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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Theory of Everything? Or Snake Oil?

Just yesterday, an attachment student in our institute showed me a book that he was reading. He seemed quite convinced by it.

The title of this book is: The Final Theory - Rethinking Our Scientific Legacy. Written by Mark McCutcheon.

Sounds important. It even has its own website.

The student told me that the author of this book claimed to have proven Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein to be wrong.

Now that may sound real impressive, but to us science geeks this isn't news. Geniuses they may be, Newton and Einstein weren't always right, of course.

Newtonian mechanics cannot be applied to fast objects approaching the speed of light. You need Einstein's Special Relativity for that.

Einstein has no explanation for the probabilistic behavior of tiny sub-atomic particles. You need Quantum Mechanics (work of Heisenberg, Schroedinger and others) for that.

Every scientist contributes one piece of the puzzle to constitute our current view of the Universe. Science is always a work in progess. So there is nothing special about a scientist being correct in some areas and wrong in others.

To my shock, the author claims that they are all fundamentally wrong!

What? Only this author is correct? Only he has the Theory of Everything?

I smell a rat.

Here's an exerpt from the first chapter of his book, provided free at his website.

Therefore, as it stands today, our current body of scientific knowledge is not merely lacking some answers, but is actually a fatally flawed " theory of everything."

And guess who holds the key? Surprise surprise.

It is suggested that the new theory presented in the following chapters does not merely provide an entirely alternate way of viewing our universe, but that it is the only one to meet the criteria of the Theory of Everything for which science has been searching for centuries.

I love the third person voice. It sounds so... impartial.

Now that's a massive claim. What is the basis of his Theory of Everything?

Actually it's also called the Expansion "Theory" (more correctly a hypothesis). This is to take Einstein's equivalence principle literally.

In a nutshell, he claims that gravity appears to exist because matter is expanding in an accelerating rate. When you leap off a building, you don't fall towards the Earth; the Earth is actually expanding upwards to meet you. You don't notice this expansion because everything else in the Universe, including you and any type of measuring instrument, is also expanding at the same rate.

A rather curious idea, but not a novel one. I remember that Scott Adams (who draws Dilbert cartoons) had this idea years before.

So it's old, but more importantly, it's wrong.

How does Expansion theory explain why things bend or change their shape due to gravity? Or pendulums? Or orbital motion? Is there a difference in the gravity-like effects when comparing two bodies of equal size but different density?

Will a donut expand and fill its hole?

It has numerous other internal problems.

I won't do a blow-by-blow rebuttal of his book since I didn't read the whole thing and I am not a physicist.

Besides this is not that "sort" of blog. We only do fluff.

So if you really want to know all the icky details, here are a few interesting links to read.

Expansion Theory point-by-point analysis

Physics Forums discussion

Advanced Physics Forums discussion

Hypography Science Forum discussion (Warning: Lots of stuff!)

Discussing "The Final Theory" with Mark McCutcheon

Conclusion? Definitely snake oil.

Yet snake oil that sells quite well in Amazon. I think this reflects the poor effectiveness of science communication to the general public. Or that people just prefer a good read with a bold claim, whether it is scientifically accurate or not.

Now excuse me as I go start on my magnus opus refuting everyone in biology including such dolts as Fleming, Darwin, Pasteur, Ramon y Cajal, Watson, Crick, Dawkins and Jim Davis.

Fuck talking cats.


Miguel Raimundo (aka Speed) said...

Hi I'am sorry but my english had its gloy days a few years ago, before I went to the University of Coimbra. I love your blog and you don't look like a normal grad student, I've been to Hong Nok anda Macau anda I noticed by far you are evil clone. That interesting becuase I belief i'am, not a tipical portuguese grad sutdente but evil colne as well... can you help find out whom i'am cloned from?
Have fun, good luck and good work, study, holidays whatever
Hugs from Portugal, Hasta Siempre

Xisla said...

Ha ha, thanks! Which celebrity do you resemble? We can do a tongue-swab to find out!

Tormod said...

At Hypography, the Theory of Everything discussion has become our longest-lasting ever, with over 1,000 posts to date. And the ID-ers keep rehashing their points over and over. My favorite is the expansion theory...

Great blog post, I'll mention this in our forum.

Tormod said...

sheesh...I meant the "Final Theory" must be my brain that is expanding. :)

Xisla said...

The Hypography forum "Final Theory" thread contains a wealth of information, including suggested conceptual and experimental tests of the Expansion Theory. Had Mr. McCutcheon's idea actually gone through peer review these questions (among many others) would definitely be raised.

I should also say that I am impressed with the patience and professional conduct of some posters, who obviously see the glaring holes of the Expansion Theory but yet maintain constructive dialogue with "Final Theory" supporters.

An excellent resource. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe people are so quick to criticize expansion theory and McCutcheon after only reading a few chapters. Try reading the whole book.
Pendulums have strings. This point is adressed in the book. Orbits only appear to be elliptical. They are actually straight if you factor in time and expansion. Things bend and change their shape due to geometry and time not gravity. What is the power source of gravity and why is it never exhausted? The force of gravity contradicts conservation of energy by inventing potential energy when there is no absolute reference point.
Einstein chose to bend space to accomodate this factor.

If you were a working person you would probably find that Dilbert is correct most of the time, which is why it is funny. Funny because the truth is absurd.
You can't remove the observer from the Universe and still have the observed.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Anon,

Perhaps you can help explain why things change shape due to gravity using the expansion hypothesis?

Also the problem with its explanation of eliptical orbits is argued by Dave Ruske (see Discussing "The Final Theory" with Mark McCutcheon). The geometry doesn't make sense, based on the expansion model, an orbiting body cannot make a complete orbit.

And yes I do find Dilbert comics funny sometimes (did I say I didn't anywhere in my article?), but he is clearly not an authority on scientific ideas. Especially his views on evolutionary biology.

In addition you can't take anything he says literally since as a comedian he might have meant it to be satire.