Armchair physics!

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Posted at 00:14 on 14 September 2005

There is a bit of a crisis in physics at the moment. Cosmological observations show a need for more and more bolt-ons to the standard model to make the big bang theory “work” properly–inflation, dark matter, dark energy, and other fudge factors, so much so that some people are even asking whether the big bang theory is still viable. (New Scientist, 2 July 2005). And of course, that elusive Theory of Everything still hasn’t shown up.

The Final Theory by Mark McCutcheon purports to present a new Theory of Everything, and I downloaded the PDF of the first chapter and had a read of it this evening. To be quite honest, however, I was not impressed.

It is written by an armchair scientist–a bit of an amateur by the looks of things as far as physics is concerned, but certainly an expert spin doctor. He presents us with impressively scientific-sounding concepts and plenty of equations, but even some of the basic physics that he quotes is either hand-waving, confusing, or just plain wrong. For instance, he obfuscates the distinction between force and power (two semantically distinct and precisely defined terms), and subtly redefines the concept of “work” to argue (incorrectly) that Newtonian gravity violates the principle of the conservation of energy. He also states that he relies heavily on “common sense”–a concept that may govern all our social interactions with their subtle nuances and sense of intuition, but at the same time is too ill-defined and hard to pin down for a rigorously exact subject such as maths or physics.

This is a book that I won’t be wasting any money on.