Cosmic Trigger: Volume 3:
My Life After Death
I GOT RUN OVER ON THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY
In Which the Author Learns of His Own Death
and We Begin to Look Behind the
Masks of Art and Magick
This is not a normal world.
“Maybe” is a thin reed to hang your whole life on, but it’s all we’ve got.
– Hannah and Her Sisters
According to reliable sources, I died on February 22, 1994 — George Washington’s birthday. I felt nothing special or shocking at the time, and believed that I still sat at my word processor working on a novel called Bride of Illuminatus. At lunch-time, however, when I checked my voice mail, I found that Tim Leary and a dozen other friends had already called to ask to speak to me, or — if they still believed in Reliable Sources — to offer support and condolences to my grieving family. I quickly gathered that news of my tragic end had appeared on Internet, one of the most popular computer networks, in the form of an obituary from the Los Angeles Times:
“Noted science-fiction author Robert Anton Wilson was found dead in his home yesterday, apparently the victim of a heart attack. Mr. Wilson, 63, was discovered by his wife, Arlen.
“Mr Wilson was the author of numerous books….He was noted for his libertarian viewpoints, love of technology and off the wall humor. Mr. Wilson is survived by his wife and two children.”
This L.A. Times obit originally got on the net via somebody in Cambridge, Mass. I thought immediately of the pranksters at M.I.T. — the Gremlins of Cyberspace, as somebody called them.
I admired the artistic verisimilitude of the Gremlin who forged that obit. He mis-identified my oeuvre. (Only 6 of my 28 books could possibly get classified as science-fiction, and perhaps 3 more as science-faction.) He also, more clumsily, stated my age wrong by one year and the number of my surviving children wrong by one child. Little touches of incompetence and ignorance like that helped create the impression of a real, honest-to-Jesus L.A. Times article — just as creaking chairs, background coughs, overlapping dialogue, scrupulously “bad” sound quality etc. make the bogus newsreels in Orson Welles’s two greatest movies, Citizen Kane and F For Fake, seem “just like the real thing.”
The forged L.A. Times obituary may not rank with Welles’s most monumental hoaxes — e.g. his prematurely Deconstructionist “war of the worlds” radio show, where bland music and increasingly ominous newsbreaks thoroughly confused a mass audience about the borderline between “art” and “reality.” But the Times forgery, if not of Wellesian heft, certainly contained a Wellesian blend of art and magic: in retrospect, it even reminds me, a little, of the 1923 Surrealist art show, in which the audience first encountered a taxi-cab in the garden — a cab which had rain falling inside but not outside — and then confronted a sign telling them gnomically:
DADA IS NOT DEAD
WATCH YOUR OVERCOAT
I always think that double dip of guerilla ontology (by Dali and Breton, respectively) carried the baffled audience beyond surrealism into post-modernism, i.e. Total Agnosticism and/or terminal bewilderment. Certainly, art and life, and art and magick, have never gotten clearly disentangled again to the satisfaction of all observers. In this struggle to knock down the Iron Curtain between creativity and “reality,” I tend to see the Wellesian men-from-Mars hoax as the second major step after surrealism and, ahem, I sometimes immodestly consider my own works a third step.
But the Gremlin who killed me on February 22 carried the “transformation of mind and all that resembles it” (Breton) one quantum jump further than I ever had. He caused real grief and shock, if not Wellesian mass panic.
One friend told me that the first bulletin he saw, on Compuserve, just quoted the alleged LA obit and then added, “This is as bad as learning that Zappa died. I think I’m going to meditate a bit, in his memory.”
Another networker, female, keyboarded in a whole chapter of Ecclesiastes in my memory — “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under the sun: a time to be born, a time to die” etc. — and then added “Now get out there and PARTY LIKE HE’D WANT YOU TO!”
One bulletin from “The House of Apostles of Eris, San Francisco” said that “attempts to contact Robert Anton Wilson have been unsuccessful” — hmmm? — but nevertheless reassured all that “RAW is alive and busy with religious works.” I think the author of that bulletin intended to sound unconvincing, especially to the initiates of my Classic Novels (Erisian “religious works” consist of mind-fucks or “shocks ” in the strict Masonic sense). He or she certainly cast contagious suspicion on the other denials being posted on the nets by various friends who had managed to contact me. Certainly, the conspiracy buffs who have followed my career ever since Iluminatus! will not believe a report that includes the suspicious admission that nobody could find me …. Many contributions to the alive-or-dead controversy seemed unsure whether I had died (or hadn’t died) in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The funniest one of all claimed I survived, but in Howth (County Dublin, Ireland) — where I lived during most of the 1980s:
“Contacted at his home in Howth Castle, Wilson said ‘The reports of my death have been slightly exaggerated. I can still totter about a bit and even crack a weak joke occasionally.'”
To which some wit, recognizing the Joycean jest, replied: “Shouldn’t that be Howth Castle and Environs?”
The Howth legend continued to circulate from one net to another, and soon included the news that I had taken over management of the Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal (CSICON) after the death of its founder, Prof. Timothy F.X. Finnegan, of Trinity College, Dublin, and that CSICON still offers $100,000 to any “normalist” who can produce “a perfectly normal person, place or thing — or even an ordinary sunset. Or an average day.”
Of course, Finnegan and CSICON exist in some sense, like Howth Castle, as readers of my works know by now — not quite in the sense in which the Statue of Liberty exists, but not entirely in the metaphoric sense in which the National Debt and the Holy Trinity “exist” either. But the result of all this was beginning to make me wonder if I only exist in some semiotic or metaphoric sense myself, sort of like an elderly male Madonna. I mean, like, man, do I exist the way the Howth Castle in Dublin exists, or the way the Howth Castle and Environs in Finnegans Wake exists?
I remembered a Spiritualist treatise I had once read. (I skim all sorts of weird literature, which keeps me from believing totally any of the stuff we get told as Official Truth by the major media). This ghostly tome claimed that we poor specters often do not know we’ve died until some medium “contacts” us and explains why people have started treating us so rudely lately — e.g., why even our wives and children ignore us outright unless we knock over the lamps or rap in code on the tables.
I had also read Jonathan Swift’s hilarious “pamphlet war” with the astrologer Partridge about whether Partridge had or had not died on the day predicted by a rival astrologer, Isaac Bickerstaff. (“Bickerstaff” sounds a lot like Swift himself, operating behind a Mask as usual, just as Lemuel Gulliver, the scientific world traveler, also sounded curiously like Swift; we shall learn much about Reality and Masks in this enquiry.) Although Partridge insisted vehemently on his continued vitality, Swift’s argument, a model of Celtic subtlety, held that just because a man claims he hasn’t died and may even believe it himself, this does not logically require us to credit his unsupported testimony. This left poor Partridge floundering — (never argue with a Dublin intellectual) — and now I felt myself floundering a bit also.
Obviously, my testimony on the matter would not convince Swift, when he decided to play the Scientific Skeptic, and I wondered if it would convince CSICOP –the group opposing CSICON.
CSICOP (Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) believes that the “normal” actually exists somewhere, and not just in some Platonic spook world. They claim it exists everywhere, and that nothing else at all exists anywhere. (If you see any of the 10100 not-normal things in this world, they will claim you had a hallucination.)
As a famous bard wrote:
He thought he saw a banker’s clerk descending from a bus
He looked again and saw it was a hippopotamus
I remembered a Phil Dick novel, Ubik, about a bunch of dead people who don’t know they have died and think the universe has slowly started turning into shit. If that happened to me, I would not and could not know about it — by definition.
Thoughts like that can really unsettle your mental architecture, especially if you wasted a lot of your life on epistemological philosophy, and on cannabis extracts. I, alas, have indulged both those vices on many occasions, and I fear that I have become a horrible example of Aggravated Existentialism. Worse yet: I have also heard Albert Rosenfeld, a distinguished M.D., lecturing on “clinical death,” say, “We have come a long way from the day when Marshall Dillon lifts the sheet and says, ‘He’s dead, all right.’ Now it takes a committee to decide.” But these ontological doubts got pushed aside when the C.I.A. entered the Trip, playing the Wrathful Demons of this bardo. Somebody (signing her/him/itself as “Anon.”) logged the following into several computer bulletin boards:
“THE C.I.A. KILLED ROBERT ANTON WILSON…
“Wilson did not die of natural causes. He was assassinated. Earlier on that day, Wilson was injected with a time-delay poison based on shellfish toxin, by agents of the CIA’s special SUPER SECRET BLACK OPERATIONS SQUAD, using a special microscopic needle made of a plastic which dissolves in the body without a trace. Wilson’s body had immediately been taken and cremated and the usual step of an autopsy had been bypassed, BY ORDERS FROM ABOVE.
“It is clear why the power$ that be wanted Wilson dead. Wilson was a dangerous element; the government can only govern if the majority does not question the system (whoever currently “rules” does not matter.) The troublesome minority can be dealt with discreetly, by means of EXECUTIVE ACTION (assassination), which is what happened with Wilson….
“Earlier the same agencies (CIA, NRO, DEA and CFR/TLC/Bilderberger BOLSHEVIK SHADOW GOVERNMENT) had LSD advocate Timothy Leary neutralized with a neurotoxin which DESTROYS THE MIND and ARTIFICIALLY INDUCES A STATE SIMILAR TO SENILITY…
” Dissemination of this information is encouraged. MAKE 30 COPIES.”
Cute as a shit-house rat, I thought, when I read this. Now, whenever Tim tells people I haven’t died, that will furnish further evidence of his “senility.” Of course, I also enjoyed the idea that somebody, somewhere, might consider me important enough to terrorize the C.I.A. and call out their SUPER SECRET BLACK OPERATIONS SQUAD to terminate me. Since CLASSIFIED represents the rating directly below SECRET in government security manuals, I wondered how the CLASSIFIED BLACK OPERATIONS SQUAD spends its time — giving housemaid’s knee or genital warts to editorial cartoonists? Others grew more eldritch:
“Maybe the government has installed a VIRTUAL RAW in his place to allay people’s fears. Oh, sure, he can respond all he wants, but I know it’s not the real RAW.”
But my favorite contribution of the Wilson Mythos was logged by somebody using the monicker, The Green One:
“There is no toxin. There is no needle. You have not heard of a toxin. You have not heard of a needle. They were not tools of the conspiracy. There is no conspiracy. The toxin and the needle, which do not exist, played no part in the conspiracy, which does not exist. Fnord. Repeat after me. There is no toxin…”
What can I add to that bit of guerilla ontology, except to say “Fnord indeed?”
PAINTER JAILED FOR COMMITTING MASTERPIECES
“Logic!’ cried the frog. “There is no logic in this!”
– Mr. Arkadin
I can live without God. I can’t live without painting.
–Vincent and Theo
In August 1968 the Spanish government imprisoned a man on the island of Ibiza for creating a long series of sketches and paintings — beautiful, intensely lyrical works that Art Experts had universally proclaimed as masterpieces.
The imprisonment of this Maker of Masterpieces did not represent censorship in the ordinary erotic or religious sense. Nobody even accused the artist of Political Incorrectness. He got jugged for a technical matter — namely, that he had signed the wrong name to his works… or several wrong names, in fact. Names like Picasso and Van Gogh and Modigliani and Matisse, for instance.
Not that anybody knew then, or knows now, what name the man should have signed. Generally, when the case gets recalled at all, people refer to the prisoner of Ibiza as El Myr or Elmyr de Hory, but neither of those titles have any claim to special eminence among his many aliases. In his long career, the painter had used both of those names, but he had also used Baron Elmyr von Houry, Elmyr Herzog, Louis Cassou, Baron Elmyr Hoffman, Joseph Dory, E. Raynal, Joseph Dory-Boutin and quite a few others — perhaps as many as a hundred pseudonyms, according to Francois Reichenbach, an alleged Expert on this case.
One trouble with Reichenbach as an Expert: he admits to buying and selling some of “Elmyr’s” forged paintings. Another problem: he later collaborated (with Orson Welles, no less) on a film — F For Fake — that either exposed “Elmyr” totally or created a whole new set of myths about “Elmyr,” depending on which other Experts you choose to believe.
(Welles himself has said — in the documentary “Orson Welles: A Life in Film,” BBC-TV — that “Everything in that movie was a fake.” But to post-modernism, all art constitutes fake, or mask, in the Aristotelian sense of an imitation, or counterfeit of something else, and in a new non-Aristotelian sense we will explore as we advance deeper into the murk. We need to think slowly before deciding whether Welles spoke literally or metaphorically in describing F For Fake as itself a fake.)
Whatever the facts — if we still dare to speak of “facts” in this age of situationism and deconstructionism — we will, as a matter of typographical convenience, hereafter refer to the prisoner of Ibiza as Elmyr without dubious quotes and without any guessing about his last name — if he had a last name, like ordinary humans, and didn’t arrive here by spaceship….”Elmyr” he preferred in his last years, and Elmyr we shall call him. And, for those who don’t like to repeatedly see words they can’t sound out in their heads, the Hungarian “Myr” rhymes with “deer,” and “Elmyr” has the same beat approximately as “cold beer” or “my ear.” Just say “cold beer, my ear, shake spear, Elmyr” and you’ll have no further sounding problems as you read.
Elmyr served only two months in jail and then the Spanish further expressed displeasure with his chosen profession by expelling him from their country for one year, because he also had a reputation as an flamboyant homosexual, or in pop argot, an aging fairy godmother. But meanwhile, he had told his story to a young American writer, Cliff, who became his official biographer. According to Fake!, the deliberately outrageous biography concocted together by Cliff and Elmyr, this man of variable names, wobbly gender and multiple styles had committed many more masterpieces than those for which he had gotten jailed.
In fact, Fake! says Elmyr had painted over a thousand of the classics of modern art. Every time you walk through a museum and see a Picasso or a Matisse that you particularly like, you should stop and ask, “Now did Picasso or Matisse do that, or did Elmyr do it?” Sort of changes your whole view of what critics call “the canon,” doesn’t it?
The canon — a term borrowed from the theologians (which should make us suspicious at once: can we borrow anything of value from a corporation widely suspected for about 200 years now of intellectually bankruptcy?) — designates those works of art and literature which have achieved the rank of Masterpieces. When does a work achieve this canonicity? When the Experts say it does, of course. But the Elmyr case, far more than Deconstructionist philosophy, indicates that the Experts do not always know shit from shinola.
Of course, not everybody believes that Elmyr committed quite as much great art as he gleefully confesses in the biography. Many Experts claim Fake! (a title to ponder, and ponder again) engaged in shameless bragging and exaggeration, to make Elmyr seem cleverer than the facts warrant.
Unfortunately, these Experts had — many of them — authenticated some of the fakes that Elmyr undoubtedly did paint. As Elmyr’s co-author, Cliff, says, these Experts do not want their cover blown — they don’t want us to know how often, and how easily, they have gotten duped by Elmyr and other skilled forgers.
According to Cliff, all Experts operate largely on bluff. Some of the Experts, however, have counter-attacked by suggesting that this alleged “co-author,” Cliff, may himself have functioned even more as a co-conspirator.
And, in fact, the same co-author, Clifford Irving to give him his full name, subsequently became even more famous, and much more infamous, for persuading a New York publisher to give him a $750,000 advance for an authorized biography of Howard Hughes, i.e. a biography in which Hughes himself would talk, for the record, about all the financial, political, conspiratorial* and sexual scandals in his Faustian career. $750,000 had a value, in 1969, of about $5 million now, but the publishers shelled out happily. Irving had shown them a contract and various notes in Hughes’s own handwriting. ….
You see, even though Cliff Irving had already written Fake!, a textbook on forgery, including charming details on forged signatures as well as counterfeit paintings, he had a boyishly sincere manner and a wickedly scintillating personality. Like all good con-men.
He and Hughes had met on a pyramid in Mexico, Irving said with a straight face.* In the dead of night, of course….(It would make a wonderful surrealist painting, if Elmyr ever did a Dali: The ambitious young Irving and the rich old lunatic with matted hair and fingernails — or claws — like Bigfoot …. signing a contract on a pyramid …. under, I presume, a full moon…)
Handwriting Experts later testified in court, after Irving’s own veracity came under suspicion. They said absolutely that Howard Hughes himself, and nobody else, had written the signature and notes produced by Irving. At this point, alas, many people began to share Irving’s (and Elmyr’s) low opinion of Experts, and soon the biography of Hughes got cancelled. Hughes himself speaking over a phone (he never did come out of seclusion…) denounced Irving as a fraud; but, of course, some say that the voice emanated from a Virtual Hughes — a double who had impersonated Hughes for years. The Mafia had bumped off the real Hughes, these conspiracy nuts claim, many years earlier. Had Irving faked a meeting with a man already dead and gotten “exposed” by another faker impersonating the dead man? As Swift proved to Partridge, we cannot decide matters of life and death on mere allegation. But we will deal with that kind of conspiracy later. Right now we only confront the problem of “the canon” itself as a kind of conspiracy.
We simply do not know the extent to which Elmyr has entered the canon. Maybe 2 per cent of the masterpieces in modern museums emanated from his wizard’s brush, as virtually everybody now admits. Maybe the figure (at least for post-impressionism, fauvism and early cubism, Elmyr’s specialities ) runs as high as 25 per cent, or 50 per cent…. An oeuvre of “more than a thousand” paintings might make up something in that percentage range of canonical 20th Century Classics. These implications appear heavily suggested in Irving’s Fake! and even more stressed in the Welles-Reichenbach film ….
Well, then, we must re-examine the canonicity of art as skeptically as the 18th and 19th Centuries re-examined religion. Religious canonicity survived (in the Occident) only as long as the Pope qualified as the world’s leading Expert. When other Experts arose, with their own cults, religious canonicity became ambiguous and controversial. What happens when the Art Experts face a similar challenge?
Some Radical Feminist critics have already begun such a “Protestant heresy” , and have dumped such Dead White European Males (DWEMs, in fashionable jargon) as Dante, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, etc. and replaced them with a new canon featuring a lot of long-forgotten ladies whose work, frankly, seems dreadfully inferior to me, and to most art critics.
For instance, Susan McClary has found Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony a musical hymn to rape, which will no doubt surprise all those with less androphobic ears, who hear something quite different in it, something of cosmic grandeur.. Says McClary,
“The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music….which finally explodes in the throttling, murderous rage of a rapist…” Sounds almost as bad as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, doesn’t it?
Although I write a lot of satire, I didn’t make this up. You can find McClary’s analysis in Minnesota Composers’ Forum Newsletter, January 1987. She also doesn’t like Western classic music in general, because of its “phallic violence” and “pelvic pounding.” I insist I did not invent McClary or any of her ravings. Honest to God. Some Femigogues just happen to sound like satire when you quote them verbatim.
As for the female masterpieces set against old Ludwig, they only appear inferior, the Feminist revisionists say, because all of us have had our perceptions warped by the “patriarchal brainwashing” of our “phallocentric” culture. (“All of us” includes many female art critics, like Camille Paglia, who angrily claims this argument has crossed the line to an idiot caricature of Feminism)
Maybe we all need a long de-programming at a Feminist re-education camp. Then we will realize that Hildegarde of Bingen not only outclassed Beethoven but wrote more first-rate music than Mozart, Bach and Scott Joplin together, and without any rape fantasies creeping in.
Third World revisionists have raised similar objections to the canonical centrality of DWEMs. They ask us, not too gently, do we really believe that all the great art of humanity came out of one sub-continent, created by white males only? Hmmm?
Do we trust these revisionists or do we trust our own sensibilities?
After Elmyr, do we dare trust anybody?
As a famous bard wrote
He stood in his socks and he wondered,
he wondered He stood in his socks and he wondered
At the end of Welles’s F For Fake, after we have suffered prolonged doubt about how many Picassos should get reclassified as Elmyrs, one character cries passionately “I must believe, at least, that art is real!” — a noble thought with which I might finish this chapter… But this voice of Faith and Tradition belongs to another art forger, one who allegedly faked even more of the canonical Renaissance masterpieces than Elmyr had faked of the canonical Moderns. We cannot have faith in this faker’s faith….
THE ASTRONOMER WHO ABOLISHED GRAVITY
The normal is what everybody else is and you’re not.
– Star Trek: Generations
My mind is going. I can feel it, Dave.
– 2001: A Space Odyssey
If anybody possesses all the qualifications necessary for a fully ordained Expert in America today, Carl Sagan certainly has that dizzying eminence. Through frequent appearances on TV and in Parade (a news magazine circulated through hundreds of newspapers in their jumbo Sunday editions), Dr. Sagan has issued Expert verdicts on every possible controversial issue in science, and in politics, and even in theology, for three decades now. And, like the Experts who authenticated hundreds-to-thousands of Elmyrs, he has never once admitted he ever made a mistake.
You may wonder how a man who only has qualifications in astronomy can also function as an Expert on everything in general. Well, I think it requires Sagan to have a lot of raw courage, in the first place, and a strong, well-founded confidence that those who don’t believe his dogmas have much less access to the media than he does; if they answer him back, however effective their arguments, very few of his large, gullible audience will ever hear about it.
Let us see how Expertise works, by examining Dr. Sagan’s long series of polemics against Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky.
First of all, in every page Sagan has written about Velikovsky, he never once calls him “Dr. Velikovsky” as I just did. Thus, most people who know Velikovsky only through Sagan’s attacks have never learned that Velikovsky had scientific training. The contest thus seems a struggle between “Dr.” Sagan, the learned scientist, and “Mr.” Velikovsky, the ignorant layman. Little tricks like that go a long way in deluding the naive, and Sagan never fails to use every dirty trick he knows.
In what follows, I reverse this process, just for the hell of it. Sagan I will call Sagan and Dr. Velikovsky I will call Dr. Velikovsky. Sauce for the goose can serve, after all, as sauce for the gander.
Sagan continually states bluntly, and falsely, that Dr. Velikovsky intends his cosmic catastrophe theory to revive the old-time religion.: “It is an attempted validation of religion”…..” Velikovsky attempts to rescue not only religion but also astrology.” (Brocca’s Brain, p 126) We can only conclude that Sagan either reads very carelessly or engages in deliberate lying. Any close reading of Dr. Velikovsky shows numerous expressions of skepticism about both religion and astrology.
In addition, Dr. Velikovsky’s theory of cometary near-collisions offers a naturalistic, scientific explanation for many events or alleged events in ancient history, which the religious prefer to explain supernaturally, as miracles. Nobody who suggests a natural explanation for allegedly supernatural events offers real support to religion, in either the judgement of the religious themselves or of those of us with agnostic disposition.
Only Sagan — and a few others, who seem to never have read Dr. Velikovsky and obtained their “knowledge” about his works from Sagan — think of the comet model as “validating” religion, since Dr. Velikovsky uses a hypothetical comet to replace a hypothetical god in explaining huge reported floods, and other catastrophes. Most of us think of Dr. Velikovsky’s theory as one which, if proven, would knock one more leg from under the edifice of Bible Fundamentalism. Nobody seems likely to worship Dr. Velikovsky’s comet, but millions still worship the Bible’s god.
In the 30 years or more that Sagan has engaged in diatribes against Dr. Velikovsky, somebody must have pointed out this fundamental confusion to him — mis-identifying a naturalistic theory with a supernatural theory. Evidently, he has a lot of trouble hearing or remembering such corrections. You become a leading Expert by acting as if everybody else’s opinion deserves no attention and never even deserves the courtesy of an answer.
For instance, to leave Dr. Velikovsky for a moment, consider Sagan’s hilarious theory of “nuclear winter.”* Briefly, Sagan’s theory holds that nuclear war could result, not just in the horrors we all know, but in a freeze that would probably abolish all life on this planet. (He published this notion in Parade, where his mass audience could see it and gasp.) His refusal to accept valid criticisms of this sci-fi story led to the following summary in Science, official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “News and Comments” section, Jan 16, 1987:
Sagan’s refusal to acknowledge merit in the NCAR [National Center for Atmospheric Research]’s analysis — known as “nuclear autumn” — sends some people up the wall. One wall-climber is George Rathjens, professor of political science at M.I.T….”(Sagan’s) claim that the original nuclear winter model is unimpeached [he says]…is the greatest fraud we’ve seen in a long time”….Russell Seiz, a fellow at the Harvard Center for International Affairs…gibes at [Sagan and his co-authors] for mixing physics and advertising.
Most scientists I have spoken to about Sagan share this dim view of his use of publicity to represent his pet notions as Scientific Truth even when — or especially when — a large segment of the scientific community has severe doubts about these notions.
(Similarly, in Brocca’s Brain, Sagan rejects data on so-called “out of body experiences” among near-dead patients because — he says — nobody in that state has reported anything they couldn’t have heard while unconscious. But the literature of OOBE has hundreds of cases of such reports, including numerous incidents in which the subjects reported things in rooms far away from the operating room. Once again, we can only wonder if Sagan habitually lies through his teeth or just doesn’t read any of the literature on the subjects upon which he claims Expertise.)
But returning to Dr. Velikovsky, and Sagan’s crusade against his ideas:
Sagan likes to quote a “distinguished professor of Semitics” who told him no Semitic scholars take Dr. Velikovsky seriously. Like the “intelligence officer” who told Newt Gingrich about dope in the White House, this “distinguished professor” remains anonymous, and thus Sagan’s hearsay about him would get thrown out of any civilized court. Three distinguished professors of Semitic studies, however, have all shown cordial support for Dr. Velikovsky: Prof. Claude F.A. Schaeffer, Prof. Etiene Droiton, and Prof. Robert Pieffer. Look them up in any Who’s Who of Semitic studies, archeology and Egyptology. They have a lot more prestige in those fields than Sagan’s Prof. Anonymous, who doesn’t have a single entry under his name anywhere in the scholarly journals (although elsewhere he receives credit for many olde ballads and almost all bawdy limericks.)
Another choice bit of Sagan’s Expert testimony: he accuses Dr. Velikovsky of believing that ancient cultures had a calendar of ten months of thirty days each and 360 days in the year. Of course, 10 x 30 = 300, and this gives Sagan a chance to gibe at Dr. Velikovsky’s inability to handle simple arithmetic. Very good, wouldn’t you say? The only trouble with this brilliant analysis consists of the simple fact that, once again, Sagan has either consciously and deliberately lied or accidentally revealed again that he doesn’t read carefully. Dr. Velikovsky says specifically “the month was equal to thirty-six days” (Worlds in Collision, p. 344.) 10 months of 36 days each = 360. See?
According to Dr. Velikovsky’s model, the year changed to 365 days (plus a few hours) after the cometary near-collision. Whether he has proven that or not, he did not make a crude mistake in arithmetic. Sagan either made a crude mistake in reading, or followed Elmyr’s formula for Expert-ness: “sheer bluff.”
Consider next the high temperature of Venus (4800 C.) As Dr. Roger Wescott and others have pointed out, Dr. Velikovsky predicted a temperature in this range for Venus when astronomical orthodoxy believed that planet much, much colder. Sagan tries to avoid giving Dr. Velikovsky credit for this confirmation of his model by claiming “many” had predicted a high temperature before the Venus flyby. Actually, he only names one other who had made such a prediction, Dr. Rupert Wildt, and Wildt’s work did not win general acceptance. (Others try to get around Dr. Velikovsky’s correct estimate in this and other instances by describing him as a “lucky guesser.” That seems mere cage-rattling to me. One could as well call any scientist who made many correct predictions a “lucky guesser”…..)
As Harry H. Hess, president of the American Geoligical Society wrote in a published letter to Dr. Velikovsky:
Some of these predictions were said to be impossible when you made them. All of them were made before proof that they were correct came to hand. Conversely, I do not know of any prediction you made that has since been proven to be false.
But the final joker came on page 153 of Brocca’s Brain where Sagan writes (and this really deserves caps):
ONE NOW FASHIONABLE SUGGESTION I FIRST PROPOSED IN 1960 IS THAT THE HIGH TEMPERATURES ON THE SURFACE OF VENUS ARE DUE TO A RUNAWAY GREENHOUSE EFFECT. (all emphasis added, and deserved)
First, Sagan claims that Dr. Velikovsky does not deserve credit for predicting high temperatures on Venus because everybody knew it, although historical fact shows that only Dr. Wildt had made the same prediction before Dr. Velikovsky. Then Sagan either tells a double lie or else suffers an alarming memory lapse that may require neurological consultation, claiming that neither Dr. Wildt nor Dr. Velikovsky had made this prediction (which they had, and he had noted earlier) — and then he brazenly claims he had originated it himself. Quite a performance, wouldn’t you say?
Now do you know how to become an Expert? Keep a straight face and make sure the mass media gives you more coverage than it gives those who try to correct your mis-statements.
I could go on and on, for hundreds of pages, but instead I refer you to Ginethal’s book listed at the end of this chapter. Ginethal does spend hundreds of pages documenting one fallacy after another — literally dozens and dozens of them — in Sagan’s smear campaign against Dr. Velikosky. I will conclude only with the most dramatic, and funniest, of Sagan’s goofs: In several places, Sagan has published a mathematical proof that several near collisions between a comet and a planet have odds against them of “a trillion quadrillion to one.”
(1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1.)
Sounds pretty damned improbable, doesn’t it?
The problem here lies in the fact that Sagan considers each near-collision as an isolated or haphazard event, thereby ignoring gravity. In fact, any two celestial bodies, once attracted to each other, will tend to continue to approach each other periodically, according to Newtonian laws unmodified by Einstein. This periodicity will continue until some other gravitational force pulls one of the bodies away from the gravitational attraction of the other. Ask any physics or astronomy professor about this, if you think I’m pushing too hard here. As Dr. Robert Jastrow of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies wrote (New York Times 22 Dec 1979)
Professor Sagan’s calculations, in effect, ignore the law of gravity.
Here, Dr. Velikovsky was the better astronomer.
Robert Bass wrote, even more harshly,
This Sagan assumption [ignoring gravity] is so disingenuous that I do not hesitate to label it a deliberate fraud on the public or else a manifestation of unbelievable incompetence or hastiness combined with desperation (cited by Ginenthal.)
Well, I always had doubts about Sagan’s ability to pronounce verdicts outside astronomy. When he does calculations inside astronomy and then ignores or forgets gravity, I begin to wonder about his competence in general….