Immanuel Velikovsky’s strange quest for a scientific theory of everything

Findlen_visionaryfringe_ba_imgPaula Findlen at The Nation:

In the 1940s, a curiously enigmatic figure haunted New York City’s great libraries, his mind afire with urgent questions whose resolution might reveal, once and for all, the most ancient secrets of the universe in their crystalline clarity. This scholar eschewed the traditional disciplinary boundaries that define the intellectual terrain of the specialist; instead, he read widely, skimming the surface of countless works of science, myth and history to craft an answer to an overwhelming question: Had our planet been altered repeatedly by cosmic catastrophes whose traces could be found in the earliest human records?

A fantastic theory began to emerge, redolent of the efforts of an earlier age to unify knowledge, yet speaking to the preoccupations of a world contemplating the chaos of another gruesome European war. The solar system, it was revealed, did not operate according to Newton’s universal laws of gravitation, nor did life on Earth evolve gradually and continuously, as Darwin had written. Instead, the cosmos was like a giant atom, periodically discharging photons whose energy disrupted and redirected the movements of celestial bodies, even causing the reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles. A planet was a kind of super-electron.

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