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Open letter to science editors
BIG AND LITTLE SCIENCE
Professor Irving Wolfe
Last night, in my opening address, I tried to establish what catastrophism
and to assess where it has reached as of now. This morning, at the beginning
of Session 2, I want to offer a few thoughts on what uniformitarian science
is and where it has reached as of now. I do this because, at the end of this
day, I will be chairing a panel whose topic is "Velikovsky's Place in
Science," and I think we have to be sure what we mean by science before we
can attempt to determine Velikovsky's place in it. Just as there are many
myths and falsehoods surrounding catastrophism which have to be stripped
before one can hope to understand it, there are errors and popular fallacies
and oversimplications attached to science which have to be exposed if we are
to attain a correct glimpse of its nature. My talk this morning will
therefore seek to remove the misconceptions, misunderstandings and
consequently the mis-evaluation of science that is rampant in our culture,
and to replace it with a description which is more in line with what it
actually achieves, only after which, in my opinion, can we allow ourselves
measure Velikovsky against it.
To do this, I will present excerpts from a book I am writing whose topic
perhaps title) is The Limits of Understanding. It is an essay in the
philosophy of knowledge, being the result of my experience in the wars of
literary theory and the work I have done on epistemology as a member of the
Society for Literature and Science, where, from 1989 to 1991, three of the
book's chapters were first presented as papers. In the book, I examine the
knowledge-assertions of a large number of disciplines, especially the hard
sciences, and I find (if I may quote myself) that insurmountable obstacles
knowledge exist in every academic field. "After a 400-year run, the
rationalist faith in human reason ... has led to a dead end, for, the more
have learned of a practical, graspable, phenomenological nature ... the more
it has become apparent (to our horror) that we are approaching the limit of
what we can learn about what lies behind the phenomena". In the first four
chapters of the book, I deal primarily with the limitations of hard science,
before going on to analyze those to be found in history, philosophy,
mathematics, psychology, etc. These chapters are already being quoted,
and used as texts in graduate courses in literary theory, the history of
science and philosophy, and what I will present now is a very short precis
them. I had hesitated before preparing it, but I find now that the
compression makes the point even more powerful.
The picture I refer to, specifically with regard to science, was developed
entirely from the opinions of this century's leading physicists. In contrast
to the usual view that science (and perhaps it alone) produces truth, every
Nobel prize-winner insists that, when it comes to elementary knowledge, what
science produces is neither universally true nor real, but is created by the
observer and is relative to his predispositions and equipment. As a result,
it is not complete but selected, not objective but subjective, and not
but partial. To summarize 120 pages in a few minutes, science's success,
says historian of science Richard Schlegel, comes "from limiting that which
is to be described to a selected domain of nature." This produces an
observer-created reality, says physicist Roger Jones, in which "the observer
and observed ... cannot be broken down into independent components" because
"the observer has an uncontrollable and non-removable effect on what is
The result, according to physicist Arthur March, is that "what is perceived
is....the effects brought to light by this procedure," effects which "are
created by this process." This means that the scientist each time he
observes creates something new, for, as physicist John Wheeler says, "this
a participatory universe." The scientific observation is therefore less a
picture of reality than a sort of mirror in which the observer sees himself,
which makes the physical world a product of human consciousness. To
physicist Fred Wolf, when we look at the universe "We are looking at
ourselves," and to Garry Zukav "we cannot eliminate ourselves from the
picture....physics is the study of the structure of consciousness." "We can
only see nature blurred by the clouds of dust we ourselves make," says
physicist Sir James Jeans, for whom for instance a rainbow is not an
independent object up in the sky but a subjective creation in the observer's
mind -"Each man's rainbow is a selection from his own eyes ... from an
objective reality which is not a rainbow at all."
The creation of scientific data is therefore caused mainly by two factors.
first is the equipment used, which influences how the data is created-as
Wheeler says, "When we change the observing equipment ... We have ... a
phenomenon that is new," and second, by the pre-existent mental constructs
the observer, which influence how the data is interpreted. That is why Jeans
says that the attributes we give to physical objects are "mere articles of
clothing...draped over the mathematical symbols; they did not belong to the
world of reality," while to Einstein "Time and space are modes by which we
think and not conditions in which we live." Scientific theory is therefore
neither absolute nor correct, but a compromise which "shows us something
about reality in the only way we can get at reality." Similarly, David Bohm
speaks of energy streaming from both the observer and the observed. "The
phenomena are the result of the intersection ... from the same reality,"
but it "has no clear meaning" because what is unambiguous is misleading and
only "the ambiguous is the reality." These specialists insist that in
science the observer is omnipresent, which led physicist and astronomer
Arthur Eddington to the astonishing assertion that, in science, "the mind
by its selective power fitted the processes of Nature into ... a pattern
largely of its own choosing; and in the discovery of this system of law the
mind may be regarded as regaining from Nature that which the mind has put
Proof is therefore circular in science, with events being considered real
if they correspond to what we already believe. I.e., to Jeans the laws of
science "are a description, not of nature, but of the human questionings of
nature," and they "tell us nothing about nature, but only something about
own mental processes." Similarly, physicist Heinz Pagels asks, "Are
theories "out there?" and answers "I don't think so-theories are
while physicist Werner Heisenberg puts it much more simply - "Science is
made by men." In addition, scientific language, whether mathematical or
lexical, suffers from the same defects-it is not real but only a "symbolic
means of representing the world," "a dangerous instrument to use," "a
symbol definable only in terms of other symbols." Opinions about reality
therefore exist only in the scientist's mind and "need not," in Jean's
"resemble the objects in which they originate," and therefore "it is no
longer objective nature itself but nature in relation to the human observer
that becomes the material studied by physics." On top of that, the
scientific report is also a fabrication, for it does not describe what
happened but what should have happened and makes no reference to feelings or
trial and error. To analysts Broad and Wade the "scientific paper is as
stylized as a sonnet" and its framework "is a fiction designed to perpetuate
a myth." It is also socially conditioned, riddled with personality and
culturally relative, which is why Schlegel says that "science is altogether
a human activity," while Karl Popper adds that in science "the authority of
truth is the authority of society." All the steps in the process called
science are colored by the human touch.
These insights led Einstein to the belief that, with the exception of the
measurement of the speed of light in a vacuum, every observation is
inescapably conditioned by the observer's frame of reference. It led Niels
Bohr to his principle of complementarity, (that no single observation can
contain all the possible descriptions of a phenomenon), and it led Werner
Heisenberg to his uncertainty relation, which states that not all the
properties of a subatomic object can be fully investigated by one
at the same time. To these men scientific knowledge is severely limited or
created and subjective, which led Eddington to doubt the reality which
science creates. To him, what he calls the "external world" is a human
artifact, a structure created as "an answer to a particular problem," and
"We refuse to contemplate the awful contingency that the external world,
after all our care in arriving at it, might be disqualified by failing to
For these reasons both David Bohm and Niels Bohr see the creation of science
as similar to the creation of poetry , and Roger Jones insists that, in
science, "whatever it is that we are describing, the human mind cannot be
parted from it." What these men are saying is that, surprisingly, human
involvement is the most influential tool of science and we can therefore
never know what the world is like in itself apart from us as observers-
"physics," says Eddington, "is a world contemplated from within...What the
world might be deemed like if probed in some supernatural manner by
appliances not furnished by itself we do not profess to know." What is
left for science, therefore, is to talk about what it sees. That is all that
science is. Einstein believed that in today's science "there is no ultimate
theory, no...ultimate fact about the stuff the world is made of," there is
only talk, which is why Einstein said that "physical concepts are free
creations of the human mind." This was forcefully reiterated by Harvard
astrophysicist Bruce Gregory, who said that in science "What is real is what
we regularly talk about" and therefore "When we create a new way of talking
about the world, we naturally create a new world." Physics is a
conversation about nature, says Gregory, or, as Bohr put it, "It is wrong to
think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics
only what we can say about nature." I close therefore with Schlegel's
provocative statement that "The natural world is not so much a fixed
structure, waiting to be symbolically reproduced in our science, as it is a
complex source of experience which can be described in various and
That is the best that the scientific investigation of nature can achieve. It
can get no closer to reality than that because in science, to use Bohm's
felicitous phrase, "the observer is the observed." Science can yield
accurate phenomenological data of the act of observation, but has no tools
with which to perceive the ultimate reality that underlies the phenomena, a
reality of which, to quote French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat, science can
get only "fleeting reflections." As physicist Fred Wolf put it, "the whole
universe comes into existence whenever we observe it" and therefore "we are
the artists in the game of the universe." More than that, the universes
which we create depend not only upon our choices of observation but also
the order in which we carry them out, and it is therefore our choices and
our sequence of analysis which "create the alternative possibilities as
realities." To Wolf, as a result, scientific "reality is a matter of choice"
and "the real is mainly determined by thought ... The world we live in
depends on the pictures of that world we paint in our minds" and how we
paint it is determined by desire. As Heinz Pagels puts it, "Human intention
influences the structure of the physical world," which is not a picture of
real, but a creation deriving from our interactions with it.
As a consequence, fundamental matter becomes to us a fluid, varying,
imprecise, uncertain and unmeasurable realm and we cannot discover if there
is anything more graspable beneath. That is the only kind of knowledge about
the fundamental universe available to us with our present methods, and our
ultimate knowledge of any branch of science turns out to be equally
and uncertain. In all of its fields we have derived many partial subjective
truths but no fundamental ones, nor is there the prospect of any. There is
nothing but ignorance.
Among the many disciplines I chose to review in the first few chapters of my
book to show that this condition of uncertainty is true of every academic
field, I will summarize the situation in cosmology as a typical example,
because it bears directly upon the debate about catastrophism. Science
reporter John Boslough, in his 1992 book Masters of Time, reviews the course
of astronomical theory over the past quarter century, a period of high
excitement in the field, but his estimate of the state of astronomy today is
depressingly like the impasse which I have described in physics. That is to
say, astronomy like physics was dominated in the last 25 years by a belief
which started out glorified but ended in failure. In physics it was
superstrings. In astronomy it was the big bang-"from 1965 until the mid-
1980's were the heyday of the theory's popularity ... the big bang was
a fait accompli." The press "glorified science's version of Genesis" and
books "simply took the scientists at their word." Since then, Boslough
"spoke with many of the world's most highly regarded theoretical physicists"
and realized "that something was wrong ... by the second half of the decade,
nobody ... was sure about anything." He perceived that "the glowing
language and religious metaphor cosmologists used" was "an inverse measure
the desperation they have been feeling for the past six or seven years." As
a result, he concludes that, after all the uproar of the recent decades,
the endless proclamations of success, there has been no progress-in the
search for "the secret of the universe's creation ... we are further from
revelation of such a secret ... than at any time in recent history." To him,
therefore, the big bang is "a mere will-o-the-wisp," a "sacred cow," a
"convenient fiction" created by "leaps of faith." After supergravity,
inflation, theories of everything, wormholes, superstrings and the strong
weak anthropic principles, the big bang is still unproved. Each of these
speculations had for a short time seemed to be the "final theory" but none
were well related to the real world. Superstrings in particular were allowed
"to escape utterly the traditional confrontation between theory and
experiment" and were consequently described by a leading American physicist
as "a medieval scholasticism in which pure thought alone defined nature.
The problem was that the new ideas were untestable-"There was no prospect
experimentally or observationally verifying them" -and therefore "cosmology
seemed to be becoming less scientific ... it was becoming more like a
medieval theology," a "metaphysics," "a new brand of philosophy." The
result of this indeterminability was a "developing crisis in cosmology
in particle physics" which led frantic cosmologists in the 1980's to "resort
to extreme measures" in the creation of models, to play "fast and loose with
facts that fail to fit" and to create ad hoc suppositions which "could not
possibly be detected." I.e., despite the many problems with the accepted
model and the presence of solid alternative interpretations, (Alfven, Hoyle,
and Arp), Boslough tells us that the majority of cosmologists even today
determined to hold onto the big bang" and meet all dissent "with desperate
attempts at suppression." What is Boslough's conclusion? To him "the
evidence for the big bang is sketchy at best." It is "an overly simplistic
model in search of a creation event." How long will the theory last? To
Boslough the answer is evident-"it soon will be overwhelmed by more and more
uncompromising new observations." Lastly, in the face of this enormous
impasse in cosmology, "can we ever hope to fully understand the universe?"
Boslough thinks not. "We only know that the universe is changing," and all
we can see is "a small corner ... of something incalculably more immense,"
unknowable "drama in an untold number of acts ... with or without
What then can astronomy or cosmology tell us about the origin, structure and
future of the universe? The answer is, hardly anything certain. According
to the very latest thinking, the universe may have been formed bottom-up or
top-down, or none of the above. There may have been an expanding universe,
an inflationary universe, or a chaotic inflationary universe, or a mixture
some of these, or none of the above. It may follow the anthropic principle
or the cosmological principle or neither. Black holes, galactic holes, the
horizon problem, peculiar velocity and phase transition may exist or they
not, or some may while some may not, or none of the above. The missing mass
of the universe (if it is missing) may consist of cold dark matter or hot
dark matter or lukewarm (strange) dark matter or shadow matter, and, as for
the world itself, it is a bubble universe with domain walls or a grown-up
former baby universe or an erstwhile pancake structure, and its future is
either flat or collapsing or forever expanding or no-boundary, or none of
above. That unfortunately is as precise as the most modern cosmology can be.
What does this mean? That astronomy cannot be done? Furthermore, if the same
abyss exists in every discipline, as I have just argued, are we to conclude
that no science can be done? Certainly not, for good and valuable science is
being done every day. What it does it indicate, however, is that there are
least two different sorts of science, the first consisting of scientific
while the second contains beliefs, and that there is a very large chasm
between the two. To be more precise, there is often no intrinsic relation
between what science does and what science believes. The outsider might
think that, if we cannot ascertain what quasars are or what the red shift
means, astronomy must simply come to a stop, but it does not, for science
be done even if there is no agreement on fundamental views, or, to put it
more brutally, science can be done without belief. The physicist does
physics without being sure what matter is, astronomy is done without a
knowledge of the origin of the universe, cognitive science is done without a
knowledge of the mind, biology is done without a knowledge of life and
psychology is done without a knowledge of the personality. As German
philosopher Hans Vaihinger tried to tell us in the 1920's, we simply proceed
as if there were atoms, as if there were bubble universes, as if there were
discernible mind, as if there were let us say a Freudian personality, but we
have no proof for any of these. In no field can we get to the elemental
in-itself, yet we act as if there were one and as if we know of it, and
academic discipline is founded upon this fundamental ignorance and
fundamental pretense. The problem is that this is very unsettling to the
We tend innately to believe in and to like the building-block model of
existence. Just as a book is built up of chapters which contain paragraphs
which contain sentences which contain words which contain letters, we think
the physical world too is put together this way, with big things built up
smaller things. It seems evident in the ordinary world we encounter, (what
physicists call the macroworld), and even throughout the social world, for,
not only do molecules cluster into inorganic and organic substances, but
houses lead to blocks which lead to neighborhoods which lead to boroughs
which lead to cities which lead to states or provinces which lead to regions
which lead to countries, as professors constitute departments which
faculties which constitute universities, etc. Everywhere, there appears to
a hierarchy. We therefore tend unthinkingly to apply this model both to the
micro-world of subatomic particles and to the super-macroworld beyond the
galaxies. That is to say, we assume that if we go down far enough we will
arrive at the very smallest units, and if we go up far enough we will see
very largest. Start anywhere on a classical chain, we instinctively believe,
and one can work backwards to the bottom or forward to the top, step by
reasonable scientific step, to finally see the whole thing as one, with all
of its parts integrated in a hierarchical structure.
The problem is that in no science is either end of the structure
We know neither the smallest unit nor the grand totality in any discipline,
we simply believe they are there. In each academic field, the ultimate
object upon which the acts of observation in that field are implicitly
are unperceptible, undefinable and unknowable, which means that theories
about them are untestable and unprovable, yet each of these fields, like
astronomy, is rampant with large irreconcilable assertions. If this is
science, what do we mean when we use the word? That is the issue I will now
address, and I will begin by breaking the term "science" up into what I feel
are its major components. This will enable us to evaluate each one
separately, to determine which may not be scientific. Conversely, if we
decide that they all are, we can then more correctly evaluate which areas of
catastrophism are also "scientific."
What is involved is that we perceive the difference between big and little
science, which is the subject of my talk. Normally, these terms distinguish
affordable from very expensive science. I however use them to separate
sensical from nonsensical science, by which I mean the data-derived local
theories (small) versus the desire-laden, untestable universal speculations
(big). To use astronomy as an example, we see that at the same time two
of astronomies are being carried on. One is the firmly-grounded, carefully-
reasoned and well-calculated work which professionals like Victor Clube and
Tom Van Flandern do, who are here with us today. That is little science, and
concerns what we can see and measure and therefore say intelligent things
about. The second concerns what we cannot see or measure, for, as I quoted a
moment ago, it is almost always unobservable, untestable and unverifiable,
and therefore we cannot say intelligent things about it. That is Big
Science, in this instance the world of very large cosmological theory, which
has very little foundation, rationality or physical probity. Yet, as I asked
a moment ago, is this not science too? Doesn't speculation, especially
informed speculation, constitute a legitimate part of scientific inquiry? I
will argue that it does, despite its lack of scientific precision, and from
this seeming paradox we can begin to build a realistic definition.
I consider science to be divisible into five areas-scientific problems,
scientific methods, scientific research, scientific laws and scientific
theories. Up until about 1950, the majority of scientists took each of these
to be self-evidently correct. The world is as we see it and our theories
about it describe reality. I cannot summarize in a few minutes here the
revolutions in the philosophy of science of the last half century, but it is
suffice to say that, since Popper and especially since Kuhn and Feyerabend,
there is as much doubt in the minds of philosophers of science as there is
the minds of the leading scientists themselves that what science does and
what science produces is directly and literally real. To take the five
elements one by one, (leaving aside for a moment the category of scientific
problems), the second, the vaunted scientific method, certainly has its
merits, but also its faults, for, (despite or because of) its precision and
stringency, it excludes as much as it includes. That is to say, because it
is restricted to only certain kinds of acts, (rational, empirical and
repeatable), it might be useful for the doing of science, (being tailor-made
for that purpose), but it cannot delimit all the ways in which useful
knowledge might be obtained. Similarly, the third part, the process of
experiment and calculation, is also precise but restrictive, for what it
produces is not all possible data but only scientific data, which is to say
the quantified results of controlled experimental situations, but this does
not include any valid observations which might arrive from outside these
boundaries. This area too is therefore limited. The fourth element, the
phenomenological laws derived from the scientific data, are also correct,
only in their way, which is to say, only if it is recognized that they are
descriptions and not proscriptions. That is to say, they come after the
experimental event and summarize it. This means they can only refer to what
was seen, but they cannot forbid events or laws which might contradict the
already seen. They are not perpetual limits or barriers to what could be
seen, nor are they direct or complete or valid representations of the seen.
Scientific laws at any given moment are merely a summary of what is being
thought at that moment, and they are valid only as long as they continue to
apply to the world defined by the experiments that produced them. That
restricted role is the limit of their validity and of the entire chain from
method to data to law. It is of value only within this carefully-enclosed
When we come to the fifth area of science, the region of general theories
which apparently are derived from the local phenomenological laws,
is actually less sure. That is because in each field, not merely in
astronomy and physics but in neuroscience, biology and chemistry, (not to
mention mathematics, literary criticism, history, philosophy, psychology,
human anthropology, etc., etc.), there is at the bottom of each discipline
abyss, an impenetrable black box, and all we can do is infer what is inside.
The resultant grand theories, therefore, whether they be about the largest
physical structures, as in cosmology, or the smallest, as in particle
physics, or about the human mind or human behaviour, as in cognitive science
or psychology, or about the largest human events (history) or the most
private, (the creation of art), are simply not scientific in any field. They
cannot be precisely quantified, they cannot be tested, and therefore they
open neither to proof nor disproof. These are what I call Big Science, and
it would be hard to demonstrate that they have any intrinsic relation to
is done in little science, i.e., little physics, little astronomy, little
psychology or little literary criticism, etc. They are a world of their own,
a world which may not exist and, even more important, which does not have to
exist for little science to exist.
Furthermore, not only is large scientific theory not able to be tested
scientifically, not only does it not lend itself directly to the doing of
little science, but it has two more major faults. First, it never questions
its faith that the scientific mind exercising scientific method must
the secrets of the universe in every field, which I have just tried to show
is an illusion. Second, whenever a hard choice arises in science between
acknowledging our ignorance or pretending perception, Big Science always
supports that side which says that the world is understandable, even where
the data does not call for or actually forbids that belief, and it always
supports order, uniformity, predictability and analyzability. It therefore
presents a world picture which is unreal.
More insidious than Big Science's unreality, however, is its use as
ideological manipulation. If we look closely at what is being slyly implied
by Big Science, we seem to have departed from the world of "knowledge" and
"laws" and to have entered a realm of pure propaganda, where little science
its first four dimensions is being used in the fifth, the Alice-world of Big
Science, to sell us a view of nature which does not follow from the
The process of subliminal huckstering goes something like this: hydrogen
consists of H2O and therefore the world is stable, or radio signals can be
bounced off the moon and therefore the world is uniformitarian, or nuclear
accelerators function and therefore catastrophes cannot have occurred. The
underlying suggestion which the unwary audience is being asked to implicitly
swallow is that, if all of these local accomplishments are true, then the
view, uniformitarianism, must be true too. I am exaggerating, naturally, but
I ask you to see that this picture is not far from the truth. Big Science is
religion of reason, universal order and stability, which is precisely how
popularizers, (men like Asimov, Gardner, Sagan and Moore), market it.
What can explain this? Why should Big Science be unrelated to and almost in
defiance of little science? I think the rupture between them could be a
product of the difference between their origins. That is to say, what if Big
Science is not a product of scientific data, as little science is, but of
human nature? What it upholds would therefore not be what physical nature
requires us to believe about the world, (that it is ultimately
unapproachable), but what human nature wants to believe about the world,
is that the entire universe is understandable, predictable and controllable.
From this it is a short but necessary step to the surmise that, if Big
Science is a structure we and not the world have devised, what it advocates
must be a denial of what we are afraid of, which in this instance would have
to be that the world is not understandable, not predictable and therefore
controllable. That would be the terrible understanding we cannot face, and
Big Science would be the way in which we avoid facing it. The process, if
true, is a form of unconscious self-delusion.
In the first act of Shakespeare's Macbeth, when the two Scottish generals
Macbeth and Banquo are tempted toward regicide by the Witches, Banquo warns
But oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us
truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence. (1.3.123-126)
He is saying that the Weird Sisters are using small true predictions to trap
Macbeth into committing a big mortal sin, and that is how I would describe
the origin and nature of Big Science. It is my opinion that, unconsciously
and hysterically, our culture as a whole has collectively evolved or created
classical rationalist uniformitarian Big Science not to find out the total
truth about nature but, in a pretense of doing just that, to use the success
of small science about nature as the bait to get us to swallow the lie of
Science about nature. The big lie works precisely because small science is
true. That is how we are fooled. In my opinion, the process occurs because,
if we are all racially terrified by unconscious inherited memories of
global natural catastrophes, we have to deny them somehow, and to tie Big
Science to the coat-tails of little science does the trick neatly. I would
therefore separate Big Science from both little science and Newton. In my
opinion, Newton is the true big science for little, while Laplacian
Newtonianism (uniformitarian Big Science-as-propaganda), is a realm by
itself, a creed developed by scientism alongside of but independent of both
big and little. With this picture of the two sciences in mind, (or three),
we can now attempt to locate catastrophism within it. Historian of science
Thomas Kuhn has written that each period in science is dominated by a single
master paradigm or research tradition which determines what will be
the proper problems to be solved, the proper data, the proper methods of
research, the proper short-term solutions and codification of observations
into laws, and the proper universal theories in that science. When the
paradigm changes, Kuhn tells us, the contents of all these areas will change
because they are not independent but paradigmdependent. There will then be
new problems, new data, new experiments, new laws and new theories.
This brings me finally to the first of the five parts of science, the
set of problems to which solutions are sought, whose analysis I had earlier
postponed. The dominant element in any paradigmatic period of science is the
group of problems which that research tradition considers fundamental,
the researchers within that tradition have solved all, many or none of them,
for almost all philosophers of science agree that a paradigm is defined not
by the success of its answers but by the nature of its questions. These
questions, however, do not arise in vacuo. They can only be the products of
an anterior global vision or world view out of which the questions typical
that research tradition are generated, and that is why science as a whole
changes when the world view which it accepts changes. It is because the
questions change. That in my humble opinion is what causes scientific
revolutions, (which is what they must be called), for a very great deal is
stake at these moments when paradigms do battle.
Consider for instance the period when the Ptolemaic cosmology was replaced
the Newtonian. It was not merely a question of a different model, but of a
different perception of man's place in God's universe. Under Ptolemy and
Aristotle, the Earth was at the center of the universe and humankind was
of the Earth. This gave us a special role in Creation, which occurred for
our pleasure and benefit. We were the purpose of the universe. Newton
destroyed that comforting illusion, but in its place he gave us something
almost as good, for Newton too said that the entire cosmos was safe, that it
was a giant clock constructed by God to tick forever, even if the Earth was
only a small cog in its mechanism and suffered occasional perturbations.
was a fair trade and we bought it, but our acceptance of the Newtonian world
view generated new questions which therefore changed human research, which
therefore ended the Scholastic paradigm and began the Newtonian. The
fundamental aim of the Ptolemist was to devise methods and conduct research
and derive laws and formulate theories which would prove, refine and expand
the doctrine of epicycles. All of this disappeared when Newton was accepted.
Not merely were there new methods, new experiments, new laws and new
but a new world view to be proved, refined and expanded.
The purpose, the goal, the ideal of science changed, and it is my opinion
the same phenomenon may be occurring again with the advent of catastrophism.
In the book I am writing on the limits of knowledge, from which I presented
summary a moment ago, the eighth chapter is entitled "The Certainty of
Uncertainty." It deals with the phenomenon of continual change in ideas, (as
with the aether or continental drift in science), which I see as inevitable-
one prevailing view is always replaced by a successor. That, as I pointed
last night, is the history of every discipline, including each science. When
enough local views are overthrown, a new overall view or paradigm will
and be accepted. The new paradigm establishes its distance from its
predecessor by rejecting the fundamental tenets of the existing tradition or
keeping only some of them or arguing for additional ones to be included. I
ask you now to consider catastrophism in this light, as a rival to classical
uniformitarian Newtonianist Science. What catastrophism does, I submit, is
carry that previous tradition a step further toward the truth by eliminating
certain of its excesses. That is to say, if Newton removed the Earth from
the center of the Ptolemaic universe, (which is correct), he still said it
safe, (which is incorrect), whereas Velikovsky took the next step away from
Aristotle and Scholasticism after Newton by declaring that the Earth is
unsafe, which is more correct still, but is also much more frightening. This
constitutes a total break with the illusory comfort of the past ideologies,
and that I think is what is really at stake between the rivals,
science and classical science, and what causes the hatred, violence and
foolishness of Big Science and its popularizers toward catastrophism. It is
nothing less than a question of peace of mind, which I think has proved far
more important than mere truth. Under Newton we were not as coddled and
favored as under Ptolemy, but we believed nevertheless that the Earth would
always survive. Under catastrophism that certainty is gone, for no
technology we have, not even Star Wars, can drive giant meteors from our
path. This is a vastly bleaker and more depressing picture, ergo the
resistance-but it could be true.
If this possibility exists, steps must be taken to explore it thoroughly and
objectively. Catastrophism can then be seen as doing just this, and
therefore as an alternative or rival paradigm to classical science in all
five major areas. We who believe that the Velikovskian concept in general
might be correct have developed new tools or new concepts to correspond to
our new research tradition. We use data that includes what traditional
science allows but also much more that it does not, we interrogate that data
with questions that go far beyond what uniformitarian science would like to
prove, we derive opinions (not "laws") from our answers that present a very
different picture of astronomy, earth history and anthropology than
science does, and we arrive at overall views of the Solar System (that part
of the universe we feel science can safely talk about) which run sharply
counter to the placebos of accepted Big Science. Above all that, we pose new
questions designed to examine our paradigm, the hypothesis that catastrophes
can happen, and all of this, we feel, is not merely validated but required
our new conception. The result is that, while at some points catastrophist
and uniformitarian science may overlap, at most points they are very
different. The question I now wish to leave with you, therefore, is this-if
it is possible that we are correct about the near history of the Solar
would this not put us light years ahead of uniformitarian science? That is
how I see Velikovsky's place in science, and the place of those like us who
come after him, no matter how much we may deviate from or differ between
ourselves about or expand the original. If our common general paradigm is
correct, as I described it yesterday evening, it is we who may be on the
right track, it is we who may be most truly, most honestly scientific.
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