December 1997 - January 1998
Infinite Energy Magazine
Heretical Verities: Mathematical Themes in Physical Description
Thomas Phipps, Jr.
Classic Non-fiction Library, 1986
Review by Jeffery D. Kooistra
This reviewer might as well admit up front that he is a friend and co-researcher with the author of the book under review. This association came about as something of an accident, but when one meets a soulmate in terms of how you each look at and pursue science—well, I guess working together in some capacity becomes inevitable.
Heretical Verities: Mathematical Themes in Physical Description, is one of those gems of a book that has been actively ignored by the Scientific Establishment. Lots of books get ignored that perhaps should be, but this isn’t one of them. Friends of New Energy research will be delighted by the attacks Phipps brings against Establishment physics, Establishment publications, and particularly, Establishment thinking. But a glance at the copyright date will reveal that Phipps was saying all this even before the Cold Fusion fiasco brought to light just how little science has to do with Big Science these days.
The book is divided into three parts: kinematics and electromagnetism; mechanics; and mathematics and statistics. In each section, Phipps is, in keeping with the title, as heretical as anyone could want. However, in keeping with his conservative views (at least as they relate to science—I have no idea what kind of political views Phipps holds) the book is only as heretical as it needs to be, and no more than that. What kind of conservatism is this? Well, the kind that we all think should be typical of science. That is, theories should be verified against experiment, and new theories should account for all the facts covered by the old one.
Before I encountered this book, I thought such was at least the case in physics, though I'd already grown cynical about just how well the average physicist obeys the mandates of his own profession. But I was wrong, and this becomes strikingly and frighteningly clear in the early chapters where Relativity comes under discussion.
Consider for a moment the classic “train in a station” example often used to explain the relativity of simultaneity. One fellow is at the station and another is sitting atop the train at its midpoint. Just as the train rolls through the station and observer A at the station is in line with observer B atop the train, two bolts of lightning strike, one at the front of the train, one just behind the caboose. Clearly, we are told, the observer at the station sees the two bolts strike simultaneously, and the observer aboard the train must see them strike at different times. What Phipps points out, and I’m sad to admit this never occurred to me before, is that we never bother to actually ask the guy atop the train whether or not he saw the bolts strike at different times. We assert that he does from the comfort of our stationary frame, but we don't ever actually ask him. Given the distinctly odd behavior we've come to understand with regard to light and, say, double-slit experiments, isn't it time we looked at this situation with something other than Einstein's purely classical understanding of the behavior of light?
Phipps describes a model in which photons “speed up” in response to an absorber, so that in the train situation, you'd actually have simultaneity be agreed upon by both observers. But since Phipps accepts that something like time dilation has been verified as true (though not length contraction), his theory chooses different invariants.
Now I can’t do justice to much of Phipps’ discussion, but at least now we’re at a place where an argument can happen, whereas before we believed that all this was settled and the Theory of Everything was just around the corner.
Ah, the Theory of Everything—the Holy Grail of the “new physics.” That to verify the truth of such a theory of everything would require the systematic empirical investigation of everything seldom comes up in the discussion. Early in the book (well, on page one of the introduction), Phipps gives his definition of new physics: “...any self-consistent physico- mathematical structure that a) accounts for existing experimental evidence and b) predictively differs in some observable way from existing physical theory.” This definition would, of course, exclude most of what passes for new physics in the popular books. In Phipps’ view, “The function and distinctive purpose of new physics, in short, is to give fresh employment to experimentalists.”
Phipps certainly doesn't fall short in this regard himself, since he has actually conducted or at least devised many experiments, which he describes, that could distinguish between his theories and the accepted ones, and in so doing, shows where the soft spots are in prevailing theory. One thing seldom pointed out about special relativity is that it has no analog to rigid body dynamics. Consider something as simple as a rotating disk with a line scribed on it along a radius from center to edge. If this disk is set into high speed rotation, and allowed to spin for a good long time, what will happen to the inscribed line? Special Relativity does not have an accepted solution to this question. One theorist predicted that the line would curve backwards over time, and Nature published a nice diagram of the prediction. Other theorists also predict curvature, but to a different extent. Phipps, of course, actually put a disk into rotation and kept it going for a few months. There was no curvature. Phipps took a picture. But Nature didn't want to publish an actual picture of an experimental result. Phipps’ paper came out in an obscure journal where it was soundly ignored.
Perhaps that’s the saddest thing about Heretical Verities, where Phipps recounts again and again experimental work, all of it done in perfectly acceptable fashion, some by him, some by others, and all of it ignored, set aside, hushed up. Geez, what percentage of folks who call themselves physicists actually care about doing physics anymore?
One of the most interesting experiments mentioned in Heretical Verities is the Sherwin-Rawcliffe experiment, and it probably is a more important experiment than that of Michelson-Morley, or would be if anyone knew about it. I can’t even explain it in the space I have here, but then, I want to tease the reader into buying the book, and there’s the following quote from that section I want to mention: “It would appear that classical electrodynamics may be one of those areas of physics that have too-long served as unsupervised playgrounds for theorists, with the bare minimum of chaperoning by experimentalists. As in all such cases, there is a possibility that tacit assumptions contrary to fact have been built so deeply into the foundations that a successful critic would have to devote one lifetime to discovery and two more to ‘sales.’ I have not paid the price of admission to this particular recreational area, so cannot offer an informed opinion.” In the time since Heretical Verities was written, Phipps has more than paid the price of admission.
The Sherwin-Rawcliffe experiment, which deals with the left-behind-potential-hill, (which turns out not to be left behind), has probably not been mentioned again since this book came out in 1986. Hence, it hasn't helped anyone notice that E&M theory has holes in it. Since the publication of the book, Phipps has linked up with Peter and Neal Graneau [who published Newton Versus Einstein—Ed. Note] and discovered a great deal more about those false “tacit assumptions” that have mucked up electromagnetic theory for the last century.
This is an important point to bring out, since it impinges so completely on the life of the New Energy researcher. We wonder if the disdain of the establishment we’ve been encountering, if the scorn heaped upon Pons and Fleischmann, if the refusal to publish our research, or even take it seriously, is something new. We wonder if there’s some kind of grand conspiracy involved.
Well, perhaps in individual cases there is a conspiracy of sorts, but in general? Well, it would have to have been going on for a long time. Tesla encountered resistance from patent bureaucrats a century ago, and it’s not clear that anything has changed since. Phipps recounts experiments and “ways of looking at things” that would have made it easier for the Establishment to unshackle itself from outdated theoretical dogma long ago, and yet, nothing happened. Heretical Verities lets us into the mind of a longtime heretic, of someone who has fought these battles for years and years against that Establishment, who has been honest about his defeats and continued anonymity despite all he's done. In short, Heretical Verities is the record of one man's war. And now that so many of us have had our own Pearl Harbors, the book should also serve as a call to arms.
Here I’m almost through with my review and I haven't even touched on sections II and III yet, but this is hardly necessary. Both sections are thought provoking and will teach you things that you should know, or open up doors and avenues that you never knew existed. In particular, the math section should be a joy to any working physicist who has had doubts about the way that mathematicians have stolen the interpretation of how the Universe works away from them.
But the one thing I must discuss is this: Heretical Verities is the funniest physics book I’ve ever read in my life. One cannot read the book for long without laughing out loud at how Phipps skewers the Establishment with hilarious jabs, puns, and double entendre's. For instance, in a section on the problems with Cauchy series, Phipps says: “In the long run, economy of effort is seldom attained through economy of thought. (Mathematicians prove to be surprisingly keen on economy of thought...downright miserly, some of them.)” ZING!!!
So what are we to make of Heretical Verities? In the preface, Dr. Pierre Noyes calls the book “...the life work of a very talented, dedicated and profound scholar and physicist; it should be respected on that ground alone.” He also notes that the book is addressed to those “...‘amateurs’ and ‘dilettantes’ concerned with the foundations of physics and mathematics who have not been blinkered or blinded by a narrow, professional education—in fact, the modern counterpart of the audience Galileo addressed at the start of the scientific revolution.” As a self-confessed member of that audience, I found this book a delight from one end to the other.
What does Phipps say about his book? Well, to the “...candidate physicist already committed, unbeknownst to himself, in the war of ideas, who chances to pick up this book—the Physicist-Errant, questing with lofty intellect above the struggle—is warned: I mean to get through your horsehide.”
Had many of us read this book back at the time of publication, without benefit of the cold slap in the face of the Establishment reaction to Cold Fusion, we might have written off Phipps' book as simply a screed, the (loud) musings of a malcontent. But now the wisdom behind the humor and the jabs and arguments, behind the antiestablishmentarianism, is evident.
I can sum up no better than to quote Phipps himself from the epilogue: “My message in this book, which now draws to its close, is that if you believe the experts when they tell you your native wit and critical sense are worthless then in your own case you prove them right...but if you resist their browbeating their is hope in your case for individual salvation—though Barnum be right about the public.”