Thursday, January 22, 2015

#1267: Terence Witt

In 2006 readers of Discover Magazine were given the opportunity to see an ad for a book called Our Undiscovered Universe, written by Terence Witt. In the book, Witt would lament the state of modern physics, especially String Theory, the Big Bang Theory and the Standard Model, and instead offer his own Null Physics to circumvent these problems. Apparently, null physics is better because it’s willing to ask ultimate why questions. Yes, the ad had “self-published crackpottery” written all over it, and Discover readers were even given some wonderful snippets, such as “[e]nergy is a three-dimensional substance, and its most basic unit is time-distance2.” Oh, goody.

Of course, given the highly specialized and advanced nature of modern physics, major discoveries are made by contributions from many well-connected scientists pulling together, not by lone, unaffiliated individuals working in isolation. Witt has been working alone, unencumbered by affiliations. But then, Witt’s knowledge of modern physics is also … somewhat less than specialized and advanced. According to Witt, though, “peer-reviewed journals strenuously reject ideas contrary to the reigning paradigms. So rather than fight the battle a little bit at a time, I decided to wait until I had some convincing results and published the results of my work from 1978 to 2004 all at once.” Yes, the reason Witt’s ideas wouldn’t pass through peer-review is because of a conspiracy and dogmatism. How convenient.

Nonetheless, the book is thoroughly reviewed here: “[S]ome things are meaningless sophistry,” such as the pseudomathematics of the first chapter: Witt treats infinity as an ordinary real number and comes up with gloriously cranky theorems such as Theorem 3.1: “The Existence of Any Half of the Universe is Equal to the Nonexistence of the Other Half” and Theorem 3.9: “The Time Required for Light to Traverse the Universe is Eternity, infinity/c”. Of course, none of his pseudomathematics yield any predictions, and none of it is used in the physics parts of the book anyways. As for that latter part, “[t]he only places it’s not wrong [as opposed to Witt’s demonstrably false a priori speculations about the atom] are where it’s ‘not even wrong’,” or where it builds one unsupported and often untestable speculation upon another. Stuart Pivar’s insane and demonstrably empirically inadequate biology crackpottery at least had some ingenuity to it; Witt’s physics crackpottery is just sad.

It has, of course, attracted numerous other crackpots who share the essential trait of lacking any kind of expertise in the relevant fields. Here is another crackpot, Dan Schneider, discussing Witt’s work. Schneider admits that he’s an amateur when it comes to physics, yet has no reservations about claiming that the Big Bang theory is a “dogma” in serious trouble, or pronouncing that many of Witt’s claims are correct – in glaring contradiction with the verdicts of real scientists – and without having anything resembling the relevant skills or knowledge needed to actually determine this. Another crackpot review by one Melvin Morse can be found here (it’s mostly about open-mindedness and spirituality). Needless to say, Morse and Schneider are, as crackpots and pseudoscientists always are, deeply in love the idea of the mythical lone, maverick scientist who has discovered the truth and, like David, fights an uphill battle against the powerful establishment – so beloved by Hollywood movies and so non-existent in the real history of scientific revolutions – as well as the Galileo gambit.

Diagnosis: Some serious, serious crackpottery going on here, but even the pseudoscientific ramblings of Terence Witt are outdone for stupidity by the obstinate crankery of his fans. They’re all pretty harmless, of course, but good grief, they’re annoying.

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