Saturday, February 11, 2012

How do I know I'm not a crackpot?

You have to ask yourself that sometimes. No one ones to be a crackpot, but how do you know if you are one or not? I don't think I am, but that doesn't prove anything. Is there some objective measure that would let me decide?

Notice I say "let me decide", not let you decide. I can't worry too much about other people thinking I'm a crackpot. And honestly, I don't worry too much about it either. I have some idea what I am, and I'm OK with it. It's really more of a theoretical question for me: how would I know if I was or I wasn't?

I definitely have show some of the characteristics of crackpottery. I rant about my real or imaginary enemies out there. I've been kicked out of places where respectable people go. And I claim to have a "paradigm-shifting" new point of view that will change the way we think about quantum mechanics. Last but not least, I publish my physics discoveries in a blog. Those are not good signs. 

On the other hand, I've been blogging for just over two years now, which means I've got a pretty good paper trail behind me. If I'm crazy, it should be pretty easy to tell by reading my old posts. Let's see what we have.

First, there are my rants about my real or imagined enemies. It's true that I take a couple of potshots at some of my discussion group nemeses like ZapperZ from physicsforums, and I got a little personal when critiquing Scully's argument on the photoelectric effect. But in close to 100 blogposts, that's about it. I think I'm about 2 on a scale of ten when it comes to personal vendettas.

Then there's the business of getting kicked out of places. If you read every single post over the last two years you will know that I was:
  1. charged with assaulting a police officer while picketing a former employer
  2. banned for life from the University of Manitoba for teaching physics during a professor's strike
  3. banned for life from for indeterminate reasons
  4. expelled from the Teacher Certification program at the University of Winnipeg
And to be honest, there's a few more instances I haven't bothered to mention. It's a pretty scary looking record, and you have to wonder how I justify it to myself. Maybe I just don't believe in backing down when people in authority try to throw their weight around. I'm not saying I would have the guts speak out if I lived in some brutal dictatorship; I'm just saying what's the point of living in a free country like Canada if you're not ready to stand up for what you believe in? The fact is, the day I was arrested at the U of M for teaching physics still counts as a pretty good day for me.

No, as far as being a crackpot the most disturbing indicator is my claim to have come up with an original explanation for the collapse of the wave function that will change our way of looking at the universe. That's the kind of thing that crackpots say. What makes me think I'm different?

That's a tough one. Quantum Siphoning, as I call it, is a pretty good theory if you ask me. I came up with it about a month after I first started blogging, and I've brought it up maybe three or four times over the last two years. As far as I'm concerned, it's out there waiting to be noticed, and if it happens it happens. Meanwhile, I keep doing physics. It's worth noting that when I submitted my essay to that contest at FQXI last year, "There are No Pea-Shooters for Photons", I didn't mention anything about quantum siphoning. I think a true quack would probably have played it up, but I didn't.

The thing about all these things is that none of them really characterize what this blog has been all about. I couldn't have really put my finger on it until just this week when I started thinking about it, but today I went over all my old posts and it's true: my blog is really about the physics, and my real "comfort zone" seems to be right on the edge, where I'm putting myself on the line. Last week I did a couple of posts first-year university topics, like explaining the Helmholtz Resonator, but that's really not typical for me. It's too safe. I generally don't do topics where I'm not sticking my neck out to some degree.

I take chances, and sometimes I get it wrong. More often I get it right, but sometimes I get it wrong. If I get it wrong it's because I stick my neck out by putting numbers and graphs down to back up my conclusions. Sometimes the calculations are a little sketchy, sometimes I'm lucky to get within an order of magnitude, but in every case the physics are laid out and the numbers are there. Real crackpots don't do that.


patchworkZombie said...

You have probably heard of Bill Beaty (he also got banned from physics forum for very similar reasons to you). He research engineer in the Department of Chemistry at the university of washington.

Here is an page he has about "energy sucking antennas" It is rather similar in tone and content to your crystal radio post. (even the illustrations). He is a little too open minded for his own good.

The reason I mention him is that he really love pointing out misconceptions on how things work and so I think he would love your ideas.

Marty Green said...

I came across Bill Beatty's website around 1995 or so when I first got on to the Internet. He was the only guy really talking about this stuff, so I phoned him up. He's in Seattle, right? We probably talked for half an hour. I'm not sure, but I think that to the extent he links his energy-sucking antennas to quantum mechanics, he's drawing on our conversation.

Marty Green said...

Actually, I was back on Bill's website just two months ago. I was preparing to teach Grade 9 Static Electricity and I wanted a good project that would make sparks. Bill had a really good article on Lord Rayleigh's Water-Drip Static Generator. I printed out all ten pages of it. To show you how old it was, his illustrations were all done in early-90's ASCII art.

I didn't get to do it in class because they kicked me out of school after just seven days teaching.

Anonymous said...

I think that as long as you can still question yourself, you are not yet a crackpot.