I've suggested (& published in 21 journal papers) a new theory called quantised inertia (or MiHsC) that assumes that inertia is caused by horizons damping quantum fields. It predicts galaxy rotation & lab thrusts without any dark stuff or adjustment. My University webpage is here, I've written a book called Physics from the Edge and I'm on twitter as @memcculloch. Most of my content is at patreon now: here

Thursday 15 May 2014

The modern aeolipile

In the 1st century AD, Hero of Alexandria (or maybe Ctesibius three centuries earlier) invented the aeolipile, which was a hollow ball, full of water, centred on an axle, and it had two outlets twisted like a lawn sprinkler. When he heated the ball, the water inside produced steam, shot out of the pipes and rotated the ball. This is a steam engine producing kinetic energy (motion) from thermodynamics, in the Roman empire! Why was this not pursued to produce an industrial revolution in ancient Rome instead of having to wait nearly 1600 years later for Thomas Savery and the mines of England? The explanation often given is that the Romans had access to unlimited numbers of slaves, so they had no need for newfangled machines, they could get slaves to do the work for them. In other words, instead of using cleverness and being efficient, people often stick to the same paradigm if they can use brute force.

I think the same thing is happening in modern physics. When faced with an inability of Einstein's old theory of general relativity (which demonstrably works well at high accelerations) to model the observed rotation at the edge of galaxies (an extremely low acceleration regime) physicists have been able to use the amazing processing power of modern computers to predict the three-dimensional distribution of invisible (dark) matter needed to make general relativity fit the observed rotation, but they haven't found any dark matter. They are using the brute force of the computer to adjust the data in a complex way to fix the discrepancy, instead of thinking a little differently, just as the Romans used thousands of slaves rather than think a little about the potential of the aeolipile. The problem with the Romans was they let slaves do their work for them, and the problem with modern physics is physicists are letting computers do their thinking for them.

Is there a modern aeolipile: seed of a possible new revolution? Yes, I would say it is the Casimir effect which produces kinetic energy from the zero point field, and MiHsC is the theory that is trying to build from that.


Unknown said...

The Roman industrial version of the High Level Equilibrium Trap doesn't strike me as quite the proper metahpor - it concerns material process more than ntellectual underpinnings. Antiquarian through Medieval astronomers adding ever more epicycles to their orreries seems a better parallel to modern physics being content with its kludges. Tho in all cases, yes, there is a definite air of satisfaction with the status quo.

Mike McCulloch said...

OK. More than one analogy is apt & the epicycles you mention are definitely a good analogy for modern physics. My focus here was to point out that IT introduces a new invisible problem: it makes far more complex 'fixes' possible.

Unknown said...

An excellent point.

We hold the computational power of computers in an almost religious awe these days. Just think of the "Passion of the Christ" metaphors used in the "Matrix" series of movies. That makes crediting "computer verified!" scientific "results" very tempting. And makes it far, far easier for errors to slip by, hidden in the computer code.

Parsimony is a scientific ideal for a very good reason.