Immanuel Velikovsky

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Velikovsky, Immanuel (1895-1979)

Psychoanalyst and cosmologist who emerged as a major defender of catastrophism, the idea that the earth's history and prehistory have been distorted by significant catastrophies. Catastrophism stands over against uniformitarianism, the dominant postulate of geologic sciences that the earth has developed slowly by long-term processes which are still occurring and observable. About the time of the prophet Moses in 1500 B.C.E. , a comet from the planet Jupiter is supposed to have collided with Mars, formed the planet Venus, and shifted the orbit of the earth, displacing oceans and reversing the earth's poles.

Velikovsky was born on June 10, 1895, at Vitebsk, Russia. He attended the Medvednikov Gymnasium in Moscow, graduating with full honors. After a short period of study at Montpellier, France, he traveled in Palestine, then started pre-medical studies in natural science at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1914. On the outbreak of World War I, he enrolled in the Free University in Moscow, studying law and ancient history. In 1915 he took up medical studies again at the University of Moscow and received his medical diploma in 1921. He moved to Berlin, where together with Prof. Heinrich Loewe he founded and published Scripta Universitatis, a series of scholarly volumes contributed by Jewish scholars in various countries. Velikovsky also met Albert Einstein, who edited the mathematical-physical volumes.

Velikovsky then moved to Palestine, where he practiced as a physician for fifteen years. He then spent some time in New York researching a study of Freud's own dreams and the relationship of Freud's thought to such figures as Oedipus, Akhnaton and Moses, but in the course of his researches, he became intrigued by the suggestion that there might have been a catastrophe at the time of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

A new book began to develop, under the title Ages in Chaos, followed by a further manuscript, Worlds in Collision. The latter work was published in 1950 and created a storm in the scientific world, and the original publisher felt compelled to drop the book. The extraordinary campaign of suppression is fully documented in Alfred de Grazia's book The Velikovsky Affair; the Warfare of Science and Scientism (University Books, 1966). Diehard and intolerant scientists were later infuriated when various hypotheses of Velikovsky, originally sneered at as "unscientific" and inaccurate, were eventually proved correct. Velikovsky correctly predicted the existence of geomagnetic planetary fields, the negative electrical charge of the sun, the high temperature of Venus, the existence of hydrocarbon clouds surrounding Venus, and emission of radio sounds from Jupiterall vindicated by space probes and other recent scientific developments. (At the same time, of course, many other ideas proved completely false).

Velikovsky developed a small but loyal following in the scientific community and a large public response. Two journals, including the S. I. S. Review published by the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies, appeared in the 1970s to expand the discussion of his ideas, though support has noticeably declined since his death on November 17, 1979 in Princeton, New Jersey. During his lifetime, his ideas were attacked vigorously by many of the same writers who attacked psychic research. Carl Sagan penned the most definitive refutation of Velikovsky's ideas.


Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. New York: Dover Publications, 1957.

Velikovsky, Immanuel. Ages in Chaos. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952.

. Earth in Upheaval. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955.

. Oedipus and Akhnaton: Myth and History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960.

. Peoples of the Sea. N.p., 1977.

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ob·serv·er / əbˈzərvər/ • n. a person who watches or notices something: to a casual observer, he was at peace. ∎  a person who follows events, esp. political ones, closely and comments publicly on them: some observers expect interest rates to rise. ∎  a person posted to an area in an official capacity to monitor political or military events: elections scrutinized by international observers. ∎  a person who attends a conference, inquiry, etc., to note the proceedings without participating in them. ∎  (in science or art) a real or hypothetical person whose observation is regarded as having a particular viewpoint or effect.

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