Friday, February 22, 2008

Null Physics, non-physics

The other day, I was browsing Discover magazine. I’m not a big fan of Discover. I’m all for popularization of science, but I’m for good popularization.

Anyways, I came across this ad for a book called Our Undiscovered Universe. The ad has “crackpot" written all over it. It starts by decrying the state of modern physics, especially String Theory, the Big Bang Theory, and the Standard Model. It goes on to say that this book, and its theory of Null Physics will fix this, because it’s willing to ask ultimate why questions. And then we get a glimpse of the claims in the book.

Energy is a three-dimensional substance, and its most basic unit is time-distance2.

...
Seriously?!
Is he trying to outdo the E=mc3 claim that the Autodynamics fools make? Uh, the units for energy are [kg m2/s2], not [s m2]. (Didn't he know?) The units are not even close to working out. In what sense is he talking about the same thing? Perhaps he’s saying that there’s some conversion factor between the units. But then it wouldn’t be energy, it would be energy times a conversion factor. Additional hint: energy is not a “substance” unless you’re a woo.

The underlying problem with this ad is the entire idea of publishing a book with your new theory, and then advertising it in a popular science magazine. The correct method to start a scientific revolution is not to publish a book for the general public. You publish in a peer-reviewed a science journal first. Otherwise, how do we distinguish you from the crackpots? We don’t, that’s how.

The author, Terry Witt, said the following in the JREF forums.

Unfortunately, self-published physics books are invariably the product of uniformed [sic], and in many cases, positively deranged individuals. Just as unfortunately, peer-reviewed journals strenuously reject ideas contrary to the reigning paradigms. So rather than fight the battle a little bit at a time, I decided to wait until I had some convincing results and published the results of my work from 1978 to 2004 all at once. So far it’s gone well with the individuals who actually read the book, but after reading Lee Smolin’s new book, “The Trouble With Physics” I fear I might be tilting at windmills with regard to the theoretical physics community.

Beep-beep-beep-beep! My crackpot alarm just went off. He apparently spent 25 years working on this, and never previously let it stand up to scrutiny. I highly doubt that Lee Smolin or Peter Woit would approve of bypassing the physics community. They're real physicists, you know? Terry Witt knew BIG SCIENCE would reject his ideas, and not because his ideas are wrong. You just know he’ll be paranoid that his critics are all tools of string theory.

One other question; does JREF have an "official" stance on the status of string theory as a viable science, or is it just a variety of opinions?

Right on cue! And this is not an isolated example. He repeatedly asked each of the forum users what they thought of string theory.

If that made you hungry for more head-banging, you'll be interested to know he has a website. The author doesn't really seem to have the qualifications for this. None of the reviews are by physicists. There are a few selected excerpts, and it looks like nonsense.

Totality is the simultaneous product of infinite smallness and infinite largeness, exhibiting their combined dimensional content. Infinite smallness lies external to the dimensions of infinite largeness. It is the only way the two can coexist as equivalent paths to nonexistence. What this means is that the space of our universe is the boundary surface of its own totality:

He makes a bunch of unconfirmed, and perhaps already falsified predictions. I am not impressed. Unsupported claims are a dime a dozen.

To be fair, it is obvious that Terry Witt has some knowledge of physics, perhaps more than me (Any other physicists want to jump in?). But what he doesn’t seem to have knowledge of is science, critical thinking, and how not to look like a crackpot. He would rather appear “positively deranged” than ask for other scientists’ input. A good theory must stand on its own merit. It does not require spending thousands of dollars on advertisements to shout out to the easily mislead Discover readership. Of course, for a crackpot theory, there's no other way.

Update: There's also a little discussion about this on the BAUT forum.

Update 2: Ben Monreal has a full review of Our Undiscovered Universe, and Blake Stacey has further comments.

27 comments:

intrinsicallyknotted said...

Doesn't he know? The only way to get an unscientific "theory" past BIG SCIENCE is to pretend it comes from Genesis!

Infinite smallness and infinite largeness? Boundary surface of its own totality? What do those even mean? I almost think he's trying to borrow terminology from topology or something, but most likely he's picking whatever jargon sounds good.

miller said...

Well, I suspect that he's talking about an equation that he had on the same page in which he states 1^M = 1^M/inf^3 * inf^3. There's all kinds of bad math in there!

Blake Stacey said...

Here I was thinking that Smolin was doing physics no good at all, but if he's succeeded in making the crackpots give up and forsake the whole academic community, he might be performing a valuable service.

Anonymous said...

Any comments on this article and its references? http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=337#more-337

miller said...

On first glance: If Heim hadn't avoided peer-review so much, his theory might have fared better (or worse). As is, it looks like most people find it incomprehensible. An incomprehensible theory sort of defeats the point of a theory.

Anonymous said...

Miller, you said:

"I’m not a big fan of Discover. I’m all for popularization of science, but I’m for good popularization."

What would you recommend instead?

miller said...

I'm not the right person to ask, as I do not read that many magazines.

Blake Stacey said...

Heim's "theory" is a run-of-the-mill heap of crackpot jibberish concealed with esoteric jargon. Its predictions for the masses of elementary particles are off by sixteen standard deviations; the particles for which they claim to predict masses are now known not to be fundamental at all; its proponents make up words and throw them around without regard to meaning or mathematics. They've even claimed that the existence of order in the universe is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics — it's like they're reading out of the creationist playbook.

Yes, just one of many bad ideas uncritically promoted by New Scientist magazine.

Blake Stacey said...

People who care about such things have spoken well of American Scientist, for what that's worth.

ShawnB said...

I don't claim to be an expert in cosmology, but have read some the first chapters of the book, the excerpts online and a few white papers...he seems to have some ideas that are worth a further look.
His new site has some of them: http://www.ourundiscovereduniverse.com/pages_whitepapers.php

I also checked - he will be published in an academic journal later this year and has several Technology institutes looking at his work right now.

It may not be the full package at a glance, but the big bang sure isn’t. It’s worth an open minded review in the name of science regardless of the advertising used.

miller said...

I've already seen excerpts. Did you read the review by Monreal? He does not seem to have ideas that are worth a further look.

I'm sorry, but I like to reserve my open-mindedness for things that are less bunk. If I read every book like this, I'd soon become quite the hardened cynic!

Anonymous said...

I am really dissappointed that supposedly "good" magazines have blindly accepted the ad for this book. In my case, I am an Astronomy subscriber, and it has been plastered all over their mag the past few months. While Discover has been a little too eager--in my view--to dumb down science for the sake of selling subs, I am really disappointed that Astronomy would bite at this bait. I know they need to see adverts to make money, but let's draw the line somewhere.

As for the book and theory, as soon as I read "the big bang is a hoax" my alarms went off. As others have commented, true scientific knowledge is testable and must be subject to review by other experts. I remember once that the great sci-fi writer Issac Asimov said that people put too much stock in "theories". He said that theories in science are merely intelligent guesses and have no validity until rigorously tested and replicated by others and that they fit the facts.

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows the universe is based on that final scene of "Men in Black"...Geez!

Ian said...

Also see my review at http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~fiski/ouu_review.html.
The flaws of this crackpot book are many and include:
Redefining the concept of infinity as a length with magnitude.
Defining a line as a series of points written as zeros, treating them as numbers so that they add up to zero and then treating the number zero as a point again!
A really bad atomic model "proving" that a electron orbiting a proton has a ground state that it cannot decay from by creating a new physical law.
Using the high school description of a neutron as a proton plus an electron and not realizing that this is just his atomic model!
Postulating that galaxies have "galactic cores" which are super massive objects that are not quite black holes and not realizing that the centre of the Milky Way is well observed. These recycle stars into hydrogen. Oddly enough astronomers have not noticed dozens of stars vanishing from the galactic centre in the many images that they have taken over the last few decades.

Conclusion: Bad mathematics and even worse physics.

Brian Phipps said...

I understand that one, which is convinced that things that are real could only come from the academics, would most likely reject any ideas that come from "the average person". I think that this is wrong though. If you subscribe to evolution, you then have to accept that originally ideas came from around the campfire or during the time that an unfortunate pre-historic man would have to wait at the top of a tree so that the animal who chased him up can loose interest and leave. I think it is wrong to think that good ideas can only come out of schools and from the graduates that they produce. I don't think that getting a piece of paper says anything concreat other than "gee, I'm not confident in myself enough to go about life without it because I am too affraid of not conforming correctly". Conforming doesn't produce genius. The real genius lurks outside of the circles not intending to ever get noticed and bring a great name to him/herself. Silly people, people that lack the ability to have an open mind, won't ever allow real genius to come out just so that it could say "I got this interesting idea. Would you mind if I told it to you?". Real genius doesn't need reassurance by people that think that they understand but actually don't have the capacity to ever comprehend the full of the great ideas that are out there. The meaning that I get from the word skeptic is: Oh my, I'm affraid of what I could never truelly understand. I wish that I had more smarts but since I don't, I'll just attack the ones that bring forth what doesn't make sense to me. Now I'm not saying that I believe this "Null Physics" book. I've not read it. I'm saying that who would be the first to throw out the label "crackpot"? Maybe a true crackpot would be the onl;y person to do that. No one as of yet has a real grasp of everything. Until an ability to understand something like a theory of everything is proven as a law, maybe skeptisism is the last thing that the world needs if it's trying to persue this goal of attaining a complete idea.

miller said...

I didn't say everyone has to conform their ideas. I said that trying to bypass the peer review process by going straight to a highly advertised book is not good practice. Lee Smolin and Peter Woit might be considered nonconformists, for boldly questioning String Theory, and backing up their views with evidence. Terry Witt is a whole different game (and not exactly an "average man" either).

Your view (correct me if I'm wrong) is that the fundamental obstacle to truth is that we don't have enough good ideas. We're not open enough to all the various places from which good ideas may come. My view is a little different. I think the fundamental obstacle to truth is the discernment of truth from non-truth. What use is a good idea if we can't tell it from the bad ideas?

Sara said...

Here is an open-minded review of Null Physics. Eveyone in the scientific community seems very upset over the book. Some readers have even spent their valuable time tracking down Mr. Witt online and posing reviews every time they see his name. I wonder why? Is it because Witt has discovered something important they don't want the world to read about? Dr. Morse's review is very fair. Every review should bring out the postives and the negatives. He also does not use the word "crackpot." I've never featured out what a crackpot is anyway.

He also has some very interesting points about the Randi on his web site as well.

Sara

OUR UNDISCOVERED UNIVERSE BY TERENCE WITT

BOOK REVIEW BY MELVIN L MORSE MD FAAP

SPIRITUALSCIENTIFIC.COM

Just when you thought you were starting to understand quantum physics, here comes Terence Witt with Our Undiscovered Universe in which he challenges virtually all the accepted assumptions underlying our current perception of reality. Terence Witt’s Universe is infinite, timeless (no beginning and no end), with no Big Bang, no accelerating galaxies away from the center, and no sub-sub atomic particles such as quarks. Instead, he postulates that the Universe consists of nothing! This is why he calls his theory “Null Physics”. But not just empty space, not that kind of nothing. Terence Witt’s view of the Universe is that is consists entirely of curved space, gravity, and energy forming a complex balance of matter and anti-matter, energy and dark energy, all adding up to nothing at all.

I love this sort of book as it forces scientists to re-examine their most cherished assumptions. As a physician-consciousness researcher, I have used the quantum non-local reality physical reality model as the best fit to understand our current scientific concepts of consciousness. However, Witt’s book forces all of us to re-examine everything that we believe to be real. I am not qualified to do the math needed to critically evaluate his book, but my best guess is that ultimately he will be proven wrong. He is so thoughtful and thought provoking, however, that the book is well worth it for the hours of discussion it has provoked between me, my wife, and friends.

It is clear, well organized and simply written. It is often funny. You don’t need to be a mathematician to understand his basic concepts. He presents a broad comprehensive theory of reality which incorporates subatomic reality, ordinary reality, and the latest understandings of astronomy and cosmology. He has great lines such as describing modern physicists as being so astonished by their experimental findings that they have become “infused with a hysterical mysticism”.

He does a great job of summarizing the basic principles of quantum physics in one of the best and succinct presentations I have read for the non-physicist. He accurately points out the many flaws in the current scientific model and he nicely outlines the mainstream understanding of the difficulties in creating a coherent unified theory of reality given the constraints of the current paradigm. Let’s face it, there is plenty of room within modern theoretical physics for Witt’s Null Physics, given that many no longer feel the Big Bang is a viable theory and mainstream physicists state the Universe is made mostly of “dark energy” and “dark matter” and that we have no idea what they are.

His critics are legion, yet mainly consist of anonymous chat room “experts” and graduate level physicists who have not read his book. The substance of their criticism consists mainly of repetitively chanting “crack pot, crack pot” over and over again. Sort of a Lord of Flies meets the Internet gone really really bad. As Harold Bloom points out in The Lucifer Principle, “the most insubstantial things we call ideas . .can lead to the basest cruelties.” I have reviewed the websites of Witt’s critics and understand their concerns. These primarily young men are in the process of establishing themselves within their fields. It takes a sense of confidence and maturity to read Witt’s book which most people are going to completely disagree with. By challenging our basic beliefs, Witt forces a healthy re-examination of the fundamental assumptions of modern physics and a greater understanding of whatever model of reality we ultimately end up with.

I have written peer reviewed articles with theoretical physicists, and I showed the book to them. They hemmed and hawed, and muttered ridiculous, and yet ended with a healthy respect for what Witt is trying to accomplish. One internationally recognized theoretical physicist told me that “he is totally wrong, really doesn’t get it at all. However, if he is right, he is on the right track, I would work on his math, some of it needs complete revisions, but for a first effort, not bad, not bad at all.” It is telling that he declined me to allow his name to be used, given the controversy the book has created. Scientific American has recently decided to refuse Witt’s advertisements for his book, a sad commentary of the power of the current Scientific Fundamentalist movement (see side bar). No one wants to offend them or they too will have to suffer an Internet onslaught of chanting science drones.

As a scientist who challenged the medical model of consciousness by documenting the near death experiences of children, I will always have a soft spot for intelligent outsiders who dare to take on the scientific status quo. My theories of consciousness are now well accepted enough that they have been replicated by other scientists, and published in the American Medical Association Medical Journals, the Lancet, and the New England Journal of Medicine. The United Nations recently launched a multi-medical center study of near death experiences, yet 25 years ago I was also dismissed as a crackpot.

Ultimately, I am not sure if Mr. Witt’s theories will stand the test of time. It is not my field, and stranger things have happened in the history of science. However, I do know I learned a lot from reading his book, and it stimulated me to rethink my own theories of reality.

miller said...

"Eveyone in the scientific community seems very upset over the book."
Well, it could be because of an evil conspiracy to silence good ideas. Or it could be that some of us love our neighbors, and therefore don't like our neighbors to be fooled by clearly bad ideas.

"I am not qualified to do the math needed to critically evaluate his book, but my best guess is that ultimately he will be proven wrong."
Those who are able to critically evaluate the book, find it to be wrong, whether they look at it in detail, or just give it a cursory glance.

"You don’t need to be a mathematician to understand his basic concepts."
However, it seems that if you are a mathematician, or even moderately knowledgeable at math, then his basic concepts are clearly wrong. For example, there exists no consistent set of mathematical rules under which infinity/infinity = 1.

"By challenging our basic beliefs, Witt forces a healthy re-examination of the fundamental assumptions of modern physics and a greater understanding of whatever model of reality we ultimately end up with."
The "healthy re-examination" and "greater understanding" would be somewhat undercut by how deeply wrong Witt is. To quote Monreal's review, "Trying to find sensible physics insights in this book is like trying to glean advice about aerospace engineering from a hypnotized UFO abductee."

If Morse or anyone else was stimulated by Null Physics, well then good for them. However, I think it would have been vastly better to instead read and be stimulated by any of the various popular physics books out there which are not completely wrong.

Of interest: another counterpoint to Morse's book review.

IBY said...

Wow, you were right, that is the same one. ^_^

Anonymous said...

I read the book and found it fascinating. However, there are errors such as trying to ignore entropy.

Ian said...

FYI: The Sara who posted the review is probably Sara Lien a PR director for Bro Books - the publistists hired by Terence Witt.

Anonymous said...

God I wish I knew the things you gujs know.I know no math and no equasions,but the stuff you are talking about is interesting.Is there any way for me to get a book that would explain this Null Physics to me in non scientific words? Maybe if one of you gujs could explain what is it al about and what is wrong with equasions he put in the book.?? Help!

miller said...

You might try Monreal's review, which actually goes into the details of the book.

Brad said...

Is not the ad hominum (sp) fallacy true. Interesting that the use of slander and words like "crackpot" are part of the central detailed review. It is not logical to link the man to his work as outlined as the first option in attacking "crackpots". I will have a look at this book with an open mind. As an American scientist I see a lot of the comments seem rather stuffy, sort of pompous, more than a hint of imperialistic thinking. Is it all or none? Perhaps there is some insight here.
Perhaps not. I am glad we have the freedom to express our scientific speech. Keep in mind that academics are not always scientists and scientists are not always academics. In a way, as P.A.M. Dirac put forth, the instinct of elegance is a good starting point for scientific theory. Perhaps those who are angered by this intrusion to their territorial imperitive.(rather ugly behavior and thinking) are a clue to a more elegant explanation of our universe. It would be nice to see a review without the ego of an angry child, perhaps afraid that he is not the king of the hill. After all the universe does not care what a REAL physicist is. That is just a sad and very small thought compared to the truth of it all at the end of knowing. EGO and the mob mentallity of the current fashion in science are not logical descriptors of new and perhaps error ridden fresh ideas. Thank God for scientific rebellion.

miller said...

While calling someone a crackpot can be considered an ad hominem argument, in this case it was not so much an argument in itself as it is a conclusion based on other arguments. And while being outside the scientific establishment does not bar a person from having good ideas, it does mean that all the bad ideas out there (which are much more numerous than good ideas) are no longer filtered out. People with bad ideas tend to take advantage of this fact.

Brad said...

Miller: I think that is a very reasonable statement. I also believe their is great value in not having such a rigid walled city of science. After all that is just not fun and as a joking Nobelist once mused to me...Fun may be the most important part of science.
As for name calling therapy I suggest a higher road:
"Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave when you are called"
L. Szilard:Ten Commandments for Scientists.
Cheers mate,
Brad

Anonymous said...

Terry Witt! He is totally a crack-pot. He tried to get a teaching degree and did his student teaching with me in Evanston! I refused to pass him, although the school insisted on giving him a "C". Weird man... I see he is still at it...