Thursday, August 14, 2008


I think that we need to coin an official term, "cryptophysicist", to describe people who do physics research outside the mainstream. Ronald Mallett is an example of a credentialed cryptophysicist - he wants to build a time machine using circulating optical beams. His tragic motivations aside, this is a scientifically wacky idea - the energy density that you would need in the beams to produce any significant distortion of spacetime is completely unachievable with foreseeable equipment. On the theory side, Harold Puthoff is another example. Puthoff wants to explain things like inertia in terms of interactions between matter and zero-point fluctuations of the electromagnetic field. Mainstream theorists consider this to be a wacky idea for a long list of reasons.

One major difference between cryptophysicists and cryptozooligists is that the public is generally able to perceive that the latter are outside the mainstream. Everyone knows from daily experience that there probably aren't yeti or sea monsters hanging around. Modern physics is abstracted enough from everyday lives and intuition, though, that many people, including some journalists, honestly can't tell when someone's waaay out there. Also, the concept of the lone genius toiling away in obscurity fighting The Scientific Establishment, which makes for good TV, sounds better when applied to a garage tinkerer than to someone camping out looking for the chupacabra. Still, occasionally the biologists do get to have fun with media coverage of this stuff.


Anonymous said...

my cryptophysics experiment I've always wanted to write a proposal for is to get all elements, say few gms of each, in the perodic table and cook the fuck out of them in a new fangled oven so I can mix in all the gases simultaneously etc

then on completion.. test the hell out of the stuff that has congealed to the bottom of the furnace - 10T, dilution fridge, synchrotron the lot...every tool in the box...

I'd just love to read the referees comments - that alone would be a laugh.

maybe it could be this good....

phys prof.

Peter Morgan said...

Google for "paraphysics" shows that "cryptophysics" has some pre-existing competition. Enough to require an analysis of the comparative advantages of your neologism and what makes it distinctive.

Uncle Al said...

Enter the lab - empirical observation in existing apparatus operated under validated protocols - and party.

All symmetric constructions can be dissected into gapless chiral subsets, La Coupe du Roi. Ashtekar did it for General Relativity by 2002. Get some styrofoam balls, cut a Coupe du Roi of each hand. Try assembling one piece from each.

Put on two left shoes, close your eyes, try to walk a straight line. Take chemically identical atomic mass distributions (positions of atoms in quartz) in enantiomorphic crystallographic space groups P3(1)21 (right) and P3(2)21 (left), drop them.

If GR's symmetry is unsunderable a parity Eötvös experiment will null as have all composition and spin Eötvös experiments. Given any cleavage (Ashtekar) the Equivalence Principle is violated, string theory goes for a Burton (BRST invariance), conservation of angular momentum has an exception (chiral anisotropic space plus Noether's theorem).

400+ years of EP testing has unanimously nulled. No parity EP test has ever nulled. Is a chance of success outside physics' mainstream? Hell yes! Pity. Somebody should look (pdf).

Doug Natelson said...

Peter - From what I can see, much (all?) of "paraphysics" is focused on the alleged physics of parapsychology - ESP, telekinesis, etc. While trying to identify physical mechanisms of parapsychological phenomena is certainly, umm, not mainstream science, it's not exactly what I was aiming for.

Uncle Al is closer to the mark. Here's a guy with a scientific idea that is pretty far from the mainstream - essentially, that left-handed and right-handed screws may fall at different rates because the true theory of gravity (not GR) may have some inherent chirality term. None of this is patent nonsense (unlike, IMO, telekinesis). It is, however, pretty far out.

Bill Beaty said...

One trouble with "crypto" fields is that, by definition, all their successes vanish. By definition, if not in practice, the fields are totally worthless.

Seamen report squids the size of small ships. This remains crazy stuff, same as yetis and UFO aliens ...until carcasses wash ashore. Then their obviously hallucinatory stories are magically turned into somewhat accurate field reports. Was cryptozoology successful? Of course not, since Architeuthidae are one success of conventional biology.

Silly hobbyists from the ranks of crazed garage inventors claim to be flying over fields in Dayton for minutes at a time. They actually were. But suddenly they become amateur aerodynamicists, and the field of crypto-physics gets no credit. Then this patent clerk mails in crackpot physics papers about time flow which completely go against known physics. He turns out to be correct, so suddenly he was a non-crackpot physicist all along, and the crypto field gets no points.

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