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Psychological Premises

Because of his psychoanalytic training and experience, Velikovsky was able to realize that men tend to shunt off as fables the accumulated memories and records of cosmic cataclysms. Aristotle struggled to refute the cosmology of Heraclitus; and Cicero, when other writers of his century, such as Heraclitus or Ovid, were describing in detail what nad happened, proclaimed ita stabilis mundus est atque ita cohaeret ad permanendum ut nihil ne excogitari quidem aptius possitó“the world is so stable and it holds together so well for the sake of permanence that it is impossible even to imagine anything more fitted for the purpose.”1 Planets are gods, and because of their divine nature they keep a perfect and immutable order. In another passage Cicero expounds the same view in terms that became a creed both for medieval scholastic natural philosophers and, as I shall indicate, for the followers of Newton:

In the firmament, therefore, there is no accident, no chance, no aimless wandering, nothing untrustworthy; on the contrary, all things display perfect order, reliability, purpose, constancy. . . . Wherefore, that man who holds that the astounding orderliness and the incredible precision of movement of these celestial bodies, upon which the support and safety of all things are wholly dependent, are not directed by reason must himself be considered to be utterly devoid of the rational faculty.2

But this was a reversal of the older beliefs in the Theomachy, or struggle among the planetary gods. Critias, the cousin of Plato’s mother, in his drama Sisyphus, stressed the opposite view, defended by Democritus and his followers, that the belief in the planetary gods was linked with the worst of all human terrors.

Modern writers have suspected as much. John Dewey opens The Quest for Certainty (1929) with a chapter titled “Escape from Peril.” He points out that fear is the spring of the search for immutable perfect entities, for the glorification of regularity and invariance at the expense of diversity and change. By rationalizing the beliefs in the heavenly bodies as gods and making them the expression of a higher realm (higher physically and morally) which is rational, regular and unalterable, Aristotle set up the foundations of classical science.

In a similar vein, Freud asks on what foundation does “man build the feeling of security with which he armors himself against the dangers both of the external world and of human environment.” In answering he declares: “Think of the famous dictum of Kant that mentions in one breath the starry heavens and the moral law in our heart. This combination sounds oddófor, what could the heavenly bodies have to do with the question whether a human being loves or murders anotheróbut it touches a profound psychological truth.”3

The passage of Kant (1724-1804) to which Freud refers is the conclusion of the Critique of Practical Reason:

Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

But does the starry heaven inspire us rightfully with the feeling of stability, while it inspired the ancients with an all-pervading fear?


References

  1. De natura deorum II, 45, 115. The source of tnis passage is rosi-donius. Whereas the cosmology of Cicero has received great attention and its sources have been traced, the cosmology of Ovid, which is an even richer source of information on ancient scientific theories, has been neglected; but the gap has now been partly filled by Walter Spoerri, Späthellenistische Berichte über die Welt (Basel, 1959)
  2. Op. cit., II, 21, 56 (Transl. Hubert M. Poteat).
  3. Freud’s essay has the untranslatable title “Über die Weltanschauung,” Gesammelte Werke (London, 1946), 176. It is Lecture XXXV in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.

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