Let’s be clear. Physicists are scrambling about in the dark trying to make sense of ever more data that is available to them. What is dark matter and how do we know that it really exists? What is a black hole other than a theory needed to explain things we don’t understand? What is gravity really? Is light a wave or a particle? The list of things they don’t understand or cannot explain fully is long and complex. For example in 1899, Max Planck came up with what came to be known as the Planck constant which for all practical purposes he considered a fudge factor. It worked to describe energy levels at the atomic level but was not a very elegant theory. Planck described the formulation as, "an act of despair ... I was ready to sacrifice any of my previous convictions about physics.”
Nevertheless, Planck's despair notwithstanding, The Planck Constant became the basis for Quantum Mechanics which together with Einstein’s advances on time and space constitutes the heart and soul of modern physics. (Planck got the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918.) New particles and new elements and new data about star formation and developments in nuclear energy have all transpired over the last 100 years. And yet there is so much more to be learned. Unless, of course, you are a theoretical physicist who thinks like Max Planck’s first physics teacher. The Munich physics professor Phillip von Jolly advised Planck against going into physics, saying, "in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes.” This was uttered in 1874. You don’t have to be a physicists or mathematician to think this statement is hilarious.
Yes folks, we have physicists today teaching in our universities who like professor Jolly, are totally oblivious to their ignorance. And so when my colleague walked down the corridor of a local university looking for someone to discuss the results of our humble Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR)* experiments and encountered a professor who dismissed the entire field of “cold fusion” as bogus, I began to wonder about the whole field of scientific inquiry and more importantly the tendency of “learned” people to dismiss anything that does not conform to the body of knowledge that supports their own dissertation.
We smile when we read about the leading astronomers of the day dismissing the notion that the sun is at the center of our planetary system. How quaint. And yet that same attitude permeates the halls of our institutions of higher learning. It has been 25 years since Fleischman and Pons demonstrated what was then called cold fusion. Thousands of experiments have pointed to the fact that something we don’t understand fully is going on. NASA, MIT, the Stanford Research Institute, the US Navy and many others are all plugging away at trying to understand the phenomenon. Private companies are jumping ahead to harness this green source of almost free energy before physicists can even explain it. So why does a physicist with a PhD scoff?
Well for one thing it flies in the face of Quantum Mechanics and that has been the foundation of atomic level physics for a hundred years. So does that excuse our ignorant physics professor? Not really. For you see our system of scientific inquiry is supposed to be open to new data, new ideas, new postulations. And when the system calcifies it subjects itself to the kind of hilarious laughter that we accord to 1874 professor Jolly. But there is something else at work here. Is it hubris? Perhaps. But I am wondering if science is being subjected to the same forces that permeate everything else around us.
I would like to suggest that we are being dumbed down, even to the point that the brain of a physics professor can be anesthetized to accept only the mainstream point of view. The main stream says raw milk is dangerous. The main stream says schools are the way to educate our youth. The main stream says that the Federal Reserve has done a heckuva job at rescuing us from a great depression. The main stream says that capitalism is working and it is the best economic system in the world. The main stream says that buying cheap goods from Wal-Mart made in China makes us happier. The main stream says that even though we pay the most for mediocre health care results, it is still better than “socialized medicine.” The mainstream says that we are living in a democracy and we are free. The main stream says that LENR is a hoax.
So before we hold my real life ignorant physics professor up for scorn for wallowing in his century old quantum mechanics theory, maybe we should take a look at our own systems of belief. The challenge here is to think critically** and be willing to slaughter a few sacred cows. Until we are willing to challenge our firmly held beliefs in the validity of our education system, our government, our health care system, our food production system, our religiosity, our free enterprise system, etc., we are not really in a position to laugh at scientists who have stopped thinking.
Yes, we as a people have by and large stopped thinking. But LENR will come to fruition. The Oligarchy cannot protect their investment in petro fuels forever. University professors will give way to upstart students. Free thinkers who dare to challenge Quantum Mechanics will find a way. Companies will bring a million new products to market. And here is my hope. The LENR revolution will spawn a new age of critical thinking that will blow right past the crusty old Oligarchy.
Let a thousand flowers bloom.
* See blog entries Low Energy Nuclear Reactions and Nickel Energy
** See blog entry Are You a Critical Thinker?