Incredible Pseudoscience

By Donald E. Simanek

While culling my library I found that I had collected quite a few kooky, cranky and pseudoscientific books over the years. Most came to me directly from authors who sent them at their own expense. Some were given to me by librarians who had also received them free, and couldn't bring themselves to catalogue and shelve them. Some were stumbled upon at used-book sales.

When we judge the author of an eccentric book about science to be a kook or crackpot, that is not to be understood as an argument for rejecting his ideas. It is a conclusion one makes after looking critically at those ideas and judging them to be mistaken, misguided, illogical and perversely at odds with well-established and well-tested scientific knowledge. This judgment ought to be made in the context of the known and solidly established science of the author's own period in history. It would not be fair to disparage Isaac Newton's work because he knew nothing of quantum mechanics. No one did at that time.

Certain common themes are evident in these books. The authors seem motivated by specific ideas of mainstream physics that they just can't philosophically accept. Bodies acting on each other without touching. The existence of a vacuum. Theories about things we cannot see with our unaided senses—things that seem to defy everyday common sense. Complicated, mathematical theories. Relativity theory. Quantum Mechanics. The "big bang". Not only don't they understand these things, they stubbornly refuse to even try to understand them.

Not all these books are equally kooky. Some may have merit in spite of flaws. But all have the common feature of trying to replace some or all of standard physics with something else, more to the liking of the author.

Perhaps it's time to re-read these little-known books and give them brief reviews. But for now here's a bare bones listing of some of them.

Arzoumanian, Alexander. Beyond Physics. A Velocity Theory. Persepolis Press. 1991.

Ether, time, space, the libido field, the "Big Bang", neutron stars and evolution are but a few of the subjects touched upon.

Webb, Edwin Yates, Jr. Origin of the Universe and the Secret of Light and Magnetism. Mark E. Foster, 1998.

Webb's new theories are about the creation of the universe, light, the electric field, matter, atomic theory, gravitation and God. Bob Schadewald, a fellow student of eccentric science, used to tell me that a sure sign of kookiness is when a person highlights or underlines his library books profusely, and the kookiest even have a color code for this highlighting with a key to the colors on a flyleaf. Well, Webb's own printed book is profusely underlined throughout, whatever that indicates.

Boldyreva, L. B. and N. B. Sotina. A Theory of Light Without Special Relativity? Moscow: Logos, 1999. Translated from Russian by Michael Boldyrev.

The authors propose a physical vacuum with properties. Particles like photons are vortices in this vacuum. An alternative to conventional relativity theory. Sir William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) proposed, in 1867 a theory that atoms were ether vortex tubes that could be knotted in various ways. This was developed by mathematician P. G. Tait. The idea was later abandoned when Maxwell's field theory replaced such concrete models with a more abstract model. But the tantalizing idea of a structured ether still lives in the minds of some independent thinkers.

Johnson, Crisfield. The One Great Force, the cause of gravitation, planetary motion, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and other natural phenomena. Breed & Lent, 1868.

The title just about says it all. The title page has this note, PROPOSITION: The One great Force of the Material Universe is the Self-Repulsion of Caloric, acting on the Inertia of Ordinary Matter.

Reber, Grote. Endless, Boundless, Stable Universe. University of Tasmania Occasional Paper 9. 1977.

Postulates a universe infinite in all directions, having no beginning and no end in time. Such models were common in the mid 20th century, but never caught on in mainstream science. This version suffered from being based on limited astronomical observations, without much regard for other evidence.

Barnes, Thomas G. Physics of the Future, a Classical Unification of Physics. Institute for Creation Research, 1983.

Barnes held an earned physics degree from Brown University, which sets him apart from some of the other creators of controversial alternative physics. Barnes claims to expose problems with Einstein's relativity and with quantum mechanics, and proposes a program of research to correct them. This is a rare book of this sort, for it actually presents some equations. Barnes was part of a small group that advocated "common-sense physics", in which all physical models, including models of atoms and subatomic particles, must square with easily-understandable concrete models derived from everyday experience. That fact alone makes the whole enterprise suspect.

Kessler, Jacob. The Energy of Space: gravitation, mass-energy equivalance [sic], unified field, etc. Jacob Kessler, 1961.

Kessler, Jacob. Relativity and Space Ether. Jacob Kessler, 1968.

Kessler, Jacob. Basics in Physical Reality. Radiation: Electromagnetic Waves, Gravitational Waves, Mass, Matter, Inertia, Force. Jacob Kessler, 1972.

Kessler's books were self-published, paperbound, with plain yellow covers. Some misprints and typos were corrected by hand in each copy.

Moffat, John W. Reinventing Gravity, A Physicist Goes Beyond Einstein. Smithsonian Books (Collins, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers), 2008.

Moffat describes his "Modified Gravity Theory" (MOG) which he claims accomodates experimental data better than dark matter and dark energy. This is a well-written book which starts by looking at the history of our understanding of gravity, with chapters on standard classical theory and relativity theory, as well as other alternative gravity theories. His theory puts the observable universe in a larger unobservable uncaused universe in which time evolves in both the negative and positive directions (conserving energy and entropy), and the gravitational constant (G) is not constant in time, but the product of G and the speed of light (c) is constant. In the process, relativity theory is found wanting. Some features of this model are beyond direct experimental confirmation—a serious problem for any theory.

The book includes a bibliography and a helpful glossary.

Do not mistake Moffat for a run-of-the-mill kook. This is a serious and impressive attempt to rethink one of the most important problems of physics, a problem that affects nearly every aspect of physics and astrophysics—a rather daunting task for someone working nearly alone. Moffat has worked out the math, but this book is a non-mathematical treatment for the general reader.

Vizas, C. B. Cosmic Cyclones. A New, Revolutionary Picture of the Universe. Greenwich Book Publishers, 1956.

Another revival of the ether theory with ether wind and vortices.

Folsom, Gwendora. Love in Physics.

I found this curious book on a high shelf of uncatalogued books in the back room of a university library. It was typewritten and mimeographed, so it's unlikely that more than 50 were ever printed. It read like the standard college textbook by Sears and Zemansky, with all the usual topics and equations you'd find in any standard physics textbook. But there was one glaring difference. Everything that happens in physics was, according to Folsom, guided by "love waves". Over the years this whole shelf of uncatalogued books disappeared when that library was remodeled, and no one seemed to know where they went. A sad loss. I've been unable to find any information about the author. I'd love to peruse a copy of that incredible book again, now that I have more time for such things. On that same shelf was a German copy of Madame Blavatsky's Occult Chemistry with color pictures of the spiritual auras of atoms. I suspect, but cannot prove, that these books ended up in someone's private collection of kookiness.

Newtopia, Doctress. [Libby Hubbard, from the ZEGG (Zentrum für experimentelle Gesellschaftsgestaltung, or Center for Experimental Cultural Design), an ecovillage located on the outskirts of Bad Belzig, Germany, about 80 km (50 mi) south-west of Berlin.] Huggable Equations of Love: Lovolutationary Science in Arcologies.

I haven't seen this one, but I'd like to. Google "arcology" and see whether you can understand it. I can't. I wonder whether Gwendora Folsom ever heard of this.

Robertson ben Abraham, Kent. New Gravity. Bozo Faust, Project 2, 1960...1975.

You will learn from this small paperback that "Gravity is the 4th dimension, Electricity is the 5th dimension, and Magnetism is the 6th dimension." The back cover (printed upside down) has an out-of-context quote attributed to Richard Feynman: "I am unable to disqualify it." There are many impressive diagrams but no equations. This seems to be a longer version of his earlier "New Gravity, Einstein Monster" which its comic book publisher, Gary Arlington. describes as "The first real adult educational comic book." He adds "It's almost like he's trying to tell the world something and they won't listen." Being arrested for climbing the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971 didn't help Gary's credibility. Nor did his generous effort—sliding free copies of the comic book under the office doors of physics professors. Newspaper clippings and letters about his promotional efforts are included in the back of this book.

Eigil Rasmussen Matter and Gravity. Exposition Press, 1958.

This small book is frustrating. It does not develop its ideas in any systematic way, and uses apparently technical terms without ever defining them. A key idea seems to be that the luminiferous ether is real, but it does not sit still; it is contracting. Why? It just does. It apparently contracts toward masses, but where it originates is totally unclear. Another pervasive theme is waves and cycles in nature, which apparently account for all those things which are (or were in 1958) still puzzling (at least to Rasmussen).

Nowhere do we find any mathematical laws in all of this—no clear indication how these ideas might be tested experimentally. Clearly Rasmussen has no use for standard relativity theory or quantum mechanics. Reading this is about as unproductive as shoveling feathers or juggling eels. Try this sample from p. 27:

Beacuse the contracting ether's reaction potentials are spherical and finite, its containing reactions are greatest when the expansion pressures of containned waves are spherical, and least when they are concentrated in longitude. Because the latter reactions are to unbalanced expansions, their energies are displaced in time, relative to their causes. Their maximum reaction values are timed by the distance the expansions move, beyond the points of normal equality, to the point at which they are reflected back upon their origins as equalizing increases of the local converging field values.

That should make it perfectly clear. A bit later, p. 33 we read:

The displaced centripetal momenta are pulled toward the mass by reabsorption. But, before they can resolve into the new configuration their inertia causes a marginal fraction of directional momentum and energy to be released as a free force which can interact with local phenomena during the transition period...
Rimmer, Harry. (1890–1952) The Harmony of Science and Scripture. Eerdmans; 12th ed.(1947),

The "Lost Day in the Bible" urban legend is revived in this book, and this seems to be the source of the "modern" version seen in religious propaganda. It claims "scientific" evidence that the Biblical account in Joshua of the sun standing still for nearly a day. Rimmer credits "Sir Edwin Ball, the 'great British astronomer', who found that twenty-four hours had been lost out of solar time." Rimmer's version, embellished (updated) with a NASA and computer-calculation connection added, appeared in Fate, June 1973, p. 60, in a 'filler item' by Harry L. Miller. This version introduces Harold Hill, who had been telling this story at his speaking engagements. I have yet to track down the original reference to 'Astronomer Edwin Ball' (who was obviously not an astronomer whose fame has survived to this century), or to find just when Harold Hill hatched his version. Though I have communicated with Hill, he was evasive. A skeptical account may be found in Christian Herald, Nov 1972, p. 53, in an article by Dr. Wilson, its editor. An indignant response from Harold E. Hill appears in the January 1973 issue. A brief note, with no useful data, also appears in the Sept-Oct 1970 issue of The American Rationalist, p. 9.

Totten, C. A. L. Joshua's Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz, A Scientific Vindication. (Also includes When the Earth Turned Over by Howard B. Rand.) Destiny Publishers, 1968.

The Totten book was originally published in 1890. The Rand article was published in the November 1946 issue of Destiny magazine, three years before Emmanuel Velikovsky picked up the idea in his Worlds in Collision.

This is one source of the "Lost Day" urban legend that continues to pop up in new incarnations in newspapers and magazines today. See: The Lost day

Totten's book is a good example of how one can take a few tidbits of history, misapply a few unapplicable facts, manufacture evidence for a pre-conceived belief, and demonstrate a misunderstanding of both science and religion to fabricate a modern legend.

Hale, William Kenderick. Rod of Iron. Hale Research Foundation, 1954.

This is an incredible example of writing by an obvious kook, the most elaborate example of this genre I have ever seen. Each page is hand-drawn, with text hand-lettered. It mixes numerology, religion, and a thoroughly pathological view of the world. The author declares that he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. I have only seen volume 1 of this (found at a used-book sale) and would love to see volume 2 some time, to complete my education in weirdness. My suspicion is that there never was a volume 2.

Hoyle, Fred and N. Chandra Wiskramasinghe. Diseases from Space. Harper & Row, 1979.

Hoyle's credentials as a scientist were sound. But his book is in the category of an elaborate speculative hypothesis. An hypothesis is "scientific" in nature when it uses known science and does not seem to violate any fundamental scientific laws. Pseudoscience usually does violate fundamental laws, or violates known experimental facts. Usually both. Even good scientists can sometimes promote shaky hypotheses beyond their merits.

Mitchell, Edgar D. Psychic Exploration, a challenge for science. Edited by John White. Putnam's, 1974.

Edgar Mitchell was the 6th astronaut to walk on the moon. As this book shows, he has no other credentials touching on science. This book is an example of how a well-known public figure can, with the help of a professional writer, cash in on fame in one field with a book in another field.

Seiss, Joseph A. (1823-1904) The Great Pyramid. Steiner reprint, 1973.

A classic by a 'pyramidiot' who argues that the Egyptian builders of the Gizah pyramids built into their architecture a coded history of the world, past and future, as well as scientific constants we had no idea they even knew.

Taylor, John. Super Minds, a scientist looks at the paranormal. Warner Books, 1975.

This is an example of a gullible scientist (physicist John Taylor) being deluded by clever tricksters as well as being self-deluded. He concluded that some people have psychic powers that enable them to move objects by mind power, and to predict future events. He later admitted to being naive.

Waskin, Mel. Mrs. O'Leary's Comet! Academy Chicago Publishers, 1985.

This strange book postulates that a passing comet caused the great Chicago Fire of Oct 8, 1871. And we thought it was Mrs. O'Leary's cow. A classic example of data-mining, cherry-picking data, and shaky speculation in support of a dubious hypothesis.

Zölner, Johann Carl Friedrich. Transcendental Physics, An Account of Experimental Investigations from the Scientific Treatises of Johann Carl Friederich Zölner. Boston, Colby & Rich, 1888.

This is a classic example of self-delusion and credulity, written by an astrophysicist who fancied himself competent to study the physical manifestations of spirit mediums, particularly Henry Slade. Zölner was fascinated by mathematician's forays into four dimensional and higher dimensional geometries. He thought that the spirit world might be a fourth physical dimension and that spirit mediums had the ability to slip into the fourth dimension and return. Zölner had two rings made of different kinds of wood, and hoped Slade could take them into the fourth dimension during a seance and return with the rings linked. It was a clever experiment and would have been a good trick, but Slade couldn't do it. But Zölner still accepted Slade's other tricks as genuine evidence of an spirit world. For some credulous people, belief triumphs over hard evidence.

Witt, Terence. Our Undiscovered Universe: Introducing Null Physics the Science of Uniform and Unconditional Reality. 1977.

Terrence Witt was a retired businessman, not a physicist. But that didn't deter him from spending many years rewriting physics all by himself, from the ground up. When his work was finished he purchased space for full page ads for his book in magazines like Smithsonian, Scientific American, Discover, and Popular Science. The word "reality" in the title gives away his misguided purpose. Witt criticizes science for ignoring "Why?" questions, then proposes his own answers to them. This is a red flag, for real scientists know that we have no way to answer "Why?" questions, and any such "answers" are no more than unconfirmable speculation. (Science deals only with "how" questions, not "why" questions.) The book has impressive-looking equations, but they don't "add up", including silly assertions like declaring that ∞/∞ = 1 (infinity is not a number), and physical equations with totally inconsistent units. Interest in this book has died down by now. Reviewers of his book didn't hesitate to call it "kooky". Witt probably spent more to promote the book than he ever realized in sales. He called his theory "Null Physics", which seems appropriate to me. Witt has a website: Our Undiscovered Universe. See the review by Ben Monreal

The value of this book is indicated by the fact that it can now [2012] be bought online for one cent plus $3.99 shipping. It originally sold for $60.

Heisel, Carl Theodore. Mathematical and Geometrical Demonstrations Self-published, 1931.

Behold! The grand problem no longer unsolved: The circle squared beyond refutation.

"Mathematical and Geometrical Demonstrations by Carl Theodore Heisel: Disproving Numerous Theorems, Problems, Postulates, Corolleries, Axioms, and Propositions, with Ratios, Laws and Rules Hitherto Unknown in Mathematical and Geometrical Science, Naturally Growing Out of the Extraordinary and Significant Discoveries of a Lacking Link by Carl Theodore Faber, in the Demonstration of the World Renowned Pythagorean Problem Utterly Disproving Its Absolute Truth, Although Demonstrated as Such for 24 Centuries; and by this Discovery Establishing the Fact of the Existence of Perfect Harmony Between Arithmetic and Geometry as a Law of Nature, and Calculating to Settle Forever the Famous Dispute Between the Two Great Philosophical Schools." —From the title page.

Whenever mathematics or science declares something to be impossible, kooks come out of the woodwork to try to do it anyway. There's a rich history of such futile attempts to square the circle, duplicate the cube, trisect the angle and create perpetual motion. Such people used to be called "paradoxers". Heisel's classic book is an homage to round-off error. He rejects the "reality" of irrational numbers. Diagrams are cleverly distorted (faked) so they appear to demonstrate that the sides of all right triangles are in integer ratio. This book is seldom seen for less than $100 on the used-book market. This is just one of several books Heisel wrote on this subject.

Heisel's fuzzy geometry.

Carl Theodore Heisel (1852-?) acknowledges the earlier work of his namesake Carl Theodore Faber (1811-1887). Among Heisel's astounding mathematical discoveries is the true and exact value of the ratio of a circle's circumference to diameter: 3 13/81 = 256/81. He has only contempt for decimal notation, using it just once in his book to demonstrate that you can use it if all you want is an approximate result. Heisel doesn't calculate it, but 3 13/81 = 3.4193548... Clearly the textbook value of π = 3.1415927... is wrong. At the time of his writing, π had been calculated to some 700 decimal places, an accomplishment that Heisel considers a monumental waste of time.

But more wonderous math follows. The book is dense with numerical calculations and some elaborate geometric diagrams, with all dimensions given as integers and fractions of integers. The sides of all right triangles are in integer ratio, you just have to find the right integers. We see on page 99 a nice diagram showing a 4:4:6 right triangle. Careful examination of the figure shows that it has been subtly fudged, and the diagram also includes a 3:3:4 right triangle. Yet, several times, Heisel declares (p. 115) "I have no arguments to offer, my figures are my proofs. The laws of nature are in harmony with me and sustain me. Laugh these facts and truths away if you can."

For a longer review of this book see Carl Theodore Heisel Squares the Circle.

Alderson, Paul. Theory Of Everything. Self-Published, 2011.

Since TOE is the short version of "Theory of Everything", the cover of this book shows a big toe, overlain with a spectrum of colors.

The title of this slim 80 page paperback may be an overstatement, but the book does touch on gravity, magnetism, atomic bombs, relativity, time, time travel (forward only), anti-gravity, space warping, anti-matter, higher dimensions, dark matter, and, of course, the big bang. In Alderson's opinion, most of standard physics is flat-out wrong, and though he proposes some vague ideas for setting it right, they are never developed into anything testable or useful. He considers mass-less fields absurd. He revives the idea of the luminiferous ether to account for gravity and other field phenomena. In Alderson's physics the speed of light isn't constant, but is greater where the ether is densest. His quirky sense of humor shows now and then, but he's quite serious about his opinions, and this is not satire, though it's easy to mistake it for such.

I have a longer review of this book.

Who concocts this stuff?

Though I've "followed" the whole spectrum of pseudoscience, I've had the most contact with those who try to invent perpetual machines and over-unity machines. So I'll use them as an example.

The motivations of pseudoscientists that I've had contact with range widely. Most have motivations not unlike those of any scientist or inventor: desire for recognition, fame, validation of self-worth. The inventors of over-unity machines like to say they hope to "save mankind" from its dependence on fossil fuels. Very few have dreams of gaining great wealth.

Most exhibit supreme confidence in the truth of their convictions: They believe "anything is possible if you are clever enough and sincere enough." They have contempt for experts, who pronounce their pet ideas impossible. They lack a comprehensive understanding of physics. If they ever took any physics courses, they "lost it" when vectors were introduced (in about the third week of the course). From that point on they survived the course by cramming equations and using the "plug and chug" method of problem solving.

Numerous educational studies have shown that students who have the greatest confidence in the correctness of their problem solutions are usually wrong. Not just students. We see this phenomenon on web forums, and most blatantly in politics.

Their grasp of physics is piecemeal. They treat every law and equation as a separate and independent entity. Any laws that run counter to their gut feelings are dismissed as wrong or inapplicable to their goals. They do not realize the interconnected logical unity of the fundamental laws. If you throw out Newton's laws, you must also throw out all of physics. If the conservation of energy actually were wrong, then so would Newton's laws also be wrong. Odd, that in all applications of these fundamental physics laws, we've never noticed even the slightest flaw in their agreement with nature and experiments. Of course this arises from the fact that perpetual motionists have never learned how the fundamental laws can be derived from one another mathematically. As Feynman said, "If, by some selective amnesia, I were to forget half of what I know about physics, I could reconstruct it from the other half." The perpetual motionists, in particular, haven't the slightest understanding of that fact about the logical unity of physics.

This is why scientists decline to interact with perpetual motionists. To explain their errors is like shoveling feathers or juggling eels. If you show that they violated a fundamental law, they simply say "that law doesn't apply". They are likely to say "You just don't understand the principle of my device." So you ask them to explain that principle, and they say "It should be obvious." They will deny the validity of any argument or evidence you might bring forth, if it doesn't support their convictions.

Many perpetual motionists suppose that "establishment science" is a vast conspiracy to suppress perpetual motion devices, out of some motivation to "preserve their status as high priests of science." They see science as a sort of "religion" dedicated to preserving some kind of status quo. They circulate urban legends of "men in black" murdering perpetual motion inventors, or in some manner silencing them. Usually they suppose that scientists are in league with petroleum companies and other fossil fuel suppliers to suppress competition.

Those who try to rewrite physics are a special breed. The most perplexing of these are people who simply can't grasp the relation of physics to the "real world". They are hung up on that fact that physics uses concepts, such as atoms, energy, wave functions, etc. that have no simple counterpart in the world of our everyday experience. One told me it should be easy to "cut atoms into pieces" because atoms aren't solid, just a concentration of electric and magnetic fields, which aren't "real" anyway. He couldn't get his head around the fact that the question of "reality" of our models isn't an issue, so long as the models work (agree with experimental observations). Whenever a pseudoscientist says he's trying to develop a physics that is "real", you can expect he's a kook. It is a hangup of a philosophical nature, not of physics.

Typically they have not made any serious effort to understand physics as physicists understand it. If they had a physics course, they took it while maintaining an attitude of "I don't have to take any of this seriously, for I know it must be all wrong." They want to recreate physics in their own image, according to their own gut feelings of how they think the world ought to work. They cheerfully ignore any theory or evidence that goes against their world view, dismissing all contrary evidence as wrong, or inapplicable to their own theory. Scientists cannot carry on rational discourse with them, and realize it is futile to try.

    —Donald E. Simanek, Dec. 2012.

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