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infinite energy

Issue 69
Sept/Oct 2006
Infinite Energy Magazine

Book Review

In the Grip of the Distant Universe: The Science of Inertia by Peter Graneau and Neal Graneau
ISBN 981-256-754-2, $48.00 Hardcover, 288 pp. World Scientific, 2006

Review by Thomas E. Phipps, Jr.

From Infinite Energy #69, September/October 2006



in the grip of the distant universe

One of the key concepts of physics, inertia, is also one of the least understood and most controversial. Physics students are generally taught nowadays that the force of inertia—that reactive force which prevents any external force application to a body from instantly accelerating it to unlimited speed—is a “fictitious force.” They should find this mystifying, since the inertial forces that press them back in their seat when accelerating in a car, or that throw them against the side when it turns, surely must seem as real as any other forces they experience. But early indoctrination in mystification serves a pedagogical purpose. It prepares the student to participate in the grand advance toward the far frontier of science, where the mystification content approaches 100%.

The authors of this important new work show themselves at odds with such pedagogical methods. They make a compelling case for viewing inertia in the way Mach did—as a true force, locally applied, jointly proportional to mass and acceleration, and obedient to Newton’s third law of instantaneous action-reaction equality. . .hence needing a “seat” of reaction, to be found nowhere except in distant matter of the universe, termed by Mach the “fixed stars.” I was once told that Mach’s own verbal statement of his famous “principle” (which he never wrote down) was: When the subway jerks, it’s the fixed stars that throw you down. This neatly encapsulates the relevant facts: the causal role of acceleration, the instant action of the stars upon you (and you upon them), and the fact that intervening mass (the subway being buried in the earth) does not shield the force of inertia. Only the fact that the bigger you come the harder you fall is left out. To see that a real force is involved, consider d’Alembert’s principle in the form -->Fapplied + -->Finertial = 0, which expresses the vanishing at all times of the total of applied and inertial forces acting on any body. From Newton ’s second law, -->Fapplied = m-->a , we see that -->Finertial = -m-->a . The minus sign denotes opposition to the applied force. Not only does this inertial force have the dimensions of force, but we have thus an explicit formula for its action. There is no reason not to consider the force real. If the applied force is real, it is not going to be effectively opposed by a fiction. To me, the Graneaus’ argument on this point is entirely convincing.

Why then all the verbal pussy-footing and “controversy”? Mainly because nobody has found a better physical explanation for inertia than Mach did. . .but that explanation lies directly athwart Einstein’s theories, which seek to banish all force from physics by making it disappear into geometry. Thus inertial force, which resists the disappearing act, becomes an embarrassment best finessed by calling it “fictitious.” Much of modern scientific semantics (including “quantum entanglement”—another approach to de-fanging instant action-at-a-distance) similarly serves as the tactical weaponry of scientific politics. From the very start of their exposition the Graneaus take the bull by the horns and confront the aversion to instant action that dominates the physics profession and causes its members to march in step behind field theory, Einsteinian causality, etc. Their first chapter is entitled, “All Matter Instantaneously Senses All Other Matter in the Universe.” If that’s too strong meat for you, be warned to steer clear of this book—you will be happier sheltering under the security blanket of consensus.

Of course, it’s true that progress depends on the kind of unhappiness created in the oyster by a grain of sand. . .and this book just might be the grain of sand needed to get some reader started on producing a pearl. But as physics of late has steadily declined from a calling to a profession, the felt need for progress has correspondingly declined, and the felt satisfaction with the status quo has increased, along with the media hype to support it. The Surgeon General should therefore issue a warning to academicians that the quest for progress can be dangerous to their tenure. But of course the word “progress” is itself an excellent tactical weapon of political correctness, when expertly defined and suitably interpreted for the benefit of the unwashed.

Among all the publications that pour from the technical presses, this book is a rarity—a serious, original, informed attack on a truly foundational problem area of physics. On every page fresh insights will be encountered into never-settled basic issues most practitioners assume to lie safely within the long-conquered territories. The authors have not been content with textbook accounts; they have, for example, gone into their laboratory and repeated with improved modern techniques one of the pivotal old experiments, a famous one of Poggendorf’s, that casts light on the sometimes surprising workings of inertia. More significantly, Neal Graneau has made calculations, employing Ampère’s original law of force between current elements, which show that instant action can simulate causally delayed (speed-c) “propagation.” Owing to the inertia of current elements, instant force actions among them can do the whole job without “photons.” This is to radiation physics what finding the “missing link” would be to anthropology. And every page reveals how physics can come alive under the activating spark of “scientific curiosity,” the much honored-in-absentia motivator of “progress” you read about but seldom encounter in professional practice. (Have you ever met a scientist who was curious about anything? He must have been a lonely fellow.)

Much of the book is devoted to an informative exploration of the rich and largely forgotten history of inertial science. For this alone it should command the attention of students of history of the mechanical sciences. But the authors go on to propose new physics—a new inertial force law—and to explore its implications in the context of the cosmology of an inhomogeneous, fractal universe. It appears that Machian ideas may have much to contribute in this area that conventional physical theorists have overlooked because of their intense dedication to Einsteinian causality. As with the writings of all anti-establishmentarians, it is certain that every reader will find something to disagree with here. But I think all will feel rewarded in making the acquaintance, through their work, of these two remarkably original thinkers. If there were more like them, scientific progress might be a reality, instead of a New York Times headline. Most highly recommended.

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