Sunday, September 7, 2014

Electric Universe: HI regions, the CMB, and Critical Ionization Velocity

It took a bit longer to complete the (preliminary) reading for this response to the claims by Chris Reeve in (Dad2059: The Electric Universe & Strawmen). It is yet another follow-on to Mr. Reeve's earlier claims supporting the Electric Universe (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'...), discussed (Pseudoscience and 'World-View') and (Electric Universe: More Confusing Claims from the EU 'Worldview').

I may have a more detailed response for a future post, but for now, we should note some aspects of this which Mr. Reeve doesn't tell you, particularly his limited understanding of HI regions and critical ionization velocity (CIV).

On the HI Hyperfine Transition... 

HI is the astronomers' designation for neutral atomic hydrogen gas. Ionized atomic hydrogen (a single proton) is often designated HII. There are similar notations for the ionization state of other elements. Wikipedia: Hydrogen Line

A couple of interesting notes about HI relevant to astronomy. The HI line with a 21 cm wavelength (frequency =1420 MHz) is due to a transition in the energy level of the neutral hydrogen atom that occurs when the spin of the electron and proton switch from parallel to anti-parallel, which corresponds to a lower energy state. Two particularly important things to note, relevant to Electric Universe (EU) claims:
  1. The existence of this transition was predicted theoretically from quantum mechanics, some years before it was actually observed. Again, this success was thanks to the power of mathematics with a reliable experimental and theoretical framework. 
  2. With a transition rate on the order of 10^-15 per second, the state has a lifetime of about 10 million years. Any collisions with other atoms in that time frame can change the atomic state, so the 21 cm HI emission is limited to regions of extremely low temperature and/or density, so that there is a LONG time between collisions which can reset the atomic state so the photon will not be emitted. This long lifetime means this emission of 21 cm radiation has never been observed in the laboratory. Since EU advocates often like to claim only laboratory-verified phenomena should be valid science (which appears to include almost everything except neutrino oscillations), it's rather hypocritical when they resort to the 21cm radiation. 
Mr. Reeve's ignorance, or is it evasion, of these facts, is peculiar, but not surprising...

So all-in-all, it's rather funny when EU supporters are backed so far into a corner that they have to pull out claims related to HI observations, as dependence on them is evidence against many of their claimed underlying beliefs about how science actually works.

Critical Ionization Velocity or CIV 

Now for CIV, or Critical Ionization Velocity (not to be confused with +3 ionized carbon, occasionally also written as CIV using the notation described above). CIV is a plasma effect originally predicted by Hannes Alfven. It is the relative velocity between a plasma and neutral gas at which the neutral gas starts to ionize. To date, it has only been clearly identified under laboratory conditions, but not under conditions in space. (Wikipedia: Critical Ionization Velocity)

Over the past decade or so, Dr. Verschuur has hypothesized a correlation between HI 21 cm emission regions above the disk of the Milky Way galaxy and 'hot spots' in the WMAP ILC map (NASA: Wilkinson ILC map) may indicate some type of electromagnetically-driven structure.

Two aspects of this apparent correlation of particular interest to Electric Universe supporters are
  1. the speculation that this correlation is evidence for a cosmic-scale CIV effect and therefore cosmic-scale electric currents. 
  2. that these correlations with the emission from the cosmic microwave background (CMB) is evidence against Big-Bang cosmology. 
While Mr. Reeve uses Dr. Verschuur's work to promote a new edition of Peratt's "Physics of the Plasma Universe", Dr. Verschuur has published much of this work in the astrophysics literature.

Problems for Electric Universe/Plasma Cosmology Supporters 

As Verschuur notes in all his papers on this topic (References 8, 11, 12, 13,14,15 listed below), these 'anomalies' are LOCAL to our galaxy (with estimated distances between 200 and 4000 parsecs) and fairly small scale, but perhaps far above the galactic disk. Many of the neutral hydrogen regions have average velocities that are negative, implying the regions are moving towards the observer (blue-shifted). Therefore, they are not evidence for the Peratt galaxy model.

Other authors have speculated on the possibility of CIV in the Magellanic Stream (Reference 9). The Magellanic stream (Wikipedia) is a path of hydrogen gas that stretches from the Magellanic galaxies across a large part of the sky - apparently a trail left by a tidal interaction of the Magellanic galaxies in the distant past. In this case, H-alpha emission is found at boundary of high-velocity clouds. This is not surprising, as flow velocities sufficient to produce ionization provide more than enough energy to generate other atomic excitations - and we would expect them from more cosmologically abundant elements like hydrogen and helium. This paper makes two important points relevant to this particular discussion:
  1. CIV does not require an electric current - a neutral plasma at high relative velocity in magnetic field colliding with another neutral gas cloud can have same effect. 
  2. Because the energy transfer to the atoms are enough to ionize them, it is also sufficient to activate additional atomic spectral lines. Therefore, additional emission, particularly atomic excitations, should be visible.
Here's just some of the problems (some noted by Dr. Verschuur himself) with the CIV interpretation:
  1. Dr. Verschuur does not find a similar H-alpha correlation for his observations. There are poor correlations of this emission with X-rays (Reference 14, figure 4) and H-alpha (Reference 14,  figure 6b) an issue which he notes in (Reference 15) and has not resolved.
  2. As noted by other researchers (References 6, 10), the observable 'signature' of CIV may be easy to confuse with other processes. In addition, the CIV effect itself is probably a combination of more fundamental processes which may dominate the physical system at any given time. CIV might be a useful term in laboratory cases, but it may be too poorly defined in a space environment, which might explain why it has yet to be clearly identified in a space environment (see A comparison between laboratory and space experiments on Alfven’s CIV effect.).
  3. I have yet to find a rigorous examination of CIV in theory or laboratory which has examined the SPECTRAL signature of the process (References 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 10). Closest to spectral signature is in Reference 7 (figure 7, 59). The research papers include lots of examinations of voltages, currents, plasma frequencies, which are readily measured in laboratories, but little as to what the astronomer can observe and measure with tools such as spectroscopes and broad frequency range imaging. Therefore, the interpretation based on the width of gaussian line profiles are not necessarily clear signatures of the process.
  4. That said, it is easy to understand how the 50 km/s profile might be imprinted on HI emission, as any hydrogen atoms at higher speeds would have a higher probability of being collisionally de-excited from the hyperfine state so only the atoms at the critical speed and lower will have a chance to emit 21cm radiation. But just how does the velocity profile for these other atoms: helium, carbon, etc. get 'imprinted' on the velocity profile of the HI? Any collisional or electromagnetic interaction which accelerates the hydrogen atom to these speeds risks moving the atom into a state where 21 cm photons would not be emitted. Without some clear answer to (3) above, this is essentially impossible to answer.
  5. Probably related to (4) above, generally, the relative amplitudes of the elements features identified by Dr. Verschuur should be roughly proportional to the abundances of the specific chemical element(s). While it's reasonable to identify hydrogen and helium, where helium is about 1/10 as abundant as hydrogen (in terms of fraction of atoms) and might have 1/10 the amplitude of the hydrogen signal, it's a little more difficult to identify the heavier elements whose abundance are lower by a factor of 100. To justify this, there must something enhancing the signal of the heavier elements out of proportion to their abundance (unless one wants to claim the atomic abundances are indeed significantly higher in these regions, which generates a whole additional set of problems).
  6. Invoking Marklund convection raises the same problems as noted before (Electric Universe: More Confusing Claims from the EU 'Worldview'). No one has yet demonstrated what we would actually observe and measure for this configuration, or even what could generate the current claimed. Again, Electric Universe advocates think electric currents just spring up anywhere they need them, as if by magic. Since some EU supporter will no doubt point to various planetary nebulae with cylindrical structure, it should be noted that all observed bi-polar flows have been measured OUTWARD from the central object, not through it (Wikipedia: Bipolar outflow) so Marklund convection can't apply in these flows.
Dr. Verschuur has far from demonstrated that these apparent correlations between HI emission & the CMB bright spots correspond to CIV, especially considering the problem that there is significant offsets between the emission regions.

Recognizing a number of the problems noted above, in Reference 15, Dr. Verschuur suggests the possibility of these regions being signs of magnetic reconnection (an option which I suspect Electric Universe supporters would also express disapproval: See (Non-) Electric Universe News for Summer 2013, On Magnetic Reconnection and "Discharges").

Two-Dimensional Thinking in a Three (or Four)-Dimensional Universe... 

In the papers discussed, Dr. Verschuur is still doing a 2-D analysis of a 3-D environment, a practice which is fraught with peril.

I contrast this with the analysis Dr. Verschuur presented in another 2013 paper (High-resolution Observations and the Physics of High-velocity Cloud A0) where he explicitly reports an examination of the hypothesized filament in (l,b,v) space - projecting a helix, and it's proposed velocity profile, on the sky. He describes how he derives hypothesized currents, and the magnetic fields they would generate. He even presents how higher-resolution measurements of magnetic fields from this region may test this hypothesis. Here, Dr. Verschuur clearly states his input assumptions and explores a number of the consequences, and even proposes observations to test it.   Why wasn't this type of analysis done with the proposed Marklund convection configuration which Verschuur mentions in the CIV papers?

Other astronomers are doing a more complete analysis with this type of 2-D images combined with line-of-sight spectra and it is an important tool for extracting more complete information. See NASA: Astronomers Bring The Third Dimension To A Doomed Star's Outburst

Another example of how human perception can lead to flawed conclusions is illustrated by Halton Arp's 3-D intuition in regard to discordant redshifts. All of Dr. Arp's probability arguments had simple geometric explanations in 3-D (Discord for Discordant Redshifts. I., Discord for Discordant Redshifts. II.) and the chance alignments were far more probable than he realized.

Electric Universe Advocates Fail Again 

The CIV explanation for these correlations raise far more problems than it solves. Mr. Reeve's suggestion that this analysis represents a significant mathematical demonstration of the success of Electric Universe ideas in astronomy doesn't cut it. Again, the literature and the experiments are out there for anyone to find - but Mr. Reeve apparently did not bother himself to learn the facts about CIV.

Electric Universe continues its attempts to appropriate the work of legitimate researchers as 'theirs' while ignoring the long history of electric fields and currents in astronomy (365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe).


  1.  C. K. Goertz, S. Machida, and R. A. Smith. An asymptotic state of the critical ionization velocity phenomenon. Journal of Geophysical Research, 90:12230–12234, December 1985. doi: 10.1029/JA090iA12p12230. 
  2. S. Machida and C. K. Goertz. A simulation study of the critical ionization velocity process. Journal of Geophysical Research, 91:11965–11976, November 1986. doi: 10.1029/JA091iA11p11965. 
  3. S. Machida and C. K. Goertz. The electromagnetic effect on the critical ionization velocity process. Journal of Geophysical Research, 93:11495–11506, October 1988. doi: 10.1029/JA093iA10p11495.
  4. C. K. Goertz, G. Lu, and S. Machida. On the theory of CIV. Advances in Space Research, 10:33–45, 1990. doi: 10.1016/0273-1177(90)90271-Z. 
  5. R. B. Torbert. Review of critical velocity experiments in the ionosphere. Advances in Space Research, 10: 47–58, 1990. doi: 10.1016/0273-1177(90)90272-2. 
  6. N. Brenning. A comparison between laboratory and space experiments on Alfven’s CIV effect. IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, 20:778–786, December 1992. doi: 10.1109/27.199528. 
  7. N. Brenning. Review of the CIV phenomenon. Space Science Reviews, 59:209–314, February 1992. doi: 10.1007/BF00242088. 
  8. G. L. Verschuur and A. L. Peratt. Galactic Neutral Hydrogen Emission Profile Structure. Astronomical Journal, 118:1252–1267, September 1999. doi: 10.1086/300998. 
  9. C. Konz, H. Lesch, G. T. Birk, and H. Wiechen. The Critical Velocity Effect as a Cause for the Hα Emission from the Magellanic Stream. Astrophysical Journal, 548:249–252, February 2001. doi: 10.1086/318690. 
  10. S. T. Lai. A review of critical ionization velocity. Reviews of Geophysics, 39:471–506, November 2001. doi: 10.1029/2000RG000087. 
  11.  A. L. Peratt and G. L. Verschuur. Observation of the CIV effect in interstellar clouds: a speculation on the physical mechanism for their existence. IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, 28:2122–2127, December 2000. doi: 10.1109/27.902239. 
  12. G. L. Verschuur. On the Critical Ionization Velocity Effect in Interstellar Space and Possible Detection of Related Continuum Emission. IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, 35:759–766, August 2007. doi: 10.1109/TPS.2007.898037. 
  13. G. L. Verschuur and J. T. Schmelz. A Pervasive Broad Component in H I Emission Line Profiles: Temperature, Turbulence, or a Helium Signature? Astronomical Journal, 139:2410–2424, June 2010. doi: 10.1088/0004-6256/139/6/2410. 
  14.  G. L. Verschuur. On the Apparent Associations Between Interstellar Neutral Hydrogen Structure and (WMAP) High-frequency Continuum Emission. Astrophysical Journal, 711:1208–1228, March 2010. doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/711/2/1208. 
  15. G. L. Verschuur. Interacting Galactic Neutral Hydrogen Filaments and Associated High-frequency Continuum Emission. Astrophysical Journal, 768:181, May 2013. doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/768/2/181. 
  16. G. L. Verschuur. High-resolution Observations and the Physics of High-velocity Cloud A0. Astrophysical Journal, 766:113, April 2013. doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/766/2/113.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reading: "Invisible Light Or the Electrical Theory of Creation"

George Woodward Warder. Invisible Light Or the Electrical Theory of Creation. 1898.

I had originally encountered the author of G.W. Warder in some discussion forum claiming that Warder was the true origin of the Electric Universe (Wikipedia).

Having now read this first of what appears to be a number of books on the topic, I regard it not unlikely that this series of books were the equivalent of an early 'Bible' for Electric Universe ideas.   It may have been an influence on Immanuel Velikovsky (Wikipedia).  It may be the series that has attracted many Christian creationists to the Electric Universe (The Electric Universe & Creationism, Quiet here, but Recent Electric Universe and Creationism activity…).

When reading such books, it is easy to forget that at the time it was written, we did not know about the atomic nucleus and the energies locked up within.  We did not even have heavier-than-air flight, much less space flight.  Some of Warder's ideas might seem quaint today, but his ideas probably reflected a lot of what the general population of the day believed about the natural world, even as science was demonstrating some of these ideas which we arrogantly called 'common sense' were grossly in error.
"My definition of electricity is invisible light"
--Nicola Tesla
With this quote, we enter Warder's reinterpretation of science and the Bible.

You can get a good feel for the nature of the text with a quick scan of the table of contents:
  1. Chapter I.  The theory stated-electricity is the medium and agency of the creative power in the evolution of the universe.
  2. Chapter II.  This theory is not in conflict with modern science or the Mosaic cosmogony.
  3. Chapter III.  All matter is one matter and matter has no intelligence.
  4. Chapter iv.  Attraction of gravitation is an electromagnetic attraction.
  5. Chapter V.  What is Electricity and what are its Uses in Nature?
  6. Chapter VI.  All light heat and force in nature is electricity in some of its forms.
  7. Chapter VII.  Electricity is the great chemist, wonder-worker, and world-builder.
  8. Chapter VIII.  God controls universe as man controls his body, by electricity.
  9. Chapter IX.  Man is beginning to use electricity as god uses it to bless and control the world.
  10. Chapter X.  Man is a special creation.  Not a developed monkey or protoplasm.
  11. Chapter XI.  Evolution, the vortex theory, and the limitation of temperature.
  12. Chapter XII.  The Mosaic account of creation not in conflict with modern science.
  13. Chapter XIII.  The scientific explanation of the Deluge.
  14. Chapter XIV.  The sun is inhabitable and is the spiritual center and promised heaven of the solar system.
  15. Chapter XV.  Belief in god is a scientific necessity.
  16. Chapter XVI.  Atheism is universal anarchy.
  17. Chapter XVII.  Man is both dust and Deity, with electricity as the connecting link.
  18. Chapter XVIII.  Science is the chart of human knowledge
  19. Chapter XIX.  Religion is the pilot of the soul to the fair fields of heaven.
  20. Chapter XX.  Theosophy, christian science - ethical and electric
  21. Chapter XXI.  Hope and Immortality are inborn aspirations - to be realized hereafter.
  22. Chapter XXII.  All souls aspire as they have Opportunity to Supreme Knowledge and Happiness and in the Ultimate Ages Will Attain to Both.
  23. Chapter XXIII.  Belief is necessary to character, art and progress.
  24. Chapter XXIV.  The true object of life is not happiness but usefulness
  25. Chapter XXV.  The universe is a vast electric machine.
  26. Chapter XXVI.  The ultimate purpose of creation is the development of man and the universe to ideal perfection.
Gravity Is Really Electromagnetism (chapter 4)
Warder makes a number of claims about gravity and electromagnetism being different manifestations of the same thing (pg 56).  This is a far more primitive notion than present-day views in particle physics that the fundamental forces being different manifestations of some other interaction.  These ideas are more like the notions you get in high-school physics when you first learn that Coulomb's Law has a similar mathematical form to Newton's Law of Gravitation.   Warder's view is more like that of many Electric Universe supporters and those of Emmanuel Velikovsky  (Velikovsky Archive: Cosmos without gravitation)

Warder expects we could demonstrate the electricity-gravitation equivalence when we learn how to 'magnetize' an apple (pg 57).

In spite of this, Warder seems to support Lord Kelvin's failed notion that gravitation is a form of vortex of whirling atoms (pg 63, 163), which seems rather contradictory (PBS: Beautiful Losers: Kelvin's Vortex Theory). 

Nature of Sun and the Solar System  Environment
Warder writes a great deal about the Sun and various combinations of these ideas seem to have been picked up by Electric Universe supporters. 
  • Warder states that the Sun needs no fuel because it is actually powered by electric batteries and magnets (pg 185).  The science of the day suggested the Sun was powered by gravitational contraction (pg 303), but Warder rejects this idea (pg 306).
  • Warder claims the Sun is not actually hot, that it is a solid body surrounded by a luminous atmosphere (pg 185), powered by carbon burning in an atmosphere of oxygen (pg 88).  His evidence for this is mountaintops, which are closer to sun, are covered in snow (pg 188) so it must be colder.  He also argues that magnets loose their magnetism when heated, so the Sun cannot be hot and a magnet (pg 309).
  • The Sun does not radiate power that is lost into space, but the power is actually directed to Earth.  The aurora are Earth's attempts to form a photosphere (pg 307).
  • Warder even goes so far as to suggest the Sun is the home of a deity or archangel (pg 186).
Connection to other pseudosciences
Warder was apparently a fan of other pseudo-sciences of his day (some of which still have supporters today).  He describes the Society for Psychic Research as 'quasi-scientific' (pg 31-32), and argues that the body's electrical aspects can account for mesmerism and hypnotism (pg 120).

On Darwin's Theory of Evolution
Darwin's theory of Evolution had been out for a number of decades at the time of Warder's writing, and Warder attempts to reconcile them with ideas still pushed by some advocates of Intelligent Design today.  He notes that Moses does not say how long it took for God to make Man (pg 34) and argues that that Darwin followed the dirt, while Moses followed the Deity in man (pg 35).  He argues that there is not direct conflict with evolution, but Man is a separate creation (pg 147-148).

View of the 'Electric' Future
One of the fascinating historical insights the book provided was Warder's description of late 1800s solar power generation demonstrations, which at that time was expected to be the primary source of electrical power generation for distribution to the general public (Chapter 9).  Not long after reading this, I saw "The World Set Free" episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which described many of the same demonstrations (Wikipedia: Episode 12 of Cosmos).

Sunday, August 17, 2014

News from Other Fronts

A little occupied with home projects and responsibilities the past month, so posting has fallen off.  I just realized it's been about three weeks since my last post. 

I've been responding to a fair amount of traffic from my interviews at Exposing PseudoAstronomy.
For the active comment stream, see Electric Universe Interview @ Exposing Pseudo-Astronomy, Part 2

In the meantime, I have collected a few good links to share.

TED: Why we should trust scientists 
A good presentation on what makes scientific opinions of better quality on some issues than the opinion of 'just anyone'.

On several occasions, I have brought attention to how the increased private enterprise presence in space opens opportunities for flying small experiments suitable for college and even high-school science classes.  ArduSats (Wikipedia) are one such opportunity.

In a recent CosmoQuest podcast (July 26: ArduSat), Pamela Gay discusses the implications of this capability with one of the developers.  About 37-40 minutes into the program, Dr. Gay suggests these satellites would provide an easy method for high school students to do their own test of relativity by flying an atomic clock on one of these satellites. 

I've challenged a number of those who claim that the GPS system does not use relativity to perform even simpler experiments, such as building a GPS receiver without relativistic corrections, to demonstrate their claim.  I've found no takers so far, and I assume this new opportunity for relativity-deniers will be evaded as well.

On Conspiracies
Many of the cranks I deal with on this site, when confronted with various observational or experimental evidence, will fall back on the claim that the REAL evidence is being 'covered up' somehow.  Trying to get the entire scientific community to participate in such a 'conspiracy' would probably be about as successful as herding cats (Mythbusters).

Cracked: 5 Ways Every Conspiracy Theory Makes the World Worse

Rosetta & 'Electric Asteroids'
The Rosetta spacecraft (Wikipedia) made it's final approach to comet 69P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and is now in station-keeping maneuvers while a suitable location for the lander is identified.  Considering all the nonsense the Electric Universe (EU) supporters claimed with earlier comet encounters (Electric Comets: Failures of the Electric Comet Model), what's up with the EU crowd?

Well, they haven't been quiet:
Thunderbolts: Rosetta Update

What!?  This is rather tame set of claims compared to some of their previous stuff which I addressed before.  No predictions of bright flashes of 'electric arcs' as the spacecraft approaches?  Why not?  Just claims of electric etching and arcing from past electric arcs.  Of course, EU advocates still have no mechanism of how Nature generates the electric potential differences of the necessary power to do such etching, leaving that to apparently some un-named supernatural agent. 

EUers still have a problem as, in accordance with the standard comet model (which they deny), Rosetta has been detecting water vapor out-gassing from the comet  (ESA: Rosetta detects water).  And as I've documented in the previous electric comet article, comets and asteroids form a continuum of composition, from dominated by icy volatiles to dominated by rocky material and this may actually be an evolutionary sequence as volatiles are depleted with successive close passages to the Sun.  This has been known for some time.

In addition, real scientists who study electric fields are developing more ways to measure the electric fields produced around space bodies due to the bombardment by charged particles in the solar wind and solar ultraviolet radiation. 
NASA: New NASA Model Gives Glimpse into the Invisible World of Electric Asteroids
Here, NASA scientists have developed a computational model that tries to predict electric field build-up around these objects.   Model development which allows you to compare to measurements that let you do REAL things is the real demonstration of a successful theory.  Notice that in these models there is no inclusion of any giant electric currents driving the Sun.  The electric fields top out at about 3 volts/meter and even that is over a very small spatial range (hardly enough to generate a bright arc to a spacecraft!).  I've described how real space physicists use these processes (much to the denial of EU supporters) in earlier posts (Electric Universe: Plasma Modeling vs. 'Mystic Plasma',  365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe).

And More Badly Done Science
And for even more news about how the press gives too much attention to sloppily-done science,
This appears to be yet another case of someone not understanding the sources of possible error and not establishing proper controls (see also PhysicsCentral: NASA's Cold Fusion Folly and Radioactive decay rates depend on Earth-Sun distance?)

Ethan Siegel @ Starts With A Bang, asks
Do the Cosmic Unknowns Cast Doubt on the Big Bang?"

Flat Earth
And Glenn Branch has some fun with Flat Earthers on the NCSE blog:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Those Crazy Scientific Theories!

Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Infinities…

This is also a partial response to a comment by Bruno Suric.

It's a common whine of pseudo-scientists, that mainstream science has lost its way, introducing near-mystical entities like dark matter & dark energy, infinities, etc. to explain what many might want to view as 'common-sense' phenomena.

Of course, they conveniently forget that such 'common-sense' interpretations of the natural world ruled the human race for thousands of years of recorded history.  Our modern world of space flight, communications satellites, microelectronics, etc. came about only over the past 400 years or so as we abandoned a view that Nature operates based on our notions and supernaturalism, and developed techniques which allowed mathematics to make predictions that can be tested by experiments which paved the way to precision engineering on large scales down to the atomic level.

While pseudo-scientists like to complain about modern theories with features they don't like, they conveniently forget (or most likely they never actually knew) that many older theories (which they are not complaining about) had annoying infinities and other 'common-sense'-defying characteristics that challenged and perplexed researchers of the day.  Some of these issues are still unresolved, but otherwise largely ignored because they occur in regimes not yet accessible by experiment.  But even with these problems, the theory is still very useful in areas we can reach with experiment.

Older theories made many 'nonsense' predictions, a number of which were even verified by experiments.  Electromagnetism is loaded with them.
  • Poisson's Spot or Arago's Spot (Wikipedia): A small bright spot in the center of a shadow, a consequence of the wave theory of light.  Poisson predicted the bright spot would exist in the center of a shadow using the wave theory of light and claimed that such a nonsense result was evidence against the wave theory.  Then Arago set up and experiment and found it.  This is actually a simple experiment for a reasonably equipped optics lab - I have even demonstrated it myself.
  • Maxwell's equations predicted atoms composed of negative charges occupying a large space around a central positive charge were unstable would collapse in less than a millionth of a second because the negative charge in orbit around the positive center would radiate away its energy.  We know that atoms do not collapse.
  • Maxwell's electromagnetism predicted that heat from a fireplace would emit a dangerous amount (essentially an infinite amount) of high-energy radiation, yet that is not observed (Wikipedia: Ultraviolet Catastrophe). 
  • Electromagnetism has a similar problem to Newtonian gravity at r=0.  If we compute the energy of an electron of a finite radius, we get a diverging result as the radius approaches zero.  We can choose a finite radius where the internal energy matches the electron mass, and obtain the Classical Electron Radius of 2.82e-15 meters (Wikipedia: Classical Electron Radius).  But when we slam electrons together in accelerators, we find the electrons penetrate significantly closer than this.  Today, we still only have an 'upper limit' of 1e-22 meters which means that is the LARGEST the electron could be, and it places no constraints on how much smaller it could be (Wikipedia: Electron-Fundamental Properties).  The Standard Model assumes the electrons, neutrinos, and quarks are all structureless point-particles.  Does the electron have structure?  The honest answer is scientists don't know, but are trying to find out.
  • Standard Model of particle physics treats all particles as point-masses and charges.  While some theories proposed beyond the Standard Model hypothesize a finite size for the electron, none of those theories have yet been verified.  But for a few anomalies (neutrino mass, electron magnetic moment, etc.) this works quite well, but it is clearly not complete (Wikipedia: Point Particle, Standard Model)
With such bizarre, nonsense, illogical predictions, why aren't many cranks advocating total abandonment of Maxwell's equations?  
  • Even circuit analysis was not immune from infinities.  LC-resonance circuits have an infinity at their resonance frequency (Wikipedia: Electrical Resonance, LC Circuit), which is only resolved with the recognition that real circuits have some resistance which eliminates the infinity (Wikipedia: RLC Circuit).  Here's an interesting question which maybe readers can find the answer - has anyone built an LC circuit using superconductors which ostensibly have zero resistance?  If so, what happens at the resonance frequency?
  • Fluid dynamical equations, such as the Navier-Stokes equations (Wikipedia), treats liquids as a continuum at all scales.  In the math, fluids are not ultimately made of atoms and molecules.  As a result, mathematics can generate singularities (Backreaction: Singularities in your Kitchen).
  • Then there's all the counter-intuitive phenomena in quantum-mechanics, such as tunneling (Wikipedia) which are fundamental in the operation of the integrated circuits in the computer on which you are reading this.  Quantum mechanics also generates it's own set of infinities.  So far, they are dealt with by a number of techniques that can at best be called 'hacks' (Wikipedia: Renormalization) that allow use to obtain experimentally testable numbers, but they still indicate the theory is not complete.
Why don't we discard these theories since they generate such nonsensical results?

New Knowledge from Counter-Intuitive Behavior of Physical Theories

Almost invariably, the odd solutions to physical theories often generate useful insights.  Sometimes these odd solutions are just ignorable, often the researcher has just made an error or oversight in applying the theory.  That's why physical science is more of a social endeavor, as researchers provide checks on each others work.
  • Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) argument (wikipedia). It took many years before we could actually test it and when we did, we found the bizarre 'spooky action-at-a-distance' which Einstein said was proof of the failure of quantum mechanics turned out to be exactly how the universe worked!  Even so, some researchers continue to explore if this strange behavior has a more 'logical' origin.
  • Negative root prediction of positron.  Negative roots in Dirac equation (Wikipedia) suggested existence of a positive counterpart of the electron, initially misidentified with the proton, which was identified a few years later (Wikipedia: positron). 
One reason we keep these models, in spite of their problems, is that they still work better than their competitors in generating numerical values of measurements which we can compare to experiments.  This ability also makes them easier to use as the basis for new technologies.  All these 'problem theories' are the same ones that have made all modern technologies possible.  You reject them at your peril.

The other reason is these theories work quite well everywhere else, while exhibiting strange behavior under very limited conditions.

Cranks want to replace these theories with bizarre things that generate little or no testable predictions.  When we investigate the alternatives presented by the cranks, we encounter:
  • no math to provide predictive capability; or
  • presenting same math as the mainstream theory, but surrounding it with different terminology; or
  • replacing a single theory that makes many different predictions with numerous ad hoc explanations.  The big problem with these alternatives is they can only arise as the original theory makes successful predictions after which the pseudo-scientists adopt the results as yet another ad hoc explanation.
So faced with these infinities and non-sensical behavior, we are faced with two options:
  1. Admit the answer is unknown, then actually doing the REAL work needed to solve it.  Continue to use the theory where it has good predictive power and work to test it closer to the limits where the strange behavior occurs.
  2. Pseudo-scientist 'solution' is to claim problem doesn't exist or is made up; ignore the theory which has it, often without replacement.  Of course, such individuals will miss out of the discoveries and inventions possible with even a incomplete theory.
Cranks routinely miss the fact that all models are an approximation to reality  (see Crank Science: Worse than Wrong) but an approximation that produces useful results is still valuable, and better than models that produce objective predictions beyond, say "it looks like an electric filament!".  As I've noted here many times, crank theories produce no useful results yet are repeatedly claimed as successful - which is what makes it a crank theory.

What Infinities Tell Us

Science popularizers often overuse some of the odder predictions of various theories such as speculation about the meanings of infinities the theory might have.  This is in part to emphasize that there are still discoveries to be made - that science is not complete.

But anyone claiming to do serious SCIENTIFIC critiques would rightfully have their judgement questioned if they base their arguments on the statements made by popularizers.  It's legitimate to argue about best analogies, over sensationalizing, or even outright inaccuracies for statements made by popularizers who are aiming to encourage excitement and enthusiasm about the science.  Once one gets into describing what happens when we encounter infinities from a scientific theory, popularizers should probably have a red warning banner that reads "SPECULATION" or "HYPOTHESIS". 

In reality, history suggests that infinities are signposts:

"Beyond Here May Be NEW PHYSICS".  

It's an area on the frontier, seeking solutions, and therefore the most exciting.  Sometimes it's just telling us that the approximations break down, atomic scale processes become important in a fluid, resistance becomes important in a circuit, etc.  Sometimes there really are new physics.  The Pioneer anomaly is an observation that was real and could have been a hint of new physics, but detailed examinations of laboratory phenomena, such as radiation recoil, revealed that over the 40+ years of the mission, even these tiny effects could accumulate sufficiently to be detectable (Wikipedia: Pioneer Anomaly).

So what's up with black holes? 

Many cranks try to make a big deal about general relativity and black holes, wanting to rant about singularities and such.  These singularities in General Relavity are the modern version of these historical scientific problems, and as such get a lot of attention in popularizations. 

Is there a singularity at 'center' of black hole? 
  • Many physicists suspect (myself included) suspect you can never actually cross the event horizon, so what lies at the center while perhaps interesting, is largely irrelevant. 
  • However, some solutions suggest you can actually cross the horizon and reach the center, but it would be a one-way trip. 
Note that even the recent 'Cosmos' series didn't make any claims about passing THROUGH the event horizon of a black hole.

Was there anything prior to the 'singularity' at the beginning of the Big Bang? 

The real answer at present is we don't really know.

But GR has successfully passed virtually every other test we've thrown at it (Wikipedia: Tests of General Relativity).  The bar for replacing relativity is pretty high. 

Either way, trying to find a conclusive answer to the question can provide new insights, but in the process generates a horde of speculations. Most of this interaction takes place in the literature and places like the Cornell Preprint server.  All the PROFESSIONAL literature I've read on this controversial topic is pretty civil.  Some of it receives responses, but things are usually quiet unless some new experimental result suggests a connection, or a university press office desperately needs something to publish.

Not so with the cranks, who take being dismissed, corrected, or ignored as personal attacks and try to use this as a way to get attention, but that's another post...

Many of the cranks who scream about the nonsensical theories seem utterly clueless about the history of the topic, ignoring how many of those 'problem theories' are not only still in use today, but in many cases driving technologies that they use.
But the cranks will find some excuse to ignore these inconvenient facts...

"But those infinities are not as bad as this one in relativity..." 


Many of these historical problems were sources of serious controversy of their day, just as the modern infinities.  Some, such as the infinite self-energy electromagnetic mass issue are still only solved by methods that aren't much different than hacks.  Such workarounds suggest that our theory is not truly complete.  

But does that mean the theory is useless? 

No, it is quite usable in the broader realms, but the problems provide guides for future experiments which may outline the requirements of a more complete theory.

Do mainstream scientists know the solution to the problem?  No. 

But the cranks know even less.

Additional Resources

Previous related posts