"...my liveliest interest is not so much in things, as in relations of things. I have spent much time thinking about the alleged pseudo-relations that are called coincidences. What if some of them should not be coincidence?" -- Charles H. Fort, writer, 1933
Immanuel Velikovsky: On Prediction in Science .
In order to bring into proper focus the significance of correct prediction in science, I offer at the start a short survey of the most celebrated cases, and it is not by chance that almost all of them come from the domain of astronomy. These cases are spectacular and, with one or two exceptions, are well known.The names Philolaos, Aristarchos, and Seleukos ring a bell. What was it that Copernicus discovered again?
The story of scientific “clairvoyance” in modern astronomy starts with Johannes Kepler, a strange case and little known. When Galileo, using the telescope he had built after the model of an instrument invented by a Danish craftsman, discovered the satellites circling Jupiter, Kepler became very eager to see the satellites himself and begged in letters to have an instrument sent to Prague; Galileo did not even answer him. Next, Galileo made two more discoveries, but before publishing them in a book, he assured himself of priority by composing cryptograms, not an uncommon procedure in those days: statements written in Latin were deliberately reduced to the letters of which the sentences were composed, or, if the author of the cryptogram so wished, the letters were re-assembled to make a different sentence. The second way was chosen by Galileo when he thought he had discovered that Saturn is “a triple” planet, having observed appendices on both sides of Saturn, but not having discerned that they were but a ring around the planet, a discovery reserved for Christian Huygens in 1659, half a century later. Kepler tried to read the cryptogram of letters recombined into a non-revealing sentence, but did not succeed. He offered as his solution: “Salute, fiery twin, offspring of Mars” (“Salve, umbistineum geminatum Martia proles” ). Of this, Arthur Koestler in The Sleepwalkers (1959) wrote (p. 377): “He [Kepler] accordingly believed that Galileo had discovered two moons around Mars.” But Galileo did not discover them and they remained undiscovered for more than two hundred fifty years. Strangely, Koestler passes over the incident without expressing wonder at Kepler’s seeming prescience.
As I have shown in Worlds in Collision (“The Steeds of Mars”) the poets Homer and Virgil knew of the trabants of Mars, visualized as his steeds, named Deimos (Terror) and Phobos (Rout). Kepler referred to the satellites of Mars as being “burning” or “flaming” , the same way the ancients had referred to the steeds of Mars.
Ancient lore preserved traditions from the time when Mars, Ares of the Greeks, was followed and preceded by swiftly circling satellites with their blazing manes. “When Mars was very close to the earth, its two trabants were visible. They rushed in front of and around Mars; in the disturbances that took place, they probably snatched some of Mars’ atmosphere, dispersed as it was, and appeared with gleaming manes” (Worlds in Collision, p. 230).
Next, Galileo made the discovery that Venus shows phases, as the Moon does. This time he secured his secret by locking it in a cryptogram of a mere collection of letters—so many A’s, so many B’s, and so on. Kepler again tried to read the cryptogram and came up with the sentence: “Macula rufa in Jove est gyratur mathem etc.” which in translation reads: “There is a red spot in Jupiter which rotates mathematically.”
The wondrous thing is: how could Kepler have known of the red spot in Jupiter, then not yet discovered? It was discovered by J. D. Cassini in the 1660’s, after the time of Kepler and Galileo. Kepler’s assumption that Galileo had discovered a red spot in Jupiter amazes and defies every statistical chance of being a mere guess. But the possibility is not excluded that Kepler found the information in some Arab author or some other source, possibly of Babylonian or Chinese origin. Kepler did not disclose what the basis of his reference to the red spot of Jupiter was — he could not have arrived at it either by logic and deduction or by sheer guesswork. A scientific prediction must follow from a theory as a logical consequence. Kepler had no theory on that. It is asserted that the Chinese observed solar spots many centuries before Galileo did with his telescope. Observing solar spots, the ancients could have conceivably observed the Jovian red spot, too. Jesuit scholars traveled in the early 17th century to China to study Chinese achievements in astronomy.
Kepler was well versed in ancient writings, also knowledgeable in medieval Arab authors; for instance, he quoted Arzachel to support the view that in ancient times Babylon must have been situated two and a half degrees more to the north, and this on the basis of the data on the duration of the longest and shortest days in the year as registered in ancient Babylon.1
Jonathan Swift, in his Gulliver’s Travels (1726) tells of the astronomers of the imaginary land of the Laputans who asserted they had discovered that the planet Mars has “two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the center of the primary planet exactly three of [its] diameters, and the outermost Five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one-and-a-half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the center of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation that influences the other heavenly bodies.”
About this passage a literature of no mean number of authors grew in the years after 1877, when Asaph Hall, a New England carpenter turned astronomer, discovered the two trabants of Mars. They are between five and ten miles in diameter. They revolve on orbits close to their primary and in very short times: actually the inner one, Phobos, makes more than three revolutions in the time it takes Mars to complete one rotation on its axis; and were there intelligent beings on Mars they would need to count two different months according to the number of satellites (this is no special case — Jupiter has twelve moons and Saturn ten*), and also observe one moon ending its month three times in one Martian day. It is a singular case in the solar system among the natural satellites that a moon completes one revolution before its primary finishes one rotation.
Swift ascribed to the Laputans some amazing knowledge—actually he himself displayed, it is claimed, an unusual gift of foreknowledge. The chorus of wonderment can be heard in the evaluation of C. P. Olivier in his article “Mars” written for the Encyclopedia Americana (1943):
“When it is noted how very close Swift came to the truth, not only in merely predicting two small moons but also the salient features of their orbits, there seems little doubt that this is the most astounding ’prophecy’ of the past thousand years as to whose full authenticity there is not a shadow of doubt.”
The passage in Kepler is little known—Olivier, like other writers on the subject of Swift’s divination, was unaware of it, and the case of Swift’s prophecy appears astounding: the number of satellites, their close distances to the body of the planet, and their swift revolutions are stated in a book printed one hundred and fifty years to the year before the discovery of Asaph Hall.