Prisoner of an Idea
John O’Neill, science writer for the New York Herald Tribune, released in 1944, Prodigious Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla. It is the classic biography of the man without whom the modern world would not be possible. O’Neill was a friend of Tesla and reported periodically in his columns the innovative work of Tesla until his death in 1943. “You know me better than anyone”, Tesla said of O’Neill. It is little wonder that he begins his biography, ”’Spectacular’ is a mild word for describing the strange experiment with life that comprised the story of Nikola Tesla, ‘amazing’ fails to do adequate justice to the results that burst from Tesla’s experiences like an exploding rocket. It is the story of the dazzling scintillations of a superman who created a new world….his achievements are to be rated the status of the Olympian gods.” According to O’Neill, another writer said, “his achievements seemed like the dream of an intoxicated god.”
It is not well known, but while reviewing Tesla's work in 1997, author William Lyne revealed that O’Neill’s biography was printed three times in November of 1944, not because of landslide sales, but because of “O’Neill’s having been threatened and censored by the FBI, and forced to republish several times because of their deletion and censoring of material which to this day is still classified.” Lyne recalls that he first heard of Tesla in 1943. That is the same year I graduated from high school and I had not heard of Tesla during those years either. My idol from early childhood had been Thomas Edison. I lived and dreamed of being another Edison. I saved my lunch money (15 cents a day) to buy chemicals at the local drug store in order to stock the shelves of my basement laboratory. When I graduated from college in 1946 with a degree in science, I still had not heard of Tesla or if I had, took no notice of him.
How could this ‘spectacular’, ‘amazing’ and ‘dazzling’ inventor who changed the world have been omitted from my education? I found out later that it was planned that way, for reasons that still operate in the orthodox halls of academia. Revolutionary ideas are not well tolerated. The famed Smithsonian Institution gave Tesla no space, until very recently, and still then, labeled his work as that of Edison's. When many years later I learned of Tesla and how Edison had sought to discredit him, I was disillusioned, but inspired by a new idol.
“He made electricity his slave...This at a time when electricity was considered almost an occult force, and was looked upon with terror-stricken awe and respect…. he penetrated deeply into its mysteries and performed so many marvelous feats…he became a master magician.” Tesla, light years ahead of his time, was the prisoner of an idea that consumed his life. He was 'a discoverer of new principles, opening many new empires of knowledge, which even today have been only partly explored.'
Like O’Neill, who spent many years in close association with Tesla, I had the privilege of a long association with Immanuel Velikovsky. In his writings, Velikovsky told of becoming a prisoner of an idea, an idea in complete disagreement with established science, namely that “Gravitation is an electromagnetic phenomenon.” It turns out that both Velikovsky and Tesla were captives of the same idea. Tesla said, “I was fortunate enough to make two far reaching discoveries. The first was a dramatic theory of gravity…it explains the causes of this force and the motions of heavenly bodies.” Where Tesla envisioned ether (and the sun) as the force controlling the heavenly bodies, Velikovsky claimed electromagnetism. That difference was only a matter of semantics. Both claimed that the motion of celestial bodies was not inherent in those bodies nor did that force remain unchanged as Newton theorized and as Darwin required.
In the preface to Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky wrote: “Harmony and stability in the celestial and terrestrial spheres is the point of departure of the present day concept of the world as expressed in the celestial mechanics of Newton and the theory of evolution of Darwin. If these two men of science are sacrosanct, this book is a heresy.”
While it could be said of most innovative thinkers that they were captives of an idea or obsession, I took especial note that two of the greatest minds of the 20th century stood firmly in opposition to the idea that gravitation and inertia alone could account for celestial motion. Could these two be right and Newton and Einstein wrong?
I was more than a little amused when I read in the Velikovsky archives of an evening Velikovsky spent with Einstein who observed that it was no accident that they were sitting together; Einstein in his self-named “Jupiter chair” and Velikovsky, the heretic, outlining his revolutionary theory about the electrical nature of Jupiter. Einstein laughed at the occasion saying that, “meshugoim” [Hebrew plural for “possessed”] were attracted to each other.” Each understood the humor which lies in the Jewish-German parlance where the word also means ‘crazy’ in both senses, as in English. It was a good description of that historic, if not dramatic moment, as the greatest defender of orthodox views on gravity since Newton is faced by his greatest challenger.
Velikovsky had many such meetings with Einstein in his home on Mercer Street in Princeton. On another occasion, Velikovsky, always ready with a story, quipped “I feel myself here as Solomon Molcho must have felt in the palace of Pope Clement VII.” He explained, “this marrano, i.e. a Jew from a family that had been forcibly converted to Christianity, was sentenced to die for reverting to Judaism and was burned as a heretic in Rome by the Inquisition; but the next day he was alive in the inner chambers of the Vatican discussing philosophical problems with the Pope. The Pope had let another heretic be burned and hid Solomon Molcho. If only the Holy Inquisition knew where he was!” I ponder what Velikovsky’s opponents and detractors might have thought if they had known where Velikovsky was that evening.
I suppose there were occasions when Tesla, an opponent of the 'Theory of Relativity', also met with Einstein, because they both worked on the Manhattan Project; I do not know. They too would have battled over the role of gravity in celestial mechanics. Velikovsky never met Tesla, but knew and wrote of him. After having read O’Neill’s Prodigal Genius, he remarked, “I liked what I read and I marked in my memory the author and his book.” He felt a kinship in that Tesla had measured the electrical charge of the earth and found it of a high potential.
Noting the resistance of men like Edison to Tesla’s pioneering work, he remarked, ”this teaches us that not only have contemporaries of a revolutionary idea in science repeatedly rejected the idea, but also that a rejection of such an idea even by those best qualified…. has occurred not once or twice, but many times.”
O’Neill was later to become a great supporter of Velikovsky, saying, “Dr. Velikovsky’s work presents a stupendous panorama of terrestrial and human histories which will stand as a challenge to scientists to frame a realistic picture of the cosmos.”
There is yet another thread that ties the three men together, which was World War II.
Velikovsky’s Mankind In Amnesia, a book which consumed him more than all the others, was prompted by the question he shared with Freud and Einstein: “Why war?” Both Tesla and Einstein, caught up in the war effort, participated in the development of the atomic bomb, but Tesla withdrew before it was competed and Einstein opposed the use of the bomb. Velikovsky, while still in pre-war Europe, made great efforts to warn Jews to leave Germany while they could, and always regretted that his efforts were not enough. In the years when he was writing and struggling with the question of deep-seated causes of war, he originally titled his book The Great Fear. Velikovsky claimed that we today are descendants of the survivors of global catastrophes which decimated the human race and we carry that fear in our unconscious psyche. This is best expressed in the work of a man Velikovsky acknowledges as his predecessor, Nicolas Boulanger, an 18th century contributor to the French Encyclopedia, whom he quotes: “We still tremble today as a consequence of the deluge and our institutions still pass on to us fears and the apocalyptic ideas of our first fathers. Terror survives from race to race…The child will dread in perpetuity what frightened his ancestors.”
Boulanger, he says, “not only preceded Jung and Freud but also spelled out the nature of the traumatic experiences that came to be submerged in the human mind.” Resistance to Copernicus’ moving earth can be understood as a manifestation of that fear. Man wished to stand on a firm and safe foundation; moreover his own senses told him the earth does not move. Belief in the stability of the solar system was thought to have been secured in Newton’s theory of gravitation. However even he says at the end of his Principia, “But hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity…” Gravity and levity are still at the heart of contemporary debate in astrophysics.
It is not the purpose of this paper to do a critical analysis of pros and cons of the theories of Tesla or Velikovsky, but to remind students of history that these two men living in the same era and possessed by the same idea, have, in many ways, changed forever our most fundamental concepts of the cosmos.
Lest I be accused of being locked in the nostalgia of the 50’s, let me make it abundantly clear that today scientists have moved, however reluctantly, into Velikovsky’s court. Dwardu Cardona, a Velikovsky supporter, but one of his severest critics, in his recently published book, Flare Star, appropriately quotes Stephen Gould, an outspoken opponent of Velikovsky: “Catastrophism, once denigrated as an antiquated argument of miracle-mongers, has become respectable again.” Further, the prestigious Sir Fred Hoyle in 1993, “was not only advocating cosmic catastrophism, he even suggested it as a cause for the end of the Ice Age.” Catastrophic events in recent times as well as antiquity are also acknowledged.
In a section of Cardona’s book, entitled ‘ Behavioral Metamorphosis’, he considers what dramatic changes in the solar system would engender in human behavior. He recalled a research program in 1980 called Project Migraine, conducted by biologist Christopher Dodge, which indicated that migraine suffers were, “ uniquely sensitive to alterations in electromagnetic waves that probably resulted from changing pressures in Earth’s crust just prior to a volcanic eruption.” Other studies, “have since then indicated that psychiatric malfunctions tend to rise significantly with high levels of solar radioflux and sudden magnetic disturbances in the ionosphere.”
Velikovsky’s Mankind in Amnesia is more than ever a proper topic in behavioral studies. What man witnessed in sudden cosmic changes altered his behavior in some way as the universe became alive with awesome destructive activity, and “ he sought to appease it in an effort to keep it from repeating destructive actions…. Man even tried to imitate what it did, even to the point of exterminating some of his own kind.”
My association with Velikovsky began in the mid 50s, and now at the age of 82, I am one of the few remaining associates of that early period
his has engendered in me an obligation to recall events of those days and highlight some of his remarkable insights and knowledge required to restructure both terrestrial and man-made history. Those who would classify him as a crank or lacking intellectual acumen, have not read or studied his monumental work. Even when ideas prove wrong, the intuitive thinking of a fertile mind deserves admiration and can inspire new generations toward fundamental inquiry. In mining the riches of the Velikovsky archives, still mostly untouched by students and scholars alike, we will discover a truly unique mind as told in his short essays and his unpublished books. The beginner will want to read, Worlds in Collision, Earth in Upheaval, and Ages in Chaos, Vol 1,
before plunging into other volumes.