Before the Forum

Having surveyed the years when we created the Scripta and, again, the years of occasional contacts in the United States, first on behalf of the plan to initiate the Academy, then on behalf of my own work, starting with the visit of early July, 1946 in Princeton, I return to that period when, upon having met Einstein at the lake and exchanged letters with him, the contact seemed to be torn again. Yet, apparently, my bearing intrigued him. One evening, later in the fall (1952) I received a visit from a chemist, Dr. Plungian, accompanied by his wife, Gina, a sculptor. Gina was a friend of Einstein’s daughter, Margot, who was also a sculptor. The Plungians had heard from Einstein that I was living in Princeton. Gina, interested in what she had read about my work or was told by Einstein, and generally interested in writers and artists, was pleasantly surprised to find that my wife also was a sculptor. Dr. Plungian came to invite me to deliver a lecture before the Society for the Advancement of Science of Summit, New Jersey. This is the site of Bell Laboratories, one of the largest scientific laboratories in the world; the members of the Science Society there were for the most part scientists working for Bell. I accepted the invitation.

I addressed a large audience at Summit. The lecture took place in February 1953. The chairman of the Society, Dr. Joseph Baker, met me in the hall and before I entered the large auditorium worriedly inquired whether I would be able to restrain myself if some in the audience should become abusive. I assured him that he had nothing to worry about.

In my lecture I spoke mainly on the geological problems that are related to the theory of Worlds in Collision. The question period went off without a disturbance. At tea in the gallery the discussion went on for another hour and I realized the great appeal that geological problems— of sea depths, of mountain building, and of ice ages— have to the minds of many. As I took leave of him, the chairman announced: “Dr. Velikovsky has acquired a new follower in me.”

On another occasion I was asked to meet a group of scholars and scientists at the home of the Plungians; Dr. Shockley, the co-discoverer of the transistor, and a future Nobel Prize winner, led the discussion. We had a little mathematical skirmish in which I happened to be right, and he generously and immediately admitted it.

About that time Margot Einstein, who had known Elisheva since the 1940’s , began to come to our home. Margot and Elisheva met in 1941 at Columbia University, where they both studied sculpture under Oronzo Maldarelli. Once Margot arranged for Elisheva to come to Princeton to play quartets with Einstein. Elisheva is a professional violinist, and used to give many concerts before we came to the United States. And so in April 1944 Elisheva came to Princeton, arranging for a violist and a cellist to join her, and played with Einstein three string quartets of Mozart.

At one of her visits Margot told us in great detail of her experience in Holland during the Hitler regime, and mostly her stories were about animals— lambs and birds— with whom she related better than with human beings in this evil world; it seemed she wished to be well thought of by us. Occasionally she came with Miss Helen Dukas, Einstein’s secretary. Miss Dukas had then been with Einstein for almost twenty-five years— she entered her service with him several years after I knew him in Berlin. After the death of his second wife, she took care of his correspondence and of his household. Elisheva and her musical colleagues would have chamber music at our home, and a small company of intellectuals would gather at these occasions; there were animated discussions. Miss Dukas and Margot were present a few times and enjoyed these evenings.

The Graduate College, or Proctor Hall, lies separate from the Princeton University Campus; its tower is seen from a distance, rising above the fields and golf courses, by any car traveling on U.S. Route 1, and is the first visible landmark identifying the university town, hidden in verdure. The Common Room, with its ornately panelled walls, and leather easy-chairs, is reached through a gateway and a quadrangle.

In the fall of 1953 I was invited by the graduate students of Princeton University to address their Forum; the student who invited me, as I recently found out, was George Field, ten years later a scientist of achievement and subsequently Director of Harvard College Observatory, a post once occupied by Harlow Shapley. I was glad to have this occasion. As the theme of the lecture I selected: “Worlds in Collision in the light of recent findings in Astronomy, Geology and Archaeology.”

The lecture took place on the evening of October 14. The Common Room was filled and many stood around the walls and in the doorways. In the front row sat Graduate College Dean Sir H. Taylor and other dignitaries. Among those who remained standing for about two hours— for the address and discussion— were, as I hardly noticed, Margot Einstein, Helen Dukas, and Gina Plungian.

Before the lecture started my wife overheard one of those in the audience, a graduate student or an instructor, as he assured his neighbor that it would be fun to listen to a crackpot. But as soon as I began, the audience followed my delivery with great attention. I offered non-conformist views, but there was nothing in them to confirm the expectation of a circus performance. I spoke for over an hour. A question and answer period followed. A few days later a young friend, a twenty-four year old assistant professor of aerodynamics, Ronald Probstein, told me how a scholar in the audience with a pipe in his mouth looked on with sarcastic triumph when the question period started, and changed his expression with every answer I gave.

Question and answer periods, then and since then, have been my forte; the audience apparently discounts the knowledge that a lecturer offers in his delivery, since it could be carefully prepared, but is surprised to observe that a lecturer has the information needed to answer and rebut questions from the floor. I answered without difficulty the queries of all who came up from whatever department. There was one inimical graduate student in geology who loudly inquired: “Whom did you read on Rancho La Brea?” And he suggested that this deposit contradicts my assertions. I answered: “In my lecture I have not discussed Rancho La Brea; but I read Merriam’s monograph.” “I worked with Merriam’s son,” said the student. Merriam was the original investigator of that deposit at a time when it was on the outskirts of Los Angeles— now it faces the “Miracle Mile,” the elegant shopping avenue. Actually the asphalt beds of La Brea offer great difficulties for the uniformitarian theory of evolution: human bones were found under a skeleton of an extinct vulture; a multitude of bones, smashed and broken, were found there, not in good order or shape— despite what the student had asserted in his question. Yet, the student announced: “Catastrophes are your brainchildren,” and thus had the last word. I did not answer. The audience applauded me warmly, and the student approached me to offer his apologies for his rudeness.

In the course of the lecture I made two statements as to the future findings I expected; after having reported on the manifold confirmations that had accumulated in the three and a half years since the publication of Worlds in Collision I thought it proper to conclude with one or two new predictions. For some time I had in my notes suggestions for tests to be made. I put it this way:

In Jupiter and its moons we have a system not unlike the solar family. The planet is cold, yet its gases are in motion. It appears probable to me that it sends out radio noises as do the sun and the stars. I suggest that this be investigated.

It is generally thought that the magnetic field of the earth does not reach sensitively to the moon. But there is a way to find out whether it does or does not. The moon makes daily rocking movements— librations of latitude, some of which are explained by no theory. I suggest investigating whether these unaccounted librations are synchronized with the daily revolutions of the magnetic poles of the earth around its geographical poles.

Actually, both tests suggested were derived from one and the same concept: that the celestial sphere is not electrically and magnetically sterile.

After the lecture one of the graduate students who surrounded me told me about certain folkloristic material of the Indians that would support my views; I observed that he did not come forward to say this during the question period.

As I walked to my car, I chanced to meet in the dark the three ladies who had come from Einstein’s house to my lecture: his daughter, Margot, his secretary, Helen Dukas, and their friend, Gina Plungian. Later Gina told me that when she had called to take Margot to the lecture and Miss Dukas joined them, Einstein said that he was eager to go, too, but was conscious of the interest that would be centered on himself to the detriment of the proceedings. He added, however, that he expected to receive three reports from the three ladies. And he did. Gina Plungian later said that the dinner hour at Einstein’s the day after the Forum was spent discussing my lecture, and Einstein expressed sympathy for my position, that of a lone thinker defending his ideas.

The Princetonian, the undergraduate students’ paper at Princeton, printed two articles about the lecture. In the first it described how “with sheaves of documented evidence, Velikovsky quoted a myriad of scientists in these fields whose recent work, he said, made his theory more conclusive.” In the second article it said: “After his lecture last night, he impressed all attending by his well-reasoned and well-documented answers to questions posed by experts in physics, geology and other sciences.”

In the next few weeks I put the lecture into writing, following the notes I had before me when addressing the Forum. After it was typed I gave a copy to Lloyd Motz, astronomer at Columbia University. Since the beginning of 1950 I had met with him on a number of occasions in his room on the upper floor of the Michael Pupin Physics Building. The subject we discussed was always the same: my insistence that the solar system, and by implication, the universe, is not electrically and magnetically sterile.

Since those memorable days at the end of 1949 and beginning of 1950, I would, at intervals of five or six months, again and again return to Motz, trying to prove to him by enumerating a series of physical facts, some of them discovered since our previous meeting, that the accepted celestial mechanics could not be right in excluding electricity and magnetism from participation in the movement of the celestial “clock.” The arguments must have been much the same as those that I used in my letters to Einstein in August and September of 1952. Motz would patiently listen and remain adamant. I would describe the motion of the cometary tails and insist that the accepted explanation of this phenomenon as being due to the pressure of light was inadequate. I was trying to evince from Professor Motz the concession that this was a decidedly insufficient explanation that could not account for the observation of a large comet sweeping with its tail hundreds of millions of miles of space in a matter of a few hours, when going around the sun at perihelion. Yet, he would still try to explain it by the pressure of light. The sentence concerning the radio noises of Jupiter startled him, and we discussed it.

I asked for a meeting with Professor V. Bargmann, a physicist who was possibly closest to Einstein of all the scientists in Princeton. I remember the evening I visited him in his room in Fine Hall on the campus. I discussed the question of electromagnetism in the solar system. Instead of slowly preparing the issue in his mind, I showered him with facts and details that indicated the inadequacy of purely mechanical explanations. I assume that he must have been left with the impression that I was a man stubbornly questioning fundamentals which were beyond questioning. However, had he been present at my lecture in the Gradate College, he would not think me without some knowledge, or with a deficiency in logic. At that my first meeting with him, Bargmann was a patient listener, possibly believing me to be irrepairably lost to a fallacious view of things celestial, or perhaps recognizing some sound argument in what I said.

I left with him the typed text of my address before the Forum with its claims of radio noises coming from Jupiter and a magnetosphere surrounding the Earth and reaching the Moon. Though he intended to return it to me after he had read it, it so happened that he misplaced it and only found it over three years later— all of which was fortunate, and thinking of such incidents I could not help feeling that Providence was taking part in these matters: for in the meantime, in the spring of 1955, radio noises from Jupiter were discovered, as I had predicted in my lecture of 1953.