Editor’s Note: Sue Lange likes to play around on the fringes of science in her science fiction. This post on possible flaws in special relativity drew a lot of conversation, some of it from people who are determined to find Einstein wrong.
The Natural Philosophy Alliance (NPA) doesn’t like 20th Century science, specifically relativity (special and general), quantum physics, the big bang and other cosmological disciplines. The members of the NPA feel that modern physics is “in dire need of a thorough overhaul, and that a much more tolerant spirit than has recently been shown in these fields must be practiced in order to achieve the needed changes.”
The Alliance includes hundreds of members from all over, mostly older folks as far as I can tell. Which makes sense, budding physicists do well to stay away as their reputation will be tarnished if they are seen in the company of these anarchists. Unfairly I might add. Science is supposed to be open to questioning. Theories knocked about. But sadly NPA members’ objections to current physics dogma are not allowed in polite circles.
Not only do the members not agree with established physics, they do not agree on what modern physics should be. And they openly argue with each other about it. Disagreement is encouraged. Take a look at the list of topics covered in this past year’s NPA conference. You’ll see things like:
Failure of the Relativistic Hypercone
The Neutron: Modeled as a Fieldstructure
The True Direction of Gravitational Force
The Neutrino: Doomed from Inception
The members are considered by mainstream physicists as cranks, their ideas crackpot. They may very well be, but when you visit the site you get the feeling that these people have thought long and hard about modern physics, that they understand it, and find fault with it. Even if they are dead wrong, they are eloquent and that makes them hard to ignore in my opinion.
Are they dead wrong? Dunno. Would love to find out.
As a starting point, the group is concentrating its efforts in one area: special relativity. NPA founder, John E. Chappell, is particularly annoyed with special relativity. “I agree with most of my NPA colleagues that SR never was valid, never will be valid, and in fact cannot possibly be valid,” he says. “There is no other issue on which the authoritativeness of modern physics can be more effectively challenged; and so I have urged my NPA allies to concentrate our efforts most intensely on criticizing and replacing SR.”
Presumably what the Alliance is annoyed with is that physics seems to be defined by the mathematics, not by observation of reality. The same sort of thing I wrote about regarding the Multiverse Theory. Einstein came up with special relativity so Maxwell’s equations would work. The Alliance members feel we don’t need to throw out Newton because of Maxwell. We don’t need to have two physics, one for the macro world, one for the micro.
It’s the sort of thing that always bugged me about Shroedinger’s cat. Theoretically it’s both dead and alive. But that has no meaning for us and is surely not the case. It has to be one or the other at any point in time. And once it’s dead it can’t be alive later. That’s the nature of being “alive.” But it’s one of those things in modern physics that you have to accept on faith and go from there. Really what good is that? Because I can’t conceive of it means there’s a deficiency in me? Yes, true enough, but it also might mean there’s a deficiency in the definition of reality. Making something up so it works with previous assumptions doesn’t make it or the previous assumptions true. It just puts it in the realm of mysticism where only the truly faithful will understand. The rest of us don’t count because we can’t see.
Okay, fine, have it your way, but that doesn’t make it so. I think what the Alliance is trying to do is make modern physics come clean. Admit that there is no hard and fast proof for certain assumptions; that the proof modern physics relies on has a basis in faith.
I don’t know if they’re right, but I do know that these people are treated the same way believers of perpetual motion are treated. And I suspect they are a long way from those nutjobs.
I firmly believe in the laws of thermodynamics, even if they were never proven. It’s intuitive that perpetual motion machines will not work. I’m not as sure about the laws of special relativity, quantum mechanics, and Shroedinger’s dang cat, but that’s just me. The question I’m left with is: if the NPA is right and special relativity is wrong, what will be the consequences for the standard model of particle physics and other areas of modern thought? What gets thrown out the window? I’ll be watching the skies for hints.
Thanks for reading.
This essay was first posted on December 26, 2011 at the Singularity Watch blog. Since then, physicists around the world have been celebrating the finding of the Higgs boson. Score one for the standard model.