“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A response to "it's not hurting you, what do you care?"

Along with shaking my head at homeopathy, faith healing, etc., another guilty pleasure of mine is reading the amazing developments chronicled at the free energy site "Pure Energy Systems News." The site is primarily devoted to various manifestations of energy from (the vacuum, cavitation, magnetic dipoles, zero point, etc. ad infinitum), though its publishers are also hugely invested in pretty much any conspiracy theory out there.

Without going into a lot of detail, the site got excited over a supposed live demonstration of a "self-looped motor generator" developed by one Charles Pierce, who claims a Ph.D. from Bethany University (which never offered either doctorate or science degrees and is now defunct) in "Thermonuclear Reactors." Self powered energy devices (and their their pre-electricity ilk) have been around a long time and the idea here, as usual, is that you use batteries to start a motor that spins a flywheel that runs a generator that turns the motor that spins the flywheel that runs the generator that .... you get the idea. Such schemes have been around for centuries (overbalanced wheel gravity engines are pre-electronic examples) but now they typically come dressed up in jargon involving "quantum tunneling," "resonance with ambient energy," etc. You can make people believe in some pretty bizarre contraptions by throwing the word "quantum" into your explanation (albeit, quantum mechanics is, in fact, quite bizarre in any case).

Anyway, the live demonstration was to have taken place August 8, and Sterling Allan, the site's proprietor, blogged the failure to launch. I (along with others) made a sarcastic comment. The moderator responded with the usual "what harm does it do?" The following was my reply (as of this writing, it's still in moderation):
Your contention that "there's nothing to lose" is, in my opinion, very much false. If I want to have the hobby, for example, of throwing the i-ching or drawing tarot cards, or whatever, that's my business and it's no more harmful than collecting baseball cards or birdwatching. If I choose to guide my life by such activities, that's also my business. But when I try to convince the naive that i-ching or tarot really can foretell the future and then I motivative them to make life decisions based on the chance arrangement of printed cardboard or yarrow stalks, I've crossed the line. When I solicit money to inflict such nonsense on the gullible, I've crossed the line. 
So-called "free energy," given the available evidence (that is, none), is of a kind with i-ching and tarot. People want it to work, I want it to work. But I'd also like it if I could rely on yarrow stalks to assist me in making the best decision at each stage of my life. Sadly, neither has been shown to work and there is excellent rationale and mountains of evidence, dating back hundreds of years, to show that neither can work. Yes, people can make their own decisions on what to do with their lives, their intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial resources but, for all Sterling's, Hank's, your belief you are doing actual harm when you lead them down these paths. 
This doesn't even address the many people who have been taken in and lost financially on such schemes (though there are many, as you well know) and I don't (at this point anyway) accuse Mr. Pierce (I will NOT use the honorific "Dr." as it's clear that that's made up B.S.) of running a financial con. Whether or not Mr. Pierce actually believes in his system is an open question for me. People who truly think they've succeeded in producing a free energy device are the most mysterious to me. Con men and hustlers I get. Those who brilliantly design within the constructs of ever-evolving known physical theories, I get. Those who occupy the middle ground (assuming there are such people - not being psychic, of course, I don't know) I don't get. 
Finally, to quote myself, "I've frequently seen (at PESN, on my blog, and elsewhere) a troubling retort to physics based debunking of alleged miracle fuel saving devices, miracle cures, etc. The retort is along the lines of 'I'm sure glad I never took physics so that my view isn't limited by the dogma of traditional physics. I can be open to new ideas.' It's sad, so very much is possible within what we know and, though we certainly don't know everything, we know a lot more than nothing. And knowing what is and is not possible, the 'man will never fly' and 'aerodynamics says bumblebees can't fly, yet they do' tropes aside, enables efforts to be directed at things that have, at least, the possibility of paying off.
Update: A somewhat edited version of my comment made it out of moderation.


Simon Derricutt said...

Rob - I've enjoyed your comments on PESN anyway, though nice to see the unedited version. One of Sterlings reasons for saying the motor/generator systems can work is that he's had 27 other people saying they can do it. Problem is, out of those others there are zero working ones. Maybe that should really point to a slight problem with the idea. Magnetic motors are another one where the demos of multi-kilowatt motors tend to not work under test, and the inventor is still poor 20 years on from getting the breakthrough. Ah, but it's being repressed....

Yes, it's a guilty pleasure enjoying PESN but maybe someday we'll be proved wrong. Meantime I'll work towards a cheap nuclear version of power, where we know what amount of mass is disappearing to give us the energy we want.

Rob Ryan said...

Hi Simon, thanks for taking the time to stop by, read, and comment. I can understand the desire for these things to work but, as you say, the number of failures unadulterated by a single success should cause them to step back.

And maybe we will be proved wrong. But even if it happens, I doubt that it will happen in the way Sterling envisions. It's sad to see the waste of physical, mental, and financial resources on these things.

On the other hand, I agree that cheap, reliable nuclear power is both possible and practical and I hope your work comest to fruition.

Simon Derricutt said...

Hi Rob - one of the guys I'm working with has 192 patents (and counting) so I think we stand a good chance of achieving very cheap nuclear energy. We've also gathered a few of the other "skeptic" commenters that Sterling banned for a while until he realised that they add a lot to his site.

I hope that the efforts in commenting make the experimenters think a bit more, and do some reading up of what has previously been tried and has failed. As you note, there's a whole lot of wasted money and effort in repeating things that never worked.

Surprisingly, some of the stuff may well have some real physics. One of those is the Papp motor, and I think you'll see that working next year.

Rob Ryan said...

Hi Simon, I don't know enough about the Papp engine to opine. I will say, though, that I have a very high degree of respect for Richard Feynman. Not to say that he was perfect or never mistaken, but he was "no ordinary genius" and knew more fundamental physics than Papp, Rohner, you, or me (I believe it's safe to say - certainly it is in my case). He was also very far from closed minded. Feynman seemed pretty convinced that the Papp engine didn't and couldn't work.

As always, evidence and data will win the day, one way or another.