Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Are Scientists Crazy?

There’s a pretty vile scam going around. It thrives during periods of college vacations, like spring break, but it goes on constantly. It’s done by cold calls, people sitting in a boiler room picking numbers out of a directory. The call goes out, it’s answered, and the caller says, your son has just been in a horrible accident and he needs immediate medical help.
A lot of people don’t have sons, and the call is terminated as a mistake. However, many do, and some of those that do don’t live with their sons. The caller, like a psychic, gets clues from the ensuing conversation that can be used to entrap the mark, the person being scammed. As the scam continues, it turns out immediate evacuation is needed, and the caller gives the mark the name of a police dispatcher. The police dispatcher, another person in the boiler room, tells the frantic parent there are no helicopters available, and commiserates with the mark. After awhile, the “dispatcher” says, “I shouldn’t be doing this, but I have the name of a private helicopter firm that can do the job for you.” The mark is then given another number to call, someone else in the boiler room. The phone is answered and the mark is told there’s a helicopter available, but it will take a $3,000 deposit in cash to get it off the ground. Western Union is fine.
As the scam plays itself out, the mark wires the money to an address given on the phone, and the money is never seen again. Of course, there’s no accident.
Now let’s play this out a little differently. The mark calls the supposed helicopter company, is told the amount and where to mail the money, and as the mark is about to leave for the Western Union office, the phone rings and it turns out to be the son, who says, hey, I’m fine, I’m sitting on the beach enjoying a drink. The mark then says, well, you go ahead and enjoy yourself, I’ve got to wire some money to a helicopter company so you can be flown to the nearest hospital.
I think we’d all agree, the mark in this case would be certifiable, plumb crazy. When it is known that we have been operating on the basis of incomplete information, in this case, information about the well-being of the son, we are acting recklessly, to say the least, and definitely stupidly.
The ancients identified the four things that made up the world: Earth, water, air and fire. You’d think that they would have included light, but why include something that’s already included. Light obviously was produced by fire, so it was a secondary feature to the four primary features.
Then, during the great period of questioning, the post Copernican scientific world of Baconian quest, the great debate about the nature of light arose: Was light a particle or a wave?
Up until Newton seized the reigns of The Royal Society, Huygens’ view of light as a wave took sway. It’s rather humorous that the ancients had considered light secondary to fire, and here these great thinkers were considering it an artifact of water. Fire is produced by matter, which is akin to earth, while water extinguishes fire, and therefore the light it produces. That’s just wild and crazy, guys, worthy of a Saturday Night Live skit.
Moving right along, though, Newton’s authority prevailed throughout the 18th century until Young’s two-slit experiment, described in earlier entries. After that experiment, light officially became a wave, and “science” set about to demonstrate the existence of the substance whose disturbance produced the wave. After all, a wave doesn’t exist, it's just a distortion of a medium, like water. Science quickly made up aether and called it the medium of light. (During all this, these disconnected thinkers were claiming that, according to Laplace, the Earth had been circling the sun in frictionless space since the beginning of time, the same space they were claiming was filled with this light medium, aether, but, hey, what’s a little inconsistency when you’re wild and crazy.)
When Michelson and Morley attempted to demonstrate the speed and direction of the Earth using its movement through the aether, the experiment failed, fantasy prevailed, but aether sort of disappeared. Fortunately for the deep thinkers about light, Maxwell published his equations on the electromagnetic “spectrum,” which pretty much did away with the need to explain how light could be a wave without a medium. After all, no one basically could understand Maxwell’s equations, so this was enough to keep everyone in awe.
Now, at this point, the scientific community is in the position of the mark who’s gotten information where to send the money to get his son to the hospital, but hasn’t gotten the wakeup call from the son who is sipping drinks on a beach. Science had been led down a primrose path. It had spent the better part of 3 centuries arguing about whether light was a wave or a particle, how the mark should get the son to the hospital, and hadn’t even given a thought to how light was produced, in the mark’s case, whether his son was injured in the first place.
Nobody in their right mind would continue to accept the fruits of an argument that was based on a glaring omission. How could anyone discuss anything about what light is until they discussed how it is produced?
Unfortunately, as the deep thinkers about light mulled over Maxwell’s equations, which is about the same as getting the money for the Western Union transfer, others, primarily Rutherford, were experimenting with those mysterious non-light particles called electrons. By modifying light bulb technology, cathode ray tubes were invented that could shoot the electrons in streams. Rutherford, finding the streams blocked in places, theorized the existence of the atom, and before long, the world was treated to the classic view of the atom, proton in nucleus to keep electron in orbit, neutron in nucleus to give the atom weight, and electron in orbit to interact with other nuclei to form matter.
The deep thinkers about light sat on the sidelines never, for one moment, observing that, wait a minute, we’re using the conclusions of people, people who told us what light is, and these people didn’t even have knowledge about the atom, the matter that produced the light. We’re in la la land here. We’d better start over and figure out first how light is produced, and then figure out what it is.
As they slumbered on the sidelines, Einstein came along and demonstrated that light is a particle with the photoelectric effect, which has light producing an electron in a circuit. There was no photon until that point, but, with the light boys slumbering in their deep chairs, there was no one to say, hey, maybe light is made up of electrons, maybe the light isn’t producing an electron, maybe the light is an electron. Instead, the photon, like aether and everything else in science, was quickly made up to explain the obvious fact that light produced electricity.
It was the photon that was activating the electrons.
All of sudden, the great light sleepers, deep in slumber, started to stir. Light matter, light matter, light matter, matter light. Could there be a connection between the two?
Now we would expect the mark to say, hey son, it’s really you, I don’t have to have you flown to a hospital, do I?
But not a scientist!
Instead of saying, Gee, light is not a wave, it's a particle that interacts with matter, so to understand light, we have to figure out how matter produces light and then figure out what light is, the scientists said, we know light is a wave, we know it’s a particle, all we have to do is figure out how this newly discovered atom produces a light wave and we’ll have the last piece of the puzzle clear in our questing brains.
The quest began, and what a quest it’s been.
No quest at all!
Science’s starting point is what science’s starting point always is: Science is right.
Therefore, science already knew what light was, it was a wave. Being a particle at the same time made it a little more complicated, but since when has science shied away from making things so complex, they’re incomprehensible?
Actually, the particle notion of light combined with the photoelectric effect gave science something to chew on. See, the second thing science knew was that matter was made up of atoms and atoms were composed of a bunch of particles which are encompassed in what’s called the standard model, a sort of international agreement limiting the number of particles scientists could create. The standard model, of course, has the familiar orbiting electron whizzing around the atom. Before the invention of electron microscopes, science stuck by its idea that there were fixed numbers of electrons orbiting an atom’s nucleus in fixed shells although now, representations of the atom supposedly captured by electron microscopes produce a haze around the nucleus, demonstrating a cloud of electrons. This was then, though, and science was sticking by its individual orbiting atoms.
Here’s where it gets difficult for me to remember because it’s sort of like whether electricity flows from positive to negative or negative to positive or wave lengths get longer or shorter from red to blue or blue to red, examples where science has, at one time, believed firmly in one or the other, belief, of course, being consensus agreement like the standard model. There are many issues in science that cast me into the roll of the accountant who sits at his desk, every once in awhile opening the drawer and looking in. Finally, a coworker had to know what was in the drawer, so the accountant opened it for him. Written on the bottom of the drawer was “debits to the left, credits to the right.” Or is it credits to the right, debits to the left? Hmmm.
Anyway, it seems those orbital electrons now have specific characteristics, the basic one being in a ground state. When an orbiting electron is a ground state, it has its lowest energy. Now not only can this electron orbit the nucleus of the atom without science ever once attempting to explain how it can do so, it can absorb energy. Isn’t that just peachy. All of a sudden, the electron has an entirely new property, one that no one ever heard of before, but one that certainly can’t be denied. It is capable of absorbing energy. Here’s the particle that represents a fundament form of energy, and its pliable, it can soak up energy like a sponge. A fundamental energy that can absorb energy. Couldn’t the idiots just give it the property of motion so we’d have to stop asking what’s causing it to move? If it’s going to come up with an exotic energy absorbing property, why not motion?
Oh, well.
When an electron absorbs more energy to the point that it can absorb no more energy, then, boom, it takes off on its own, ionizes as they say in the quiet chambers of serious thinking. But we don’t have to worry about these ionized electrons because they are no longer orbiting and we want to know how matter produces light.
There is a state between ground and ionized, and this state is an excited electron. We all know what an excited electron is, don’t we? Well, maybe not. An excited electron is one that has absorbed energy. If you absorb energy, you get excited, too, right? And when you’re excited, why, you have to get rid of that energy, right? Right.
So how does the electron absorb energy? Why, it absorbs a photon or packet of light. What happens when it gets excited? It jumps to a higher orbit around the nucleus (this is where I go debits or credits, is it higher or lower). It seems that each orbit around a nucleus requires a specific amount of energy, so the orbit the electron jumps to depends on the number of photons it absorbs.
When the electron loses its energy, passes out of its state of excitement, it falls to a lower orbit, and as it does so, it gives up the same number of photons it absorbed to get excited in the first place.
If you don’t believe in this hogwash, just ask a scientist. He’ll have miles and miles of chalkboards covered with squiggles and symbols to categorically prove it all to be as real as the brown clay that gets stuck to your shoes when you run through the farmers field. If you wonder why it’s "he'll have," female quantum scientists are hard to find. After all, one of the basic features of the female mind is practicality and common sense, qualities that aren't evident in this jumble of incomplete and inconsistent ideas.
The creation of quantum mechanics was the act of the mark paying for the helicopter to evacuate the son after the mark finds out the son is sipping drinks on the beach. Science finds out as clearly as it can that light is not a wave, it’s a particle. It realizes that no one has ever sat down and tried to connect light to matter. It has matter with particles and light with particles. It then proceeds to graft its concept of light as a wave, created early in the 19th century, onto an atom created early in the 20th century. It does so by taking a particle, the electron, it made up to explain a phenomena, electricity, it discovered decades after it had cemented its idea of light as a wave, and then goes on to add a property to the electron that says it can absorb and emit light.
In reality, the mark realized he was being conned when he got the call from his son and simply abandoned paying for the helicopter. In reality, science refused to realize its concept of light needed revising and simply forged ahead working on concepts that had clearly been disproved by demonstrating the photoelectric effect.
For the mark to proceed in the manner of science, the mark’s reality would have to conform to the idea that his son was mortally injured. He’d have to injure the son to continue the fantasy. Science doesn’t have any son to kill, and unlike the mark, whose need for money forces reality into the picture, science has nothing that would force it to face reality.
In fact, its reality is the creation of more and more confusing and incomprehensible explanations so it can keep the paychecks popping, the grants giving, the honorariums honoring from the only source of money it has, us, the great unwashed.
It doesn’t matter what tripe they feed us, it just needs to keep the collection plate full. What’s the phrase, crazy like a fox, dumb as a doorknob? One applies to scientists, the other to us.

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