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Andrew Zimmerman Jones

How to Transform Physics

By June 5, 2012

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Mad ScientistToday I received an e-mail containing the following question:

What is the apropriate [sic] way to spread my revoloutionary [sic] message on how to transform modern physics?

When you're at all in the public eye for physics, you get these sorts of requests on a fairly regular basis. I spoke a while back about a rather deft way cosmologist Sean Carroll discussed dealing with physics cranks. Still, this particular individual was polite, so I decided to respond at length, offering some of the insights taken from Carroll's earlier comments on this topic:

Not to be glib, but if you want to have the message taken seriously by the physics community, you'll need to get a doctorate in physics, so that you have a full and complete understanding of existing physics. You can then formulate your revolutionary framework within the language and terminology of the physics community as well as craft experiments that will provide evidence for your approach over the approaches of others. For example, how does your theory account for the array of fundamental particles which have been experimentally identified, as well as their individual properties? What sort of results does your theory predict for various types of particle collisions? That sort of thing.

If you are located near a university, another (less costly) option would be to contact the physics department there and see if they have any physics seminars that are open to the public. Researchers frequently present their findings at universities and going to these things (or to a more established scientific conference, but these things tend to be more costly) will give you an idea of the amount of rigor and detail that the physics community requires in presenting their results.

Consider a timeline of the major work by Albert Einstein:

  • 1895 - Enters the Swiss Federal Polytechnic (i.e. begins rigorous study of physics)
  • 1905 - Publishes initial inklings of special relativity, photoelectric effect, and Brownian motions; Earns PhD
  • 1915 - Completes work extending special relativity into a full theory of gravity, general relativity
  • 1919 - Observational evidence from an eclipse confirms Einstein's predictions; general relativity is largely accepted by the physics community
  • 1921 - Albert Einstein receives a Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect

At best, the argument could be made that Einstein transformed physics after 10 years of intently studying physics, but if he'd never gone further than those original inklings of special relativity he wouldn't be remembered much today. Rather it took not only another decade of work, but rather about 15 more years of active engagement by a large segment of the physics community - Max Planck, Arthur Eddington, & Hermann Minkowski spring to mind immediately - in order to transform his correct intuitions into a workable theory.

The idea that anyone today would be able to do it with less effort than this is highly unrealistic and likely misguided.

One further note: The goal of going to physics seminars should genuinely be to learn about physics, not so that you can corner some poor unsuspecting postdoctoral student and explain to him or her how you're more clever than all of the brilliant physicists that they've spent the last decade or so of their life studying. This will not work. It's fine for you to strike up conversations and build relationships with physicists, but that relationship should be built from you trying to learn what they know. This tip from Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is useful here:

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."


June 11, 2012 at 10:52 am
(1) Ken Koskinen says:

I think what is said in this short article is generally true and even truer as time progresses. Michael Faraday made some significant additions to understanding electromagnetism and he did not have all the then expected credentials. It took James Clerk Maxwell to put the math to the metal and his work was later improved upon by those who developed quantum electrodynamics. So we can see the process has become progressive over time. It means the need for education has become even more demanding.

However if you think you can win the physics lottery there is a tiny chance of adding an intuitive idea into a line research. After all Einstein, Maxwell and many others would have been nothing without their intuitive grasps. Why is it impossible for someone to have good intuitions but cannot carry it to the next stage? I think i t is still possible that some complete non mathematical but studied outsider might have the right insights but lacks the other skills needed to hammer out an improvement that might lead to a better model. The question is: can an outsider still add an insightful idea into the stream of physics? The odds are becoming increasingly slim … but no one really knows the future!

In any case keep in mind that non-technical thinkers are regularly adding to successful inventions that completely escaped the “engineers.” I do not mean to demean “engineers” but to show that creativity has no known bounds.

June 11, 2012 at 8:06 pm
(2) Bob Miller says:

I gave out flyers with an offer of $50 to the first person sending data that would invalidate a Newtonian explanation of the Red Shift of light at the Cosmology and Mathematics Departments at Arizona State University. No response. So I raised the prize to $100 and gave out flyers again. Still no response. The offer still stands. Just go to antirelativity.webs.com and look at Red Shift. bobmiller@usa.com.

June 12, 2012 at 4:42 am
(3) Clive Delmonte says:

I think there is an element missing from these comments; namely, personal motivation. I have been floating the possibility for 30 years of an alternative & better structure for double stranded DNA than the double helix and I have failed even to get a scientific discussion of the suggestion from self-styled scientists. No-one wants to engage with a new idea which theatens their status, self esteem, grant applications, etc., however gently it is raised.

Scientists are like other people. They feel threatened by change, they like it where they are and are not that much interested in science as such but are primarily interested in themselves.

June 12, 2012 at 7:50 am
(4) Burt Jordaan says:

Bob Miller: I looked at your redshift page and was amused to see that on an ‘anti-relativity’ website, you have used special relativity to calculate the apparent recession speeds for the redshift. Did you say it is a Newtonian explanation?

Note that one cannot use special relativity to calculate recession speeds in an expanding space. Also note that atoms did not form at z = 10 ….

June 12, 2012 at 8:15 pm
(5) Keith Ross says:

Wow. I thought I was the only non scientist that had a new theory of the universe. Some things that have helped me are:
My brother is a good mathematician AND he questions everything I say. Also, I started out not believing anything the scientific community said unless my model could prove their findings. Luckily for me as I learn more about my model, it agrees with the Augustan model. I also have learned that it doesn’t matter what I believe to be true, what matters is what I can show mathematically and propose experimentally. It is my responsibility to convince the world, not theirs to believe in my model.
The other side of this coin is, is that Newton and Einstein and all others have models and a model is a cleaver and useful way of thinking of the universe and if I am correct and my model is a good way of working in physics, then it will change the current model and it will work just as well as it does now.

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