Anatomy of a Book: Physics on the Fringe, by Margaret Wertheim

In this respect Jim Carter is an unusual case; not only has he made almost no attempt to be acknowledged by the mainstream, he fizzles with original insights. (p.73)

This book is a non-fiction account of scientific thought that deviates from the mainstream consensus.

That Jim was aware of the reaction all this was likely to provoke among mainstream physicists was signaled by the name he chose to represent his system: He called it bluntly the Fieldless Universal Circlon Theory, or “the FUCT explanation of reality.” (p.163)

By stating that some of the theories outlined “deviate” from those held by the bulk of the scientific community is an understatement.

But as Nagel rightly notes, many outsiders do have a highly developed sense of “logical cogency.” (p.97)

In fact, what the book is most successful in outlining is to show, through explanations of scientific discoveries and counter-theories, and chiefly via the theory held by Carter, that deviations on theories of reality are made by those do not hold high mathematic degrees. Thus they cannot prove their ideas via quantum mathematic. Instead alternative theories are mainly made by people who want physical explanation rather than purely theoretical and mathematical ones.

…Jim had come to believe that bubble rings offered a way forward for experimental investigation of his circlon ideas… (p.166)

There’s a great irony pointed out towards the end of the book, as Wertheim compares the ideas of String Theory to the mocked ideas of non-mathematic based science. Why is this irony and what is String Theory, quantum mathematics, and the theory of relativity? These are best explained in the book, as it shows ideas and compares them to historical events and key elements of theoretical science today.

Changing Status:

The acceptance, or not, of outsider (aka crank) theories is often discussed. Imagine the rise one of these outsiders would achieve if an investigation by NASA proved a method. Unfortunately there never is a real hope that any of these outsider ideas will be taken seriously, but it’s interesting.

High Stakes:

We could be missing the key to interstellar and time travel by ignoringthese alternative theories. At least that is some claims.

Page Turner:

There is no continual jeopardy or time pressure to the events explained.

Believable Characters:

The life of Jim Carter, one the outsider theorisers, is looked into as a way to explain the mind of an outsider. Many important people in scientific history are also highlighted. A short account of Theodor Kaluza’s life, and his contribution to Einstein and String Theory, is very interesting: If he could stand up to the rising forces of totalitarianism, he could certainly withstand a little scientific scepticism. (p.271)

Educate:

The page turning element of this book is almost equal to that of a school text book. Consider that there is no time pressure or jeopardy to intrigue the mind to urge solutions on a following page. Instead the learning of physic theory is the intriguing carrot to turn the page, aided by the often enjoyable writing, real life characters and history of events.

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