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Cranks and Physics

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posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:11 PM
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A ”crank” is a particular variety of pseudoscientist or “true believer” – one that tries very hard to be a real scientist but is hopelessly crippled by a combination of incompetence and a tendency to interpret their own incompetence as overwhelming genius. In a recent article in Slate (republished from New Scientist) Margaret Wertheim tries, for some reason, to defend those cranks who believe they have developed an alternate theory of physics. In the article she does a good job of painting a picture of what a crank is, but it seems almost incidental as the main thrust of her article is to criticize science for being inaccessible. The result is confused and misleading.

In order see exactly why a crank is a crank one needs to have a clear idea of how mainstream science works and why (something that cranks often lack themselves). Science is often portrayed in popular culture in the quaint manner of the lone genius working away in their lab and developing ideas largely on their own. Further, any true advance is met by nothing but scorn from their colleagues and the scientific establishment. This view may have been somewhat relevant in the 19th century and earlier, but rarely has any relevance to modern science.

Source

Time and again we have had people claiming they know how science works, but what they describe is completely antithetical to the core principles of the scientific method. In many cases these people don't even have a degree in a scientific background let alone a PhD in a relevant field. Instead their beliefs in regards to science seem to be more based in the fanciful portrayals we see of scientists in movies and on TV than in reality. In this article I have posted clinical neurologist and Director of General Neurology at Yale University School of Medicine Steven Novella discusses the beliefs of these "cranks," why they believe this way, and why these beliefs are very much at the core of why they will never be accepted by mainstream science.




posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:19 PM
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reply to post by Xcalibur254
 


I'm a cranky physicist.

All these people who think gravity is magnetism, or that gravity is an alternate dimension, or that you wave the magic word "quantum" over any sort of nonsense and it makes it a legitimate theory.

I think we should educate them all about the Time Cube



edit on 31/1/2012 by chr0naut because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:27 PM
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KMFDM sucks.



But I do see what you mean, I try to communicate to cranks what I value in peer review rather than what I value in objective fact analysis. Iconoclasm is great, but some people see it as a sledgehammer I merely want a chisel. When we deny ignorance we must do it correctly, lest it feel left out and throw a tantrum in the hivemind.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:31 PM
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when you say "crank", I say "subjective reality".

the term pseudoscience is pseudoscience. science is constantly being re-vised, re-formed, and re-invented. to say that science has it ALL "worked out" at any "time" is very foolish.

science is just a MODEL to attempt to explain nature. does it currently explain nature?

maybe some of it...but only on certain scales, only at certain times, only in certain circumstances etc..

there's still a LOT more observable phenomenon that has yet to be efficiently explained.

~ if someone refers to "science" as an explanation of natural phenomenon, then you only get the answer that is "acceptable" in the mainstream at this time.

~ yet, in order to provide contextual reference for phenomenon, those you may call "cranks" will refer to observations of nature which science can't fully explain. I wouldn't call it pseudoscience, i'd call it "alternative science" at least....

it just implies that you're not thinking with "mainstream" vision...you're thinking "outside the box".

the more you accept the "intellectual room" OUTSIDE of mainstream Science, the more room you have to think "outside the box".

we humans are intellectual infants.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 07:02 PM
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reply to post by metalshredmetal
 


The argument made in the article isn't that we have science all figured out. It's that science is a continuous process that relies on what came before. Sometimes a piece of chaff gets through or a piece of wheat gets thrown out, but eventually things self-correct. The media portrays science as resistant to change, but in truth it thrives on change. These cranks only perception of science however is what is portrayed by the media. They take a single science class. They don't understand things so they assume it must be wrong. Then they go out attempting to fix the entire field that they see as being wrong. Of course they can't actually prove anything wrong since they didn't take the time to actually learn what that field of science says. Then when one actually looks at their claims they are not based in math or experimentation or anything other than what they believe is "common sense." That is not science and no legitimate discoveries will be made that way.

Unfortunately it is these kinds of people that members of ATS flock to because their views are anti-mainstream and easy to understand. In truth though science isn't easy to understand. Think about it. A scientist does four years of undergraduate study. Then they follow it up with another 6+ years of graduate study. At this point they now have the knowledge to do research in a very specialized area of their chosen field. At that point they will contribute research that only people who are studying the same thing are interested in. Eventually all of this research from all of these researchers may coalesce into a major finding for the field as a whole. That is why these lone wolf "scientists" are not going to change the world. Not only do they lack a basic understanding of the field they are attempting to overturn they also lack the enormous amount of specialized knowledge that goes into making that field what it is. It is like Newton said, "We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants."



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 07:02 PM
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The original New Scientist/Slate article is totally reasonable. Margaret Wertheim seems to understand how many people feel about current mainstream academic science.

www.slate.com...

She's totally right in regards to current theoretical physics, the Standard Model evangelists really have formed a priesthood.

Good quotes by her, covering how many of us feel:

"And just as Luther didn't reject the basic tenets of Christianity, outsider theorists do not reject science: They believe that it provides the right tools to reveal the majesty of our world. But they insist that the wonders of science be available to everyone."

"Outsider physicists don't feel at home in a universe described by the tensor equations of general relativity or the gauge symmetries of string theory. They feel alienated by it."

"Centuries ago, natural philosophers puzzled out the laws of nature using the tools of observation and experimentation. Today, theoretical physics has become mathematically inscrutable, accessible only to an elite few. In rejecting this abstraction, outsider theorists insist that nature speaks a language we can all understand. "

damn straight.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 07:13 PM
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Steven Novella sounds like a tool, tbh. I thought this was being written by some undergrad at first.

"So Carter lacks a formal education in physics and cosmology, something he no doubt considers an advantage. His profound arrogance is in evidence by the fact that after one semester of undergraduate study he felt confident in thinking that he was smarter than all working physicists, including luminaries like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman. "

The fact he resorts to promoting Feynman here is quite telling. Feynman is pope turned saint to the evangelists.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 07:15 PM
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reply to post by Xcalibur254
 


i think im a crank. But when 75% of the population is less than brilliant, its not hard to sound intelligent.
edit on 31-1-2012 by Patchman because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 07:18 PM
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reply to post by yampa
 


What do you want physics to do? The fact of the matter is that it requires extremely advanced math to understand. Unless you're in a field that requires such math you're most likely not going to go out a learn it. The field can't just stop using that math because it alienates the layman. If they did that there would be no physics. There are plenty of good books out there that explain the core concepts of the field in terms the layman can understand. However, if you truly want to understand these concepts you need to learn the math. There's no way around that. If you want to make an impact in physics you have to learn the math. You have to do the proofs. You have to run the experiments. You have to collect the data. That's all there is to it and these lone wolf "scientists" aren't doing a single one of those things.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 07:39 PM
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reply to post by Xcalibur254
 


I want the physicists to do physical experiments and model physical reality with rational, transparent and generalised mathematics. To some degree, that does exist. But in many cases, the things that pass for mainstream physics are at least as absurd as any cranks theory. It's just happens that a core pool of pretty smart cranks migrated from the math department and overtook the physics department in the early 20th century. Theoretically, we've been largely in fairyland ever since.

Anyone who would try to force you to believe that in order to understand the interactions of physical reality, you must learn some highly abstract, computationally tenuous and inefficient collection of specialised, jargonised mathematics should be considered highly suspect.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 08:12 PM
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My personal opinion is that most cranks start out with good intentions, then lead into a dark existence that usually ends up in selling "kits" for people to build free energy devices.

We were all cranks at one time, in the early school years....

I still remember trying to argue with my teacher that the device in "Honey I shrunk the kids" was real because a joker in my family said it was.

But yeah, most people grow out of that phase...



And it usually is a good idea too...



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 10:30 PM
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reply to post by yampa
 


I want the physicists to do physical experiments and model physical reality with rational, transparent and generalised mathematics.

For whose benefit? Yours?

I suppose you'll be telling us your taxes fund scientific research next.

Science is not done for your entertainment.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 05:32 AM
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Originally posted by boncho
My personal opinion is that most cranks start out with good intentions, then lead into a dark existence that usually ends up in selling "kits" for people to build free energy devices.
....
I still remember trying to argue with my teacher that the device in "Honey I shrunk the kids" was real because a joker in my family said it was.
Thanks for the idea on the experimenters kit....build your own shrinking ray machine. That should work just as well as the free energy experimenter's kits! LOL.

And by the way, according to this crank Gaede, a poster child for a crank if I ever saw one, I'm a stupid relativist and proud of it:

www.youstupidrelativist.com...


Does he have a shred of evidence to prove his alternate views are right? Of course not, he's just sure that mainstream science is wrong. That's a crank for you.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 05:59 AM
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Originally posted by Astyanax
reply to post by yampa
 


I want the physicists to do physical experiments and model physical reality with rational, transparent and generalised mathematics.






For whose benefit? Yours?


This was a reply to Xcalibur254 asking "What do you want physics to do?". I have no control over what mainstream physics actually does.



I suppose you'll be telling us your taxes fund scientific research next.


The public frequently does fund academic research? The public often also subsidize private entities which sponsor research?



Science is not done for your entertainment.


No, it is currently done for the entertainment and maintenance of established industry, unfortunately.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 08:14 AM
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Sometimes today’s cranks turn out to be tomorrow’s Einsteins. Obviously their theories have to one day stand up to scientific scrutiny, but mainstream science is definitely a little too dismissive of theories which cannot be tested right now or even hint at being slightly aligned with the spiritual.

Keep in mind that although mathematics is the main language of theoretical physics (and yes this is how the majority of modern day discoveries are first conceptualized), the main aim is to describe real world phenomena. As such there should be no reason why one cannot relay the core concepts of the theory to the layman. The maths is secondary and only exists to prove the validity of the theory. Just because one is unable to fit one’s theories into a mathematical formula, does not necessarily mean it should be written off altogether. Maybe the ‘right’ mathematical formula just cannot be conceptualized either via the limited viewpoint of the physicist, or maybe just there are a few concepts which as of yet do not easily translate into mathematics itself.

Science and New Age philosophy are verging ever closer, yet most scientist refuse to accept that many of their theories do run parallel to concepts which have been echoed by the mystics for many thousands of years. As such, all these new ‘discoveries’ and theories are only made when trying to explain the behavior of small subatomic particles, or strange happenings in brain chemistry. It is my personal belief that mainstream scientific theory concentrates far too much on the trees when sometimes it would be more appropriate to look at the whole forest.

I myself would be highly suspect of a guy who only studied one semester of physics and then formulated his own ‘Theory of Everything’. But unless that theory can actually be proved wrong, be it via mathematics or any other means, then I see know reason to completely dismiss it off hand.

A degree in science gives you a generalized feel for the paradigm, and allows you to speak the ‘language’. A Masters gives you knowledge within one specialized subfield of that paradigm, but a PhD is only making one small discovery within one very narrow, specialized area within that subfield. This only gives you authority to speak about that one very narrow discovery, not the entire subfield, or indeed the entire paradigm itself. Sometimes an outsiders viewpoint is exactly what is needed for it is not hindered by other viewpoints within that subfield which state “This is all that can be possible”

The article you sourced struck me as not only making wide sweeping generalizations of anyone who dares to try and think 'outside of the box' which serves to hinder the spirit of discovery within science, it also echoes the arrogance of many within established main stream science. This in my opinion is the complete antithesis of the core spirit of the scientific process, not the supposed ‘crank’ the article references.

I would also hazard a guess that a scientific journalist of Margaret Wertheim’s credentials would not risk her reputation chasing after a guy who was selling ‘free energy devices’ or ‘12th spiral DNA realignment crystals’.





edit on 1/2/2012 by 1littlewolf because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 08:45 AM
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I thought I was sometimes the only one on ATS who laughed/cried at the sometimes pseudo-scientific lunacy that many times passes for "enlightened" discussions on this board. A hat tip to the OP.

Should we do more to fight it? I think it just encourages the crackpots even more. University physics professors learned this a long time ago and would just readdress crackpot hand written letters to other crackpot authors. End result, when stupid learns of stupid they fight endlessly and leave the clever professor alone.

DO NOT ENGAGE THEM!

Oh, by the way, no crackpot discussion is complete without this handy dandy litmus test: math.ucr.edu...

Enjoy the above link, it works wonderfully.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 09:25 AM
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Originally posted by 1littlewolf

Keep in mind that although mathematics is the main language of theoretical physics (and yes this is how the majority of modern day discoveries are first conceptualized), the main aim is to describe real world phenomena. As such there should be no reason why one cannot relay the core concepts of the theory to the layman. The maths is secondary and only exists to prove the validity of the theory. Just because one is unable to fit one’s theories into a mathematical formula, does not necessarily mean it should be written off altogether. Maybe the ‘right’ mathematical formula just cannot be conceptualized either via the limited viewpoint of the physicist, or maybe just there are a few concepts which as of yet do not easily translate into a mathematics itself.


Stars, but - I'm not sure the maths is really secondary. I think it is more the case that current mathematical physics is so often heuristic and irrational, it becomes impossible for anyone but those with very high systemising ability and good memory for arbitrary symbols and rules (i.e geeks) to utilise. This completely defeats a major purpose of the scientific endevour - namely, generalised enlightenment of the whole population. It is quite obvious that those with this systemising mindset are consistently engaged in protectionism over their roles, and will often resort to predatory skepticism over any work done by outsiders.

Nature is definitely in the numbers, but those numbers aren't crazy, unpredictable probabilistic quasi-numbers with 10 dimensions existing in some hypergeometric manifold (as the mainstream string theory cranks would have you believe). Nature is efficient and rational. This applies to the quantum and the cosmological.

Saturn's polar hexagon:




The article you sourced struck me as not only making wide sweeping generalizations of anyone who dares to try and think 'outside of the box' which serves to hinder the spirit of discovery within science and also echoes the arrogance of many within established main stream science. This in my opinion is the complete antithesis of the core spirit of the scientific process, not the supposed ‘crank’ the article references.

I would also hazard a guess that a scientific journalist of Margaret Wertheim’s credentials would not risk her reputation chasing after a guy who was selling ‘free energy devices’ or ‘12th spiral DNA realignment crystals’.



Quite!
edit on 1-2-2012 by yampa because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 10:04 AM
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The maths is secondary and only exists to prove the validity of the theory. Just because one is unable to fit one’s theories into a mathematical formula, does not necessarily mean it should be written off altogether. Maybe the ‘right’ mathematical formula just cannot be conceptualized either via the limited viewpoint of the physicist, or maybe just there are a few concepts which as of yet do not easily translate into mathematics itself.

But without the math the theory is unusable. So what should the scientists do with it? Congratulate you to your accomplishment and start to work on their own non describable and non testable theories, one for every scientist out there?



I think it is more the case that current mathematical physics is so often heuristic and irrational, it becomes impossible for anyone but those with very high systemising ability and good memory for arbitrary symbols and rules (i.e geeks) to utilise.

Just because you don't understand the math, doesn't make it heuristic, irrational and arbitrary.

Now a generalization from my side. It is funny how the most vocal critics of science are the ones who never cared to study it in the first place.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 10:08 AM
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Originally posted by yampa
I think it is more the case that current mathematical physics is so often heuristic and irrational, it becomes impossible for anyone but those with very high systemising ability and good memory for arbitrary symbols and rules (i.e geeks) to utilise. This completely defeats a major purpose of the scientific endevour - namely, generalised enlightenment of the whole population.
While generalized enlightenment is indeed desirable...for a number of reasons....I think it is incorrect to say this is a purpose of science.

The purpose of science is to discover truth. If it turns out the truth is simple, that's the way we will express the math. E=mc^2 is about as simple as it gets.

If the truth is more complicated, then the math may also be more complicated. The geeks don't invent complex math to confuse people, and in fact they also prefer to try to express it as simply as possible because it makes their life easier too...I know because I'm one of the people who has to translate theory into reality in engineering applications and I'll use simplifications if they work. Newton's math still works for a lot of things but it won't work for GPS so it really depends on what you're trying to do.

Feynman discusses the simple versus the complex in this video starting at around 2:10:

I think there is a certain brilliance in those simple statements about what the real purpose of science is, that I'm not sure you understand, as it seems to contradict your post.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 10:20 AM
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Originally posted by moebius

The maths is secondary and only exists to prove the validity of the theory. Just because one is unable to fit one’s theories into a mathematical formula, does not necessarily mean it should be written off altogether. Maybe the ‘right’ mathematical formula just cannot be conceptualized either via the limited viewpoint of the physicist, or maybe just there are a few concepts which as of yet do not easily translate into mathematics itself.

But without the math the theory is unusable. So what should the scientists do with it? Congratulate you to your accomplishment and start to work on their own non describable and non testable theories, one for every scientist out there?


You obviously missed the part in my post where I said that these theories will one day have to have to stand up to scientific scrutiny. There are many scientific theories which, mathematical backing or not, are completely unusable except as obscure bits of knowledge. Science isn't about turning a theory into something usable, that's engineering. Science is about knowledge.



Now a generalization from my side. It is funny how the most vocal critics of science are the ones who never cared to study it in the first place.


Funny how generalizations almost always prove to be wrong.

I am a scientist.


 


Look, I’m not at all against complex mathematics if it is necessary, and I’m the first to admit that theoretical physics is not my forte. But the OP is about science as a whole. It’s as Arbitrageur says


The purpose of science is to discover truth. If it turns out the truth is simple, that's the way we will express the math. E=mc^2 is about as simple as it gets.

If the truth is more complicated, then the math may also be more complicated.


All I’m saying is that there is a tendency within main stream science as a whole to be overly dismissive about any theory which sits outside of what has been supposedly established as the current paradigm of ‘best fit’

Yes a large percentage of these guys are crackpots, but it’s also the case that there is often times a large amount of vested interest in certain theories and methods of thinking which many people have worked on their whole lives and have built their reputations on.

edit on 1/2/2012 by 1littlewolf because: (no reason given)



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