At the Lake

It was August 1952, eight or ten weeks after we moved to Princeton. Elisheva and I sat on a bench at the boathouse on the shore of Carnegie Lake, which sprawls in the valley only a few minutes’ walk from our home, and talked with the boatman. We saw a tiny boat with a sail approaching the anchorage. An elderly man with his head covered by a wide-brimmed hat against the rays of the setting sun came from the boat and, going toward the boathouse, looked at us with his friendly smile. Only now I recognized Einstein. I approached him and named myself.
“Ah, you are the man who brought the planets into disorder,” said he in German, and the smile disappeared from his face. He was carrying the oars into the boathouse. I made a move to help him, but he kept the oars. I heard a challenge in this greeting and said:
“I would like an occasion to meet you and discuss. . . .”
“But what do you know of astronomy?” he said dryly.
“I know to put questions,” I said, or only thought so.
“Not one of these days, sometime later,” he said.
“May I write you?”
“Do it,” he said, and was already a bit impatient to be away—his home is at the other end of town. His car moved on the unpaved road that runs along Carnegie Lake, and Elisheva and I went home, uphill, only several hundred feet from the mooring platform.

This short encounter made me realize that Einstein, too, was full of resentment against me. I had not yet had any chance to show him that I had thought through the physical consequences of the conclusions at which I arrived in my study of the natural phenomena of the past. Six years earlier, in 1946, as I will soon narrate, I had the ambitious plan to discuss with him the physical consequences of Worlds in Collision, then in manuscript, and on July 5th of that year visited him in his Princeton house. Einstein agreed then to look through a part of the manuscript. At that time he advised me to rework my book so as to make it acceptable to physicists and to save what was valuable in it; if I would not do this, I would not find physicists who would accept my views, nor a publisher willing to print them.

Since then six years had passed. Einstein was right: most astronomers declined even to deliberate my evidences; the publisher that had brought out my book had parted with me.

Now, after our accidental meeting, I wrote on August 26th a letter to Einstein:

Dear Professor Einstein:

When, by chance, we met last week at the lake, I became aware that you are angry with me personally for my “Worlds in Collision.” From you I have not expected this reaction.

I have written a culture-historical book. A physicist cannot prescribe to an historian what he is allowed to find in the past, even if he finds contradiction between the alleged historical facts and our understanding of natural laws. There are facts a physicist observes daily which are in conflict with the laws he formulated; one such case is the keeping together of positive elements in the nucleus of an atom; he accepts the fact though it contradicts the law, and he looks for some explanation.

Two facts appeared to the scientists as fallacious in my book: 1. No forces in the celestial sphere but a head long collision could retard the earth in its rotation or incline its axis into a different astronomical position, and in such a collision our earth would have perished; 2. No planet could have come to its orbit as recently as a few thousand years ago, and therefore Venus could not have traveled on a cometary orbit in historical times.

These two assertions are true only if gravitation and inertia are responsible for planetary motions, a notion subscribed by every “vernunftigen Physiker.” Here, though no physicist or astronomer, I am provoked to disagree.

The sun has a general magnetic field, the solar spots are magnets, the solar prominences return on an oblique line to the place on the solar surface from where they erupted, the cometary tails are repelled by the sun in a manner and with velocities which the pressure of light cannot explain; the earth is a magnet; the ionosphere, the polar light, the ground currents, the terrestrial magnetism react to solar disturbances; cosmic rays are charges that travel in magnetic lines of force; meteorites come down in a magnetic state; the position of the moon influences the radio reception (Stetson); the position of the planets influences the radio reception (Nelson of RCA); the fixed stars are strong magnets (Babcock). In the face of all this is it true or wrong to insist that only gravitation and inertia act in the celestial sphere? And if the electromagnetic fields are not invented by me for the solar system ad hoc in order to explain the phenomena and their interpretation as found in “Worlds in Collision,” then may I ask: Who is in conflict with observed facts, the astronomers that have all their calculations concerning the planetary motions perfect on the assumption that there are no electromagnetic fields in the solar system, or the author of “Worlds in Collision” ?

Venus could come to a circular orbit and the Earth could be retarded in its rotation or have its axis inclined, under the influence of electromagnetic fields. Such fields exist; at close distances they would act strongly. I believe, therefore, that not only the historical phenomena that I describe in my first book could have happened, but also that celestial mechanics that has all its motions explained without taking into account the electromagnetic fields in the solar system, is in conflict with facts.

I have read a book of a prominent astronomer of this city who says that nothing could take place in the celestial sphere which conflicts with the words of Jesus of Nazareth as preserved in the Gospels. Thus he has two world conceptions that live side by side in his mind—one of mathematics, the other of faith. But the rest of astronomers are like him: they acknowledge the magnetic and electrical properties of the sun and its spots, or of the fixed stars, of meteorites, of cosmic rays, occasionally also of cometary tails, and they do not deny that the Earth is a magnet, and that the sun, the moon, and the planets influence in some way the ionosphere; but as soon as it comes to the celestial motions, they still keep to pre-Faraday Laplace and Lagrange, and actually postulate sterile electricity and impotent magnetism, which do not act at distances, and which do no more than produce a Zeeman effect.

In my debate with Prof. J. Q. Stewart of Princeton Observatory in Harper’s Magazine, he presented the common view by asserting that electromagnetic forces have no part in the planetary relations. I, on the other hand, have written that the general solar magnetic field discovered by Hale (1912) was often denied to exist (Menzel). “Has not a basic mistake in observation or interpretation been committed?” Now this April, the same Menzel announces that the sun must have a very strong magnetic field, and that there was a difficulty of finding it because of the angle of observation.

For over two years I have been a target of abuse and calumny. When did it happen that a spurious book caused such a fury in the minds of the contemporary scientists?

I have taken too much of your time. I wish you everything best.


Immanuel Velikovsky

To this my letter of August 26 Einstein answered the very next day. It reads in translation:1

A. Einstein
112 Mercer Street
New Jersey, U.S.A.

27th August, 1952

Dear Dr. Velikovsky:

The reason for the energetic rejection of the opinions presented by you lies not in the assumption that in the motion of the heavenly bodies only gravitation and inertia are the determining factors. The reason for the rejection lies rather in the fact that on the basis of this assumption it was possible to calculate the temporal changes of star locations in the planetary system with an unimaginably great precision.

Against such precise knowledge, speculations of the kind as were advanced by you do not come into consideration by an expert. Therefore your book must appear to an expert as an attempt to mislead the public. I must admit that I myself had at first this impression, too. Only afterwards it became clear to me that intentional misleading was entirely foreign to you.

With friendly greetings,


Albert Einstein

This answer, of words measured and precise, of a mathematical brevity, an art in which Einstein was a supreme master, made it clear that no argument in my letter produced any effect or even had attentive hearing, because I was up against a formidable structure erected by the greatest minds, proven correct by the supposedly most minute observations of the motions of celestial bodies; therefore it was not even a structure, but a natural massif, an Everest, that I was trying to shake. And who was I, and what was my knowledge, and against what opponents did I carry my arguments? Einstein was and still is considered the greatest mind, almost divine in his knowledge, whose word in the matters I was raising was thought infallible; and the great apparatus of mathematics was his, and the calculations of Newton, Lagrange, Laplace, Leverrier, and Newcomb were the basis for what he said, and the observations of the heavens for three centuries with ever greater telescopes unfailingly confirming the theory were on his side.

Yet, knowing me even as little as he did, how could Einstein think that my intention had been to mislead? In the two preceding years he must have been involved many times in discussions of Worlds in Collision, and the opinions of others must have colored his own. This would also explain his cold and even harsh greeting when we met at the lake. He was prepared to admit that I was deceiving myself; and deceiving myself I was, because I was pitting myself against the closed front of mathematics and astronomy.

In a hundred years, in over 400 revolutions, Mercury precesses (advances) ca. 5600 seconds of arc, of which 46 seconds are unexplained by classical celestial mechanics; the visible face of the moon is by comparison ca. 30 minutes, or 1800 seconds of arc. This anomaly of Mercury, so small, was so disturbing that for seventy years from 1845 when it was calculated by Leverrier, until 1915 when Einstein announced his General Theory of Relativity, it caused great unease among theoretical astronomers. Was possibly the mass of the sun unequally distributed?, it had been asked. Was possibly an undetected planet revolving between Mercury and the sun, obscured from observation by the sun’s dazzling light? This was a problem which, so long as it remained unresolved, did not let astronomers live in peace; and only with Einstein’s explanation for the phenomenon was the looked for solution found and peace restored: now, observations and calculations coincided almost precisely.

If such a tiny disagreement between observations and calculations made such an impression and claimed so many efforts for its solution, how could I brazenly claim admittance for two powerful natural forces, electricity and magnetism, into celestial mechanics? But I, on my part, thought it strange that nobody before or after Einstein had tried to figure out whether the Mercurial anomaly is or is not an effect of electrical or magnetic interrelations.

In the classical celestial mechanics there is no need nor place for electricity or magnetism; but was it proper never to consider electricity or magnetism as the explanation of an anomaly in the celestial motions? Were these two fundamental forces completely taboo in celestial mechanics? In 1908 Hale at Mount Wilson Observatory found that solar spots are magnets several thousand gauss strong. And in 1913 Hale announced that he had detected a general magnetic field of the sun, which he computed to be fifty gauss strong at the solar poles. Was it methodologically correct in 1915, when Einstein wrote and published his General Theory of Relativity, to disregard Hale’s publications, the magnetic nature of the spots, and the general magnetic field of the sun? Methodologically, it was an oversight, whether Einstein was correct in his solutions or not.

Einstein knew nothing, and could not know, of the scruples I had concerning what I considered a methodological oversight. If there are electromagnetic interrelations in the solar system, then of course they must be considered in their effects on the precession of Mercury, on the red shift, and on the bending of light—all three regarded as proofs of the General Theory of Relativity.

I sat down and wrote a long letter.

September 10, 1952

Dear Professor Einstein:

By your answer to my letter you have truly obliged me to think the problem all over again. I have tarried to answer because I did not wish to appear just obstinate; but the problem is permanently on my mind. I have to ask patience, which a “Fachman” is generally reluctant to accord to an outsider. Without this patience we shall build barriers between sciences, in this case—astro- nomy and history. I would certainly listen carefully to what you may say on history or psycho- analysis.

You say that the fact of the exact correspondence of the planetary motions with the theory proves this theory as correct: in the celestial motions only two agents participate—gravitation and inertia. Let us first assume that your statement of exact correspondence between theory and phenomena is rigidly correct. Still the mere fact of a force acting at an inverse square rate would not exclude electricity and magnetism, also acting at the inverse square rate, from participation in celestial motions. But the statement is not rigidly correct, either. Let me illustrate.

Here is the year 1845. Leverrier in France and Adams in England, out of perturbations of Uranus calculated, to the exactness of one degree of arc, the presence of a yet unseen planet. Both of them assumed that a planet of a size not larger than that of Uranus travels on an orbit at a distance dictated by Bode’s law. Neptune is actually of the size of Uranus, but the mean distance between their orbits is not ca. 1,750,000,000 miles, as Bode’s law required, but only ca. 1,000,000,000 miles; thus the error is equal to ascribing to Neptune a triple mass. The discovery of Pluto did not solve the conflict between the theory and the fact and caused also conflicting estimates of Pluto’s mass. Thus the finding of the planetary stations in relation to a chart of fixed stars is not enough; if the theory is true the distances must also be correct. And still the discovery of Neptune is regarded as the strongest proof of the Newtonian theory of celestial motions.

Now in the same 1845, the year of this triumph, Leverrier calculated also the anomaly of Mercury, and by this caused to think that the Newtonian law of gravitation may be not precisely true. Leverrier first thought of some planet moving inside the Mercurial orbit or of a possible unequal distribution of the mass in the sun. You have used the fact of the anomaly to prove that the space is curving in the presence of a mass. About the same time—in 1913—G. E. Hale published his paper on “The general magnetic field of the sun” (Contr. M. Wilson Obs., #71), in which he estimated the general magnetic field of the sun as of 50 Gauss intensity. At this intensity “under certain conditions electromagnetic forces are much stronger than gravitation.” (Alfven) The last named author in his “cosmical Electro-dynamics” (Oxford, 1950, p. 2) shows that a hydrogen atom at the distance of the earth from the sun and moving with the earth’s orbital velocity, if ionized, is acted upon by the solar magnetic field ten thousand times stronger than by the solar gravitational field.

Now the visible streamers of the sun that conveyed to Hale the idea that the sun is a magnet reach a long way toward Mercury, almost half the way. Was the electromagnetic state of the sun ever considered as the cause of the anomaly? The effect of the e.-m. action must have been reckoned, and possibly excluded, but not disregarded. . . .

The fact that the theory accurately coincided with the observed planetary positions was the main argument for the Ptolemaic system and against the heliocentric system. For more than two generations, until 1600, it was not the Roman Church who opposed the Copernican theory; the scientists opposed it and used as their main argument their ability to predict planetary positions, conjunctions and eclipses. They have actually predicted eclipses that we still have to experience in the future. How could they achieve this degree of accuracy with the sun revolving on one of the orbs around the earth? By a continuous adjustment of their observations to their theories and their theories to observations. Similarly it is today. And when the facts prove to be different from what they were supposed to be—that the sun is charged, or that the cometary tails are electrically glowing, or that planetary positions of Saturn or Jupiter markedly influence our ionosphere,—then these facts are left outside of the theory and it covers less and less of the phenomena. No wonder that it agrees with the residual facts in such an arrangement.

Sometimes it seems to me that the hidden psychological cause of the emotional attitude of the scientists to “Worlds in Collision” is in its reminding a few repressed physical facts. In that book I have not invented new physical laws or new cosmical forces, as cranks usually do; I have also not contradicted any physical law; I came into conflict with a mechanistic theory that completely coincides with a selected group of observations; my book is as strange as the fact that the Earth is a magnet, the cause of which is indeterminate and the consequences of which are not estimated in the Earth-Moon relations.

When over a year ago, Professor Stewart, your neighbor, was invited together with myself by the Presbyterian Society of this town to participate in a debate about my book, and the time became short, I asked my opponent: “But you have excluded the existing electromagnetic conditions in the solar system from the celestial mechanics,” his answer was: “We do not need them: our calculations are perfect without them.” Later, when our debate was renewed on the pages of Harper’s Magazine, I observed: “If the balance sheet of a bank is correct to the last cent, but two large deposits (electricity and magnetism) are omitted, the entire balance may be questioned.” . . .

I did not really expect an answer from Einstein, nor a conversion on his part. I did not speak basing my arguments on my work on global catastrophes; nor did I draw my evidence from folklore; I was enumerating physical facts left outside the domain of celestial mechanics, though they, by right, belonged there. A minute discrepancy in the motion of Mercury was noticed; to its explanation the majestic structure of the General Theory of Relativity was erected. Larger discrepancies, however, were left out of the discussion, or, in other cases, quite unsatisfactory explanations were offered, like light pressure as the cause of the behavior of cometary tails: no quantitative analysis was made for this assumption, yet it was taken into the textbooks.

To my letter of September 10 there was no answer, and the finality of Einstein’s previous short letter did not engender a hope for give and take. In that letter between my two, Einstein spoke of my evidence as if it consisted mostly of folklore—but it was physical. I wrote in my notebook:

As to the first paragraph of his letter, I was genuinely satisfied to have it in this wording. Not only the general public, but even people who know something of the natural sciences imagine that Einstein introduced electromagnetism into celestial mechanics. What he is actually trying to do is to find a unified theory in which gravitation should be integrated in a common structure with electricity and magnetism, as light was brought into the electromagnetic field theory by Maxwell, and before this, electricity and magnetism were found to be interrelated by Oersted in 1820. In his letter Einstein made it clear that he, like all others, regarded gravitation and inertia as the only forces that act among the celestial bodies and keep them on their orbits.

I thought: This is the second best reply I could have had—at least the opposition was spelled out; an agreement with my argument I could hardly expect.

As to his second paragraph—I saw that the muddy wave of suspicion had reached even Einstein and infected him for a while, despite the fact that he knew me a little from former years.

I have repeatedly, and also very recently, been asked: “What made you so strong that you could persevere in the face of a concerted opposition of the entire scientific establishment, and to do it for so many years?” Whether this is the true ground or not, I usually answered, “It is the obstinacy of my race, the race of Marx, of Freud, and of Einstein.”


  1. See Appendix I for the original text in German.