by Wal Thornhill | July 30, 2006 1:42 pm
“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one new delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. … Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
-– Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1852
According to the caption from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD):
“In the center of a swirling whirlpool of hot gas is likely a beast that has never been seen directly: a black hole. Studies of the bright light emitted by the swirling gas frequently indicate not only that a black hole is present, but also likely attributes. The gas surrounding GRO J1655-40, for example, has been found to display an unusual flickering at a rate of 450 times a second. Given a previous mass estimate for the central object of seven times the mass of our Sun, the rate of the fast flickering can be explained by a black hole that is rotating very rapidly. What physical mechanisms actually cause the flickering — and a slower quasi-periodic oscillation (QPO) — in accretion disks surrounding black holes and neutron stars remains a topic of much research.”
The astronomer Fred Hoyle once wrote of the herd mentality in his profession:
“The trouble with conformity is that the process has strong positive feedback. The baaing starts up at a volume low enough to permit stronger-minded animals to think for themselves without too much trouble. Progressively, however, we break down one-by-one, losing all power of sensible judgement, to the point where we can do nothing but add our own baaing to the uproar, which eventually rises to such monumental proportions that nothing remains for the flock except the butcher’s shop.”
Scientists are people and not immune to the madness of crowds. Ideas that appear folly initially may with time and a growing clamour of consensus delude people into believing it is a new “truth.” Such is the story of black holes. Two years ago I criticised the theory of black holes and from the correspondence I receive, some scientists and engineers are “recovering their senses slowly, one by one.”
Black holes highlight a situation, common today in astrophysics, where the object under investigation cannot be seen directly. This situation is pure heaven for the crowd of mathematical theorists who have hijacked physics from the natural philosophers and experimentalists. The sainted Einstein seems to have initiated the hijacking with that oxymoron, the “thought experiment.” But problems arise when thoughts are governed by a limited set of beliefs or dogmas and unchecked by direct observation or experiment. The result can be – and generally is – science fiction. University libraries and popular science magazines are full of it at the start of this new millennium.
The eminent theoretical physicist Paul Dirac exemplifies the mathematical theorist. He said, “I like to play about with equations, just looking for beautiful mathematical relations which maybe don’t have any physical meaning at all. Sometimes they do.” I have heard many physicists eulogize the exquisiteness of mathematical expressions. Are we in danger of losing the plot? Unfortunately the subjective beauty of an equation gives no clue to the objective correctness of any physical meaning it may have. If mathematics is an art, where are the art critics? After all, it is they who are responsible for discerning the relationships between artistic expression and experiential reality. Simply broadcasting the subjective visions of mathematical experts may foster only “extraordinary popular delusions.”
The central dogma of astrophysics requires the puny force of gravity to generate stars and galaxies. So very small and powerful sources of radiation in deep space require almost infinite concentrations of mass to provide the gravitational force to drive them. The mathematics says so, so it must be true. But it is equivalent to the schoolboy howler of dividing by zero. A near infinite concentration of mass involves speculative physics that cannot be tested in the laboratory. Taken to its extreme — the black hole, which swallows even light — such a concentration swallows commonsense as well. Even Eddington, who produced the gravitational model of stars that inspired Chandrasekhar (who originated the black hole idea), could not swallow it. “A reductio ad absurdum,” he called it. “I think there should be a law of nature to prevent a star from behaving in this absurd way.” There is a law, but Eddington himself obscured the simple answer with his “dogmatically correct” gravitational model of stars.
In this situation, of course, guesswork has free reign. Research becomes purely theoretical, engaged in adjusting sacrosanct theory to accommodate anomalous findings, not experimental, seeking to discover patterns of order in the phenomena. And modern computing power encourages playing with theoretical models. But the success of this approach relies on the correct choice of physical model. The most stringent requirement of the model is that it suggest tests and successfully predict the outcomes. Also it is preferable to have one or more different models that are subject to falsification by observations. The black hole model fulfils neither of these criteria. It is a solitary, non-predictive model that has difficulty even explaining the jets emitted by black holes. After all, black holes are supposed to “suck,” not “blow.” The black hole model has always needed patching up, so it has always been “a topic of much research.”
Now we have a report of rapidly flickering light from a black hole.
The simple mechanical lighthouse model, of something many times heavier than the Sun and rotating in milliseconds, is applied (and it isn’t clear what generates the narrow beam of radiation). However, to put 450 flashes per second into perspective, that’s a 27,000 rpm lighthouse! “I think there should be a law of nature to prevent a star from behaving in this absurd way.”
There is a kind of ridiculous inevitability about the progression of such an absurd idea as the black hole. As soon as you begin dealing with infinities you can “prove black is white and white is black and go out and get yourself killed on a pedestrian crossing,” as Douglas Adams expressed it. And as if to parody a parody, the black hole has been variously described as black, white, or even pink. The truly mind boggling thing is that the numerous experts can’t see the absurdity. And no investigative reporter has called attention to the fact that the emperors of science have no clothes.
Mackay was spot on in 1852 when he wrote, “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds.” It is a fundamental caution against academic hubris that is sorely missing in university curricula. It amplifies the hollow ring of the claim that science is logical and self-correcting. History shows that many major changes in science have had to wait upon “eminent outsiders.” Bernard Newgrosh describes these people as an “interesting and important group of people who earn their living in one field whilst undertaking a hobby or other leisure study in a quite different discipline. Their amateur deliberations often result in crucial groundbreaking developments. Many of the laws of science can be credited to these people, also the foundation of new disciplines. This select band has had ideas which were truly new, momentous in the history of science.”
“It is a curious fact that almost none of these outsiders had any qualification or academic background in the discipline in which they shone – indeed many were entirely self-taught. Some are not all that well known, having just the single claim to fame but others are polymaths of astonishing intellectual calibre. I am going to call this group ‘the eminent outsiders’.”
The Eminent Outsider
• Occupation unrelated to discipline of achievement
• Work on hobby or other outside interest leads to discovery
• Initially purely amateur researches, etc.
• Entirely unqualified in discipline of hobby study
• Makes fundamental discoveries
Some examples of eminent outsiders are Hooke, Leibniz, Ben Franklin, Lavoisier, Priestley, Coulomb, Herschel, Young, Fresnel, Carnot, Lyell, Faraday, Ohm, Darwin, Pasteur, Westinghouse, Edison, Bell, and Einstein.
When a discipline is as far off the beam as astrophysics, the field is wide open for eminent outsiders. There are a number who will be recognized in future. The expertise they have in common is electrical engineering and/or experimental plasma science. That should be no surprise since we live in an ELECTRIC UNIVERSE®.
• Charles-Edouard Guillaime (1883–1936), Nobel Laureate 1920.
• Kristian Birkeland (1867–1917), Nobel Prize nominee, 1917.
• Hannes Alfvén (1908–1995). 1970 Nobel Laureate for Physics.
• Irving Langmuir. 1932 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry.
• Anthony Peratt, Alfvén’s student and author of Physics of the Plasma Universe.
Healy and Peratt have studied the detail of signals from those other super-rotators – pulsars – and have concluded:
“[T]he source of the radiant energy may not be contained within the pulsar, but may instead derive either from the pulsar’s interaction with its environment or by energy supplied by an external circuit.… [O]ur results support the ‘planetary magnetosphere’ view, where the extent of the magnetosphere, not emission points on a rotating surface, determines the pulsar emission.”
In other words, no whirling, super-condensed neutron star is required.
Plasmas transfer energy over great distances to smaller regions where it may be periodically or catastrophically released. Peratt explains the flickering of electromagnetic radiation:
“The flickering of a light in Los Angeles does not mean that the supply source, a waterfall or hydroelectric dam in the Pacific Northwest, has abruptly changed dimensions or any other physical property. The flickering comes from electrical changes at the observed load or radiative source, such as the formation of instabilities or virtual anodes or cathodes in charged particle beams that are orders of magnitude smaller than the supply. Bizarre and interesting non-physical interpretations are obtained if the flickering light is interpreted by a distant observer to be both the source and supply.”
Black holes and neutron stars can certainly be classified as “bizarre and non-physical” objects. It is commonsense electrical engineering to declare them non-existent. In that case the research funds currently being poured into investigation of black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursters is being wasted on astrophysicists and particle physicists. Rather than fritter away further decades waiting for them to “recover their senses slowly, and one by one” we should immediately fund experimental plasma cosmology under the auspices of the IEEE. That way we may at last escape a century of “delusion and madness.”
Evidence for Ultra-Energetic Particles in Jet from Black Hole
[Yale University, July 26]
There have been two competing theories of how emissions arise from the particles — the “Inverse-Compton” theory proposing that the emissions occur when jet particles scatter cosmic microwave background photons, and the “Synchrotron Radiation” theory postulating a separate population of extremely energetic electrons or protons that cause the high-energy emission.
According to the researchers, while the lifetime of the X-ray producing particles is only about 100 years, the data indicate that the visibly brightest part of the jet has a length of about 100,000 light years. Since there would be insufficient time for the particles to shoot out from the black hole at close to the speed of light and then release their energy as radiation as far out as they are seen, the particles have to be accelerated locally, where they produce their emission.
“The new observations show that the flow structure of this jet is more complicated than had been assumed previously,” Jester explains. “That the present evidence favors the synchrotron model deepens the mystery of how jets produce the ultra-energetic particles that radiate at X-ray wavelengths.”
“Our results call for a radical rethink of the physics of relativistic jets that black holes drive,” said Uchiyama.
Comment: The hallmark of a cosmic plasma discharge is a jet that emits synchrotron radiation. There would also be some inverse Compton scattering due to the spiralling relativistic electrons within the Birkeland currents of the jet. The basic problem for the “black hole” model is the source of the energy to distant parts of the jet.
However, when the quasar “black hole” is not viewed as both the source of the jet and its supply of energy, we do not have to wait 100,000 years for the energy to reach the end of the jet. The quasar jet forms a part of a much larger electrical circuit and in the same way that the power lead to an electric radiator gets hot (radiates in the infrared), so the distant part of the quasar jet gets hot.
We don’t need “a radical rethink of the physics of relativistic jets that black holes drive.” What is needed is a course in electrical engineering and experimental plasma discharge. Neither appears in any astrophysics curriculum.
American astronomers claim that black holes may not exist
(Guardian, July 29)
Does this mean that the madness of black holes is at an end? Not a bit of it.
” According to the researchers, the traditional astronomers’ view of a universe liberally sprinkled with invisible, all-consuming black holes should be replaced with an alternative that sees strange, magnetic balls of plasma floating in their place.”
“The scientists, lead by Rudy Schild at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, spotted what they claim to be the death knell for black hole theory while observing a quasar, lurking nine billion light years from Earth. They discovered a gaping hole in a disc of material surrounding the centre of the quasar, as wide as 4,000 times the distance from the Earth to the sun. The hole, they believe, could only be caused by a vast ejection of material propelled by a strong magnetic field.
Because black holes do not have magnetic fields, Dr Schild’s team suggest the quasar must be powered by a dense ball of plasma called a MECO (magnetospheric eternally collapsing object). But according to the astronomers’ theories the MECOs’ existence precludes the possibility of black holes. “I believe this is the first evidence that the whole black hole paradigm is incorrect,” said Darryl Leiter, a scientist on the team.
According to Gerry Gilmore at Cambridge University’s Institute for Astronomy, the theory has yet to convince most scientists. He pointed to last year’s groundbreaking experiments that gave the first direct observation of a black hole at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. “I’d have to say it’s a minority view. It’s almost certainly wrong,” said Prof Gilmore. “Before we had observations of a black hole, there was a legitimate debate over whether black holes existed or not, but now it’s hard to think how it could be anything else.”
Gilmore shows the delusion remains firmly in place and Schild demonstrates that gravitational science fiction is his forte with an “eternally collapsing object.” The only glimmers of hope come from identifying the object as magnetized plasma and that black hole phenomena may be magnetospheric. However, a magnetic field requires an electric current and there is not one word about electricity.
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