Crazy astronomy

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Upton_O_Goode
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Crazy astronomy

Post by Upton_O_Goode » Sat Jul 28, 2018 10:48 am

I'm re-orienting a discussion from the Belief board here, because it interests me and I think it properly belongs here. This post was inspired by the "Solution to the Mystery" thread there. Here goes.

There is something endlessly fascinating about conspiracy and wacky-science believers. In 1950, Martin Gardner took on a bunch of them in his famous book "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science." One that he was particularly hard on was a well-meaning, but addled classical scholar named Immanuel Velikovsky. (How aptly yclept the man was: "Immanuel," according to the Book of Isaiah, means "God with us." And velikii is the Russian word for "great.") But the humanities people---all sorts of literary people among them---and a few ultra-tolerant scientists reacting to the over-reaction of scientists to Velikovksy (his publisher was threatened with a boycott of its textbooks), struck back, and he acquired a devoted coterie of followers, who cherry-picked evidence for years that Velikovsky was right.

Velikovsky had argued that Venus would be warm, not cold, as most astronomers thought it would be based on its albedo. Gardner pointed out that Velikovsky could easily have gotten this theory from one book published much earlier. Velikovsky's defenders, after we learned just how hellishly hot it is on Venus, "debunked" Gardner's claim, saying that Velikovsky was the ONLY one who predicted the actual Venusian environment, and one of them tried to bolster the claim with quotations from Velilkovsky's books that seemed to say this. Fair enough. But in his quoting he missed one very important quote that contradicted all the others. I came across it in either "Earth in Upheaval" or "Worlds in Collision" (I forget which now.) In supporting his thesis that Mars and Venus did a Virginia Reel around the solar system in historical times, Velikovsky argued that the plagues described in the book of Exodus were the result of flies, frogs, etc. (and also the "manna from heaven"---Velikovsky didn't understand the difference between hydrocarbons and carbohydrates) raining down on the earth from these two wayward planets as they whizzed by. And, going out on a limb, he expected to be vindicated by further space exploration, saying he was convinced that "both Mars and Venus will be found to be covered with vermin."

So, the evidence of Velikovsky's scientific incompetence was available from the very beginning. If indeed he thought Venus had a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius, he must, by implication, have believed also that vermin can live at that temperature.

Einstein and a close friend of mine both spent time with Velikovsky, Einstein attempting to explain his errors to him, my friend soaking them up eagerly. (Said friend was capable of believing in every conceivable variety of pseudo-science: dowsing, astrology, telepathy.... but he was sure religion was bunk.)
"We survivors did not seek death. We did not take to the streets when our Jewish friends were taken away. We didn’t raise an outcry until we ourselves were being annihilated. We preferred to remain alive, with the flimsy though accurate excuse that our death would not have helped. We are guilty of being alive."

Karl Jaspers (1883–1968), at the re-opening of Heidelberg University, 1945

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Re: Crazy astronomy

Post by Gord » Sun Jul 29, 2018 8:49 pm

Upton_O_Goode wrote: Immanuel Velikovsky. (How aptly yclept the man was: "Immanuel," according to the Book of Isaiah, means "God with us." And velikii is the Russian word for "great.")
"God with us. Great."

That's actually a pretty cool name. 8-)
"Knowledge grows through infinite timelessness" -- the random fictional Deepak Chopra quote site
"Imagine an ennobling of what could be" -- the New Age BS Generator site
"You are also taking my words out of context." -- Justin
"Nullius in verba" -- The Royal Society ["take nobody's word for it"]
#ANDAMOVIE
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Re: Crazy astronomy

Post by landrew » Sun Jul 29, 2018 9:26 pm

Upton_O_Goode wrote:I'm re-orienting a discussion from the Belief board here, because it interests me and I think it properly belongs here. This post was inspired by the "Solution to the Mystery" thread there. Here goes.

There is something endlessly fascinating about conspiracy and wacky-science believers. In 1950, Martin Gardner took on a bunch of them in his famous book "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science." One that he was particularly hard on was a well-meaning, but addled classical scholar named Immanuel Velikovsky. (How aptly yclept the man was: "Immanuel," according to the Book of Isaiah, means "God with us." And velikii is the Russian word for "great.") But the humanities people---all sorts of literary people among them---and a few ultra-tolerant scientists reacting to the over-reaction of scientists to Velikovksy (his publisher was threatened with a boycott of its textbooks), struck back, and he acquired a devoted coterie of followers, who cherry-picked evidence for years that Velikovsky was right.

Velikovsky had argued that Venus would be warm, not cold, as most astronomers thought it would be based on its albedo. Gardner pointed out that Velikovsky could easily have gotten this theory from one book published much earlier. Velikovsky's defenders, after we learned just how hellishly hot it is on Venus, "debunked" Gardner's claim, saying that Velikovsky was the ONLY one who predicted the actual Venusian environment, and one of them tried to bolster the claim with quotations from Velilkovsky's books that seemed to say this. Fair enough. But in his quoting he missed one very important quote that contradicted all the others. I came across it in either "Earth in Upheaval" or "Worlds in Collision" (I forget which now.) In supporting his thesis that Mars and Venus did a Virginia Reel around the solar system in historical times, Velikovsky argued that the plagues described in the book of Exodus were the result of flies, frogs, etc. (and also the "manna from heaven"---Velikovsky didn't understand the difference between hydrocarbons and carbohydrates) raining down on the earth from these two wayward planets as they whizzed by. And, going out on a limb, he expected to be vindicated by further space exploration, saying he was convinced that "both Mars and Venus will be found to be covered with vermin."

So, the evidence of Velikovsky's scientific incompetence was available from the very beginning. If indeed he thought Venus had a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius, he must, by implication, have believed also that vermin can live at that temperature.

Einstein and a close friend of mine both spent time with Velikovsky, Einstein attempting to explain his errors to him, my friend soaking them up eagerly. (Said friend was capable of believing in every conceivable variety of pseudo-science: dowsing, astrology, telepathy.... but he was sure religion was bunk.)
Velikovsky talked like a scientist, had the bearing of a scientist and proceeded as though he were a scientist.
But Velikovsky was not a scientist.
The job of a skeptic is to investigate the unexplained; not to explain the uninvestigated.

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Re: Crazy astronomy

Post by Upton_O_Goode » Mon Jul 30, 2018 10:53 am

landrew wrote:Velikovsky talked like a scientist, had the bearing of a scientist and proceeded as though he were a scientist.
But Velikovsky was not a scientist.
Absolutely right. But he tried to come across as a lofty above-the-fray type who didn't have time to engage in debate. And he didn't debate publicly with scientists. But, as I know from having lived in Princeton at the time, any time some eager sophomore wrote a letter to the editor criticizing him, he was quick to respond. Typical Trump-like behavior. And just as with Trump, the evidence of his craziness was so apparent one would think everyone would notice. But by no means everyone did.
"We survivors did not seek death. We did not take to the streets when our Jewish friends were taken away. We didn’t raise an outcry until we ourselves were being annihilated. We preferred to remain alive, with the flimsy though accurate excuse that our death would not have helped. We are guilty of being alive."

Karl Jaspers (1883–1968), at the re-opening of Heidelberg University, 1945

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Re: Crazy astronomy

Post by landrew » Mon Jul 30, 2018 2:41 pm

Upton_O_Goode wrote:
landrew wrote:Velikovsky talked like a scientist, had the bearing of a scientist and proceeded as though he were a scientist.
But Velikovsky was not a scientist.
Absolutely right. But he tried to come across as a lofty above-the-fray type who didn't have time to engage in debate. And he didn't debate publicly with scientists. But, as I know from having lived in Princeton at the time, any time some eager sophomore wrote a letter to the editor criticizing him, he was quick to respond. Typical Trump-like behavior. And just as with Trump, the evidence of his craziness was so apparent one would think everyone would notice. But by no means everyone did.
Unfortunately people who read the book fell under his spell. They did not know him personally, but perhaps if they did, they would have seen the Trump-like childish petulance, who attacks anyone who dared to challenge his "brilliance."
The job of a skeptic is to investigate the unexplained; not to explain the uninvestigated.