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 awayhis
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
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
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
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 mindone
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 Harpers
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.
To this my letter of August 26 Einstein answered the very next day. It
reads in translation:1
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
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
With friendly greetings,
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
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
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 suns dazzling light? This was a
problem which, so long as it remained unresolved, did not let astronomers
live in peace; and only with Einsteins 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
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
Hales 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 lightall 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 caseastro- nomy and history. I would
certainly listen carefully to what you may say on history or psycho-
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 participategravitation 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 Bodes 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 Bodes 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 Plutos 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 timein 1913G. 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 earths 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 bethat 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
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 Harpers 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
Einsteins 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 folklorebut 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 hadat least
the opposition was spelled out; an agreement with my argument I could
As to his second paragraphI 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.
See Appendix I for the original
text in German.