civilization and a restart, usually with no memory of what happened before, or very little memory. Someone who believed in the biblical flood, for example, as a real historical event would be a catastrophist. They might theorize that the story of Noah's Flood and of the exile from the Garden of Eden were dim memories of an earlier time and civilization, handed down through the ages, however imperfectly. Those who believe that Atlantis existed, but was destroyed by some disaster, would presumably also be catastrophists. There may be a flavor of catastrophist to some of Lovecraft's work, e.g. the notion of the Elder Races. Catastrophists can be said to write entertaining stories, in my humble opinion. As science, that is another matter.
But when Velikovsky discussed his ideas, more formal and respectable scientists lost their minds and went nuts attacking him (so I hear). Very undignified. This book tries to explain what happened.
Read this review of a book on the topic. Trust me.