Review of "Theory of Everything" by Paul Alderson. (2011)
Who would have thought a "theory of everything" (TOE) would fit into a slim volume of 80 pages of large print? A typical Freshman physics book has perhaps 2000 pages and weighs seven pounds, and is only an introduction to the subject.
This 2011 self-published book by Paul A. Alderson is subtitled "The reasons behind the observations." The book promises to show why several theories of physics are completely wrong. Alderson proposes to reveal the fundamental force driving all things in the universe, and to do all this while avoiding mathematics. Physics students rejoice!
Then comes the let down. In a rare moment of modesty Alderson says, "This book isn't a proof, but getting the general concept out there." Yet he has "complete confidence that [fundamental ideas of physics] are wrong". "No doubt at all." Where does such confidence arise? Alderson says "I'll leave the proving to others for now. I may try at a later date." Expect a sequel. In the book's synopsis on amazon.com we find this curious sentence: "The author will reveal his true identity in the next exciting follow up book titled Theory of a specific thing."
But later he admits that his are "educated guesses" that must be tested in the "real world". His sudden shifts between pomposity and modesty are jarring.
Alderson stresses William of Ockham's Razor, which he misquotes as "Given two competing ideas that explain something equally well, the idea that has the simplest explanation is the one that is more likely to be correct." No extant work of Ockham has such a quote. The one usually attributed to him is: "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem" (entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity). True to his misinterpreted version, Alderson's "explanations" are simple, one might even say simplistic.
Pervading this book is the author's desire to invent reasons why nature is as it is and behaves as it does. He seems frustrated that mainstream science doesn't allow or address "Why?" questions. Scientists have learned that such questions have no scientific answers. Science limits himself to describing nature, answering only "How?" questions. If Alderson's goal is to tell us why, his effort is doomed to failure.
Alderson ridicules traditional physics concepts such as action at a distance and fields (gravitational, electric, magnetic, etc.) as being "fairy tale" concepts. They are not "real", he says. He never gives a clear definition of "real", just examples of unreal things. What does he give us instead? Old and discredited concepts such as an imagined substance filling all (or most of) space—the old, discarded notion of the "luminiferous aether." Why is Alderson's imaginary "stuff" any more real than gravitational fields, etc.? He doesn't tell us.
So what do we have in this little book? Armchair scientific speculation of a purely philosophical nature, fueled by a disdain for conventional physics. Vague and ill-defined concepts replace the "fairy tale" concepts he rejects. Fuzzy logic is one thing, fuzzy concepts and fuzzy conclusions may be worse. Nowhere does Alderson cite even one experiment that has been performed and has definitively shown the inadequacy of physics, nor even one that demonstrates the superiority of Alderson's TOE. Nor do his theories make any clear and new predictions for possible laboratory testing. Well, there is one exception. He does propose a gravity wheel (see below) that he thinks could be built.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of Alderson's TOE is his revival of the "luminiferous aether" theory. Back in the late 1800s physicists accepted the notion of a substance (called the "aether" or "ether") that pervaded all of space, even the space within atoms, and provided light something to "wave in". Ingenious experiments were devised to detect this aether, or to verify predictions from the ether theory, and all failed to find anything. In the early 20th century Einstein's papers on relativity were published, which resolved many of the old puzzles that had fueled the ether theory, but without any mention of such an ether. Gradually, Einstein's theory was accepted, and the ether dropped out of sight and out of textbooks. Today the ether seldom rates even a footnote in textbooks. It is one of the classic historical "mistakes" of science.
The ether concept was no mistake at all, says Alderson. He says the ether is the reason for gravity. But, he says, gravity is not an attractive force. Not a pull, but a push. The external pressure of the ether pushes objects together. An original notion? Hardly. Such "pushing gravity" theories have popped up many times in science history. But Alderson never mentions that. The Wikipedia has a good account of them. In fact, Alderson never credits the sources of his ideas (most of which are not new). He gives no literature or web references at all. If he did read the books and papers proposing eccentric ether theories, he apparently didn't understand them, for they made a better case for those ideas than Alderson does.
Alderson is so taken with this idea that he proposes an experimental test. He imagines a gravity shield that can block the push of gravity. He even gives rough plans for making such a shield. But he hasn't built and tested one. That's an exercise for the reader. Go ahead and build one. It is guaranteed not to work.
Nicola Tesla, in his article "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy" (Century Illustrated Magazine, June 1900) proposed extracting energy from gravity by use of a gravity shield. Tesla proposed a flywheel with a gravity shield under one side, shielding that side from gravity, thereby making the wheel rotate. The rotation could provide unlimited energy, tapping energy from the relentless push of the ether. Alderson uses this (unworkable) "gravity shield" idea in a different way (giving no acknowledgment to Tesla). In two murky pages [P. 59, 60] and one equally murky diagram Alderson describes a "see-saw" device intended to prove the correctness of his theory. If anyone can make sense of these "instructions" please let me know.
Whether you accept conventional gravitational theory (attractive pull) or Alderson's (repulsive push) theory, this device won't work. Gravity shields don't (and can't) exist in our cosmic neighborhood, and even if they did, this device would be in serious violation of Newton's laws and a whole bunch of other well-tested laws. Alderson continually ignores unintended side effects of his ideas. He doesn't seem to realize that gravity shields (if they existed) must also obey Newton's laws just as all matter does.
Is this ether "push" like the static pressure in a gas? If so, it should act equally on all sides of an object without moving the object. But if it is an ether "wind" or "flow", then where does the ether go after it has pushed inward from all sides into the earth? And where does it originate? Inquiring minds would like to know, but Alderson's answers to these questions are murky at best. Alderson's revival of the "ether shadowing" idea doesn't help.
However, Alderson's "answers" to such questions are sometimes entertaining. He says the ether arises from black holes (how or why this is so is never explained). He does say ether results when masses are broken down by "vast pressures" [p. 31] from larger masses. So apparently ether has mass—made up of particles with mass so tiny that they can slip right through atoms. "As I eluded to in a previous section...", Alderson says. He's "eluded" many things in this book, without being restrained by logic or facts. How much ether is there? Alderson says, "We don't know, but let's say a lot." [p. 27] Alderson carries "hand-waving" arguments to a new level of irrelevance. Seldom does he give numeric values for anything.
His section titled "Ether is Mostly Nothing" [p. 26] is subtitled "There is an infinity of nothing." The section closes with the profoundly enigmatic assertion that "Proportionally it [the hydrogen atom] is filled with more nothing than our solar system." Draw a Venn diagram of that if you can.
Any TOE must deal with electromagnetic radiation. Aside from treating light as a wave in the ether, Alderson doesn't even mention how to account for different colors of light (the frequency spectrum of light), gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves, radio waves, and the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum.
You won't find here any serious discussion of elementary particles, nuclear structure, or the acceleration of universal expansion. In fact the reader won't find anything here that he might use to make predictions that could be tested in the laboratory. This is philosophy, not physics, though serious philosophers will likely dismiss this book as more science-fantasy than philosophy.
That's the pervasive flaw in Alderson's TOE. He concentrates on certain specific things while ignoring everything else. But one thing we have learned about the universe is that fundamental physics laws are thoroughly inter-connected. That's what we mean by "universal" laws. If you imagine one law to be changed, that would necessarily change other laws creating a ripple effect, altering all of them. Alderson ignores all those complications. "Leave it to others to sort out" seems to be his motto. That's a curious attitude for someone who claims a "Theory of Everything". His "theory" is a collection of independent and vaguely expressed "laws" without integration or unity. It doesn't come close to covering "everything".
We are not surprised that Alderson even proposes a time machine. No, not one to travel into the past (that's impossible, Alderson declares). But the future is another thing. His time machine proposes shielding oneself from ether on all sides to produce a time dilation effect. (We knew that ether shield ought be good for something.) This is all in one page, so don't expect details. His two pages on gravity drives and tractor beams are equally short on details. Clearly he's seen too many episodes of "Star Trek" and space-warped it in his mind into "Star Dreck".
Lame attempts at humor pervade this short book. These are irrelevant and unfunny.
What is Alderson's intended readership? Certainly not physicists, who will find the book's near-total avoidance of mathematics (even algebra) frustrating. This book will disappoint anyone looking for enlightenment about physics. But it is a short and relatively easy read for someone who wants insight into how some eccentric minds work. Alderson seems to have only superficial understanding of physics, but is fascinated by it anyway. He imagines that he can improve on it by proposing what he imagines are far-reaching, insightful and innovative speculations, without the usual scientific restraints of mathematics, and logic, and without any requirements for rigorous experimental testing. Such people generally are handicapped by isolation. They work alone, separated from the scientific community. So they can create an imaginary world of their own, where marvelous things happen whatever way they want them to, undisturbed and disconnected from the reality of the universe and the laboratory. Usually they imagine they are doing a great service to mankind and for the advancement of science. Some books of this sort cost big bucks (they are collector's items). This book is a low cost way to get a glimpse of the outpourings of a restless and misguided mind.
In a way, this book is also a testament to the failure of science education. Most people have only a superficial and even warped view of what science is, what it does, and how it goes about the task of constructing a reliable and comprehensive model of the universe. They read "popular" and often sensationalized books and magazine articles about science. These books generally avoid mathematics—the unifying language of real science. Is it any wonder that some think, "I could brainstorm this stuff just as well. Who needs a college education?" Most don't pursue that, but some, like Alderson, take the trouble to write down their thoughts. You can learn a lot from their writings, something like looking at science through a distorting mirror.
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