Good Math/Bad Math

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Physics in an Electric Universe

As I mentioned in my post earlier, some of the best examples of bad math are really examples of no math. One of my favorite examples of this kind of bogosity is the Electric Universe. The Electric Universe is fun, both because of the utter bizzareness of its ideas, and the fact that it's not just a single crackpot spewing it, but rather a whole active community of crackpots working together. So there are multiple different threads of it - a veritable cornucipia of of lunacy!

There are two main threads to the EU gibberish: the mythology, and the physics. Let's take a look at the physics. Here's one version of the fundamental physics of the electric universe:
The Electric Universe takes a simplifying leap by unifying the nuclear forces, magnetism and gravity as manifestations of a near instantaneous electrostatic force. Instead of being "spooked" by the concept of action-at-a-distance, like most physicists this century, the Electric Universe accepts it as an observational fact. Anyone who has tried to force two like poles of magnets together has demonstrated action-at-a-distance. "Electromagnetic" radiation is then simply the result of an oscillating electrostatic force.

At the level of the atom, the Electric Universe model takes a lead from the work of Ralph Sansbury, an independent New York researcher. Foremost is the simple recognition of the basic electrical nature of matter and the primacy of the electrostatic force** in matter interactions. It also rests upon the simple assumption that the proton, neutron and electron are composed of smaller charged particles, orbiting each other in a classical sense in stable, resonant orbits. That is, the energy exchanged between those sub-particles in elastic deformation during each orbit sums to zero. Being charged, the sub-particles interact via the electrostatic force. A simple calculation shows that the sub-particles that form an electron must travel at a speed far in excess of the speed of light - some 2.5 million light-years per second, or from here to the far side of the Andromeda galaxy in one second! So the electrostatic force must act at a speed which is almost infinite on our scale for the electron to be stable. It is the stable orbital resonances of these sub-particles, both within and between particles that give rise to the phenomena of protons, neutrons, electrons and atoms. Other denizens of the particle "zoo" are merely transient resonant states of the same charged sub-particles. The so-called "creation" of matter from energetic photons is an illusion in which pre-existing matter is reorganized into new resonant states that give the impression that a particle has suddenly materialized. Antimatter is a misnomer since it too is formed from the same sub-particles as "normal" matter except that the total charge is mirrored. Matter cannot be created or annihilated.
Now, how's that for a wacky idea?

The thing to note is that it alludes to some math, but nowhere can you actually find a full, detailed presentation of it. In fact, you can go through all of the books, conferences, papers, websites, and pamphlets from the EU folks, and you'll never see so much as one equation, or one actual mathematically defined relationship. They make arguments like "the simple assumption that the proton, neutron, and electron are composed of smaller charged particles, orbiting each other in a classical sense in stable, resonant orbits", completely ignoring the fact that such a claim is (a) meaningless, and (b) unsupportable.

Then they try to build on the first meaningless claim, again alluding to math which is never, ever shown: "A simple calculation shows that the sub-particules... must travel at a speed far in excess of the speed of light...". It's a simple calculation, but we will never show it to you, no matter how many times you ask!

I also really, really love the bit about how "spooky action at a distance" is obviously real, because you can see it when you play with magnets! It's obvious that that's an instantaneously transmitted force! All of modern physics is wrong, because I can feel it with my hands!
Quantum Theory

For the first time the highly successful quantum theory gains a physical explanation in terms of resonant motion of charged particles, mediated by a near-instantaneous electrostatic force. A quantum electron orbit is one in which the exchange of energy between all of the sub-particles in the nucleus of an atom and those in an orbiting electron, sum to zero over the orbit. Exchange of energy takes the form of distortion of a particle to form an electrostatic dipole or a move to a new resonant orbit.
Yep, the electric universe guys can explain quantum physics in a way that's intuitively easy to understand! Of course, the fact that quantum physics has a spectacular amount of complex mathematics supporting it, which make precise predictions, none of which are explained by the EU handwaving is unimportant. Because it just makes sense! (Now would be a good time to quote Feinman: "anyone who claims to understand quantum theory is either lying or crazy")
Relativity Theory Einstein's Special Theory was designed to define simultaneity in a universe where the fastest force or signal was restricted to the measured speed of detection of light from a distant source. With an electrostatic force of near-infinite speed acting between the sub-particles of all matter, relativity theory reduces to classical physics. This leaves open the question of what we are measuring when we determine the speed of light. The speed of light in galactic terms is exceedingly slow, requiring about 150,000 years to cross our galaxy. However, the astronomer Halton Arp has shown that the redshifts of entire galaxies are quantized which requires some form of near instantaneous, galaxy-wide communication at the sub-atomic level. There are now several reported experiments that demonstrate faster than light effects. With the Special Theory gone, and the universe in communication with its parts effectively in real-time, there can be no time travel and space and time are independent. Common sense has always suggested that this was so. Einstein's General Theory was devised to explain gravity. It attempts to discard the observed action-at-a-distance of gravity by proposing a counter-intuitive warping of space in the presence of massive objects. This unnecessary complication of space is then added to the current metaphysical concepts of what constitutes the mass of an object. But space must also "warp" at near infinite speed to produce the observed planetary orbits. Common sense, observation, and parsimony of hypotheses all suggest that the electrostatic model of gravity (see below) is superior. There is now experimental evidence from gravity measurements at the time of a total solar eclipse that supports the Electric Universe model and discounts the General Relativity model.
Yeah, Einstein had it all wrong. Quantized redshifts of galaxies means that all of the particles in the galaxy are communicating instantaneously! Relatavistic explanations of gravity are just garbage!
Einstein's famous mathematical expression E=mc2, equating energy and mass is known by almost everyone. However, most textbooks go on to use the word "matter" in place of "mass." But nowhere has it been shown that mass and matter are interchangeable. In fact, we are entirely ignorant of what constitutes the mass of an object. So it is inadmissible to imply that energy and matter are interchangeable. The ultimate expression of this idea led to the nonsense of the big bang. It seems simpler and more sensible to suggest that both nuclear and chemical energy is released or absorbed by the rearrangement of the resonant orbits of charged particles. It is then common sense to suggest that mass is the measured response of a system of charged particles to an external electrostatic force. The more massive an object, the more the electrostatic force contributes to the elastic deformation of its protons, neutrons and electrons, rather than their acceleration.
This paragraph is one of my favorite bits of crackpottery ever. It's all just "common sense" and "simple". Because the EU guys can't understand relativity and how it defines mass and energy, it must be junk. It's not clear and obvious, like the idea that mass is actually the "elastic deformation" of the orbital systems of sub-nuclear particles that make up matter.

Of course, we can't describe how that works mathematically. And we can't predict how things will behave. But that's no problem, because it's just common sense that it's right. Who needs all that equation nonsense when common sense will do?
This is the phenomenon seen in particle accelerators and conventionally attributed to relativistic effects. But relativity reduces to classical physics in a universe where the electrostatic force has near-infinite speed. The first question to be asked is - if it is that simple, why hasn't it been thought of long ago? The answer seems to lie in the propensity for mathematical theory to supersede common sense and observation. There is also a problem of language when mathematicians attempt to provide real meaning for their symbols.
And finally, the coup de grace of this essay: of course we don't waste our time on math. The reason that this obvious stuff was never noticed before was because all of those supposedly brilliant scientists were wasting their times on "the propensity for mathematical theory to supersede common sense"!

Now that my friends, is truly bad math.


  • This reminds me very much of the Intelligent Design approach, strangely enough. Not explicitly because of the lack of maths (we know they're ultra keen on bamboozling with big numbers) but the general approach:

    1. The first thing you publish is the book, with explanations for the layman. And no science.
    2. The second thing you publish is the press release, with reference to the book. And no science.
    3. Goto 1.

    An emergent property of this system is the implicit step 4: "Profit!!".

    According to Wikiquote the statement was from Bohr, but I've seen it attributed to a lot of people.

    "And anyone who thinks they can talk about quantum theory without feeling dizzy hasn't yet understood the first word about it." — Niels Bohr

    By Anonymous Ithika, at 7:28 PM  

  • The strange thing about math is that even though it seems complicated, it's all based on a logical system of axioms (for example the Peano Axioms, however there are several possible beginnings). If you can prove that one of the axioms does not hold for the system in question, it means the whole thing falls like a tower of cards, but the axioms are so strong that this does not happen. If you argue instead that logic does not apply, you can't construct an argument for yourself, but this argument doesn't apply either, so you wind up back at square one.

    By Anonymous Dan, at 11:07 PM  

  • When faced with this kind of thing, I'm always remind of this:

    In this case, Chiu is a more obvious crack pot but still, it boils down to the same thing.

    By Anonymous Chris, at 11:48 PM  

  • Do you think that the trend to teach K-12 "physics" without math might be contributing to this?

    Here is a school textbook, dubbed "Conceptual Physics"

    It's popular with many people I know, precisely because there is very little math involved. The reviewers just rave about it with very few dissenters. Perhaps the "Electric Universe" is just a few feet down on this slippery slope?

    By Blogger Myrtle, at 10:39 AM  

  • ithika:

    You're exactly right, and that's one of the over-arching themes of the badmath part of this blog: the crackpots, whether they're creationists, IDists, therapeutic touch nuts, electric universe catastrophists, alt-med wacko - they all use the same basic approach. And even if you don't know much of anything about the field of science that allegedly underlies their argument, you can always recognize it by the way they handwave their way around the math of it.

    They can make scientific sounding arguments - the EU guys certainly make some of their stuff sound scientific - but the emptiness of it is always ultimately revealed by the math.

    By Blogger MarkCC, at 11:09 AM  

  • myrtle:

    I don't think that textbooks like the one you cite are the cause of crackpotism like the EU gibberish; but I do think that it's a serious problem. So many schools do a lousy job of teaching math, and then try to cut math out of other subjects because all of their students stink at it/hate it - and you end up with people who lack the ability to use math in simple ways, much less to actually recognize when someone is throwing around mathematical terms in order to confuse them.

    For a personal example, my older brother is a very smart guy. But he's not a math person, he's a musician. In our high school, there were a few really good math teacher, but they were assigned to the math classes for the gifted math students - the teachers that taught the regular math classes were, to be generous, a pack of morons.

    So here's a guy - a classical composer, an amazing writer, incredibly smart - and when there's a 20% off sale at the local Kmart, he literally can't figure out how much something will cost with the discount without a sheet of paper to a bizzarely over-complicated procedure - because they never taught him *why* or *how* anything worked; just some very mechanical procedures. The mechanics were enough to make him do adequately on standardized tests - but not to use math in a realistic way for even the most trivial tasks.

    By Blogger MarkCC, at 11:16 AM  

  • I'm reminded of a friend in my junior high days who couldn't understand that when a store has more than 100% off, they're supposed to pay you for taking it away.

    "They had people use calculators and stuff."

    That was the point where, given a horizonal surface, I would bury my face in it.

    By Blogger Bronze Dog, at 2:45 PM  

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