An Alphabet of Pseudo-Science

This was the title of the Outlanders meeting on 4th March 2005, at which I gave a presentation on a variety of different scientific theories from a sceptical point of view. Since the topics did not fit together in any systematic manner, but formed a sort of mosaic, the speaker's notes were prepared in alphabetical order of key-words. Each of the members in turn was asked to choose a letter of the alphabet, and the speaker then expounded on a topic with that initial letter, with the members making frequent interjections. This novel form of presentation could perhaps be adopted by other speakers. It seemed to work well on this occasion.

As noted below this talk began from considerations on Dark Matter and Dark Energy, so a lot of the topics relate to alternative theories of physics and cosmology. Not all the letters were nominated, so I have retained my notes on some sections for possible future use.

Many more topics could have been included in this presentation. I deliberately tried to avoid the more obvious candidates, like astrology or UFO's, and concentrated on alternative science.

Wikipedia has been a useful and unbiased source of information. Here for example is their List of alternative, speculative and disputed theories and List of protosciences.

Many topics of pseudo-archaeology can be found in The Hall of Ma'at.

A — Anthropic Principle

This term is now usually associated with arguments that maintain that various physical constants on which the structure of the Universe depends need to have been 'fine-tuned' to a remarkable extent in order for human beings to have evolved, or for the environment to be suitable for life to exist. The term was originally introduced by Brandon Carter (1974) in connection with the concept of Observation Selection Effects. The subject is discussed in detail by Nick Bostrom. The 'strong' version of the principle has been adopted by the Intelligent Design lobby. See Design and the Anthropic Principle by G. Cramer.

B — Beckenstein Bound

[This account is based on Lee Smolin Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2000).] Introduced by Jacob Beckenstein (1970s) this principle tells us that there is an absolute bound on the amount of information available to us about what is contained within any region of space not containing the observer. It is a consequence of Einstein's general theory of relativity and the second law of thermodynamics. The amount of information is one quarter of the area of the boundary of the region, measured in Planck units, that is 10^66 bits of information per square centimetre (1 cm = 2×10^33 Planck length units). There is no way to reconcile this with the view that space is continuous; the world must be discrete on the Planck scale. If the world really were continuous, then every volume of space would contain an infinite amount of information. This is because positions are given by real numbers, which can require an infinite number of digits for their exact expression. I couldn't find a website exactly on this subject, and this one is rather technical: Horizons, Entropy and Gravity in Parcellular Space (which is 'radically fractal'!).

C — Cargo-Cult Science

This phrase comes from a talk by Richard P. Feynman at Caltech 1974. The Cargo Cult was practiced by south seas natives who imitated an airfield in the hope of attracting planes. Feynman talks about UFO's, astrology, expanded consciousness, ESP, reflexology, etc. But he also points out that there are other things that even more people believe that don't in fact work, such as Education and Prisons, in which despite lots of theory there has been no progress. Other dubious sciences that might be included are Economics, Psychology, Sociology and Memetics. You can no doubt think of others.

D — Dark Matter and Dark Energy

This talk on pseudoscience was stimulated by the short series 'What We Still Don't Know' that appeared on ITV Channel 4, fronted by the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. In the second part he explained how 'dark matter' was postulated to explain how galaxies could rotate as fast as they do without breaking up, and how 'dark energy' is needed to explain why the expansion of the universe is accelerating. Neither of these postulated entities has yet actually been observed or detected. The third programme went even further to expound the idea that we live in one of an infinity of universes constituting a 'multiverse', and further that we could merely be a simulation run by advanced beings (gods?) in a parallel universe. These led me to call for him to be re-dubbed the Fantasist Royal. The assumptions of the big-bang theory are disputed by many: Open Letter to the Scientific Community in New Scientist (22 May 2004). Someone has designated Dark Matter and Energy as 'FAIRY DUST' (Fabricated Adhoc Inventions Repeatedly Invoked in Efforts to Defend Untenable Scientific Theories). Jim Peebles (of Princeton) says: "It is an embarrassment that the dominant forms of matter in the universe are hypothetical."

E — Eteo-Science

This is a word I have coined from the Greek eteos meaning "true, real, genuine" (Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, abridged edition, 1935), feeling the need for a word for Genuine Science. Eteo-Science is knowledge that is firmly based on scientific method, as compared with Proto-Science which, while not contradicting existing knowledge, has yet to be confirmed or denied. Consensus Science, is not the same as Eteo-Science. This is forcefully discussed by Michael Crichton: "I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled." However there is a critique and dicussion about Crichton's views at: Real Climate.

F — Flat Earth

David Singmaster has notes on the curious events involving Alfred Russel Wallace and the Flat Earthers on this page under Welney. Some of the correspondence in the press at the time is here: A. R. Wallace - Letters to The Field about the Bedford Level experiments. See also: Looking for Lighthouses with Samuel Birley Rowbotham author of Zetetic Astronomy. History of the Hollow Earth Hypothesis. Even more unlikely is the theory of the Concave Earth or Cellular Cosmos. Here is a modern account of Atmospheric Refraction.

G — Grand Piano Universe


This is an analogy used in Daniel P. Fitzpatrick's Theory of Everything. More here: Update relating it to Milo Wolff's Space Resonance. "The speed of light is the fastest velocity that our reference frame is tuned to".

H — Holism

The idea that the universe is a whole and that all its parts are connected to the whole in some way is a persistent one, going back to the Hermetic philosophy of 'As Above, So Below' or Macrocosm and Microcosm. However there are many different interpretations of the idea. The following link is to Alan Kazlev: Meta-Evolution in Symmetry Breaks. See also under S.

I — Information

From New Scientist: In the Beginning was the Bit on the work of Anton Zeilinger. "He proposes simply that two elementary systems carry exactly two bits of information, and N systems carry N bits. This gives us a natural explanation for ... entanglement. When, say, two electrons are entangled, it is impossible even in principle to describe one without the other. They have no independent existence. This seems bizarre until you use Zeilinger's principle. Concentrating on their spins, a two-electron system contains two bits. ... The entire description consists of relative statements, or correlations. This means that as soon as one spin is measured along a certain direction, the other one is fixed, even if it happens to be far away. ... Zeilinger's single, simple principle leads to these three cornerstones of quantum mechanics: quantisation, uncertainty and entanglement. ... Any quantum system has to describe how states change over time, so the point in information space has to move. It seemed natural to Zeilinger and Brukner to have the point move as if it were a real, classical object. So they used the mechanical equation that governs the motion of bullets and billiard balls. When translated back into its equivalent form in Hilbert space, it turns out to be none other than Schrödinger's equation."

J — Junk Science

This can be defined as science supported by experiments or observations that cannot be replicated and have arisen because of inadequate methods, poor eyesight or sheer fraud. Well known examples are N-Rays, Polywater, Cold fusion, Antigravity claims, Perpetual motion machines, Martian canals, Piltdown man.

An alternative J was Jelliss Cosmology, based on ideas about a "foam universe" that is discrete on the Planck scale, but I'm still working on that! See: 4D Quantum Gravity for links to similar ideas.

K — Kinematic Relativity

This was a theory based on kinematics - the movement of bodies - formulated by astrophysicist and mathematician Edward A. Milne (1896-1950) that paralleled Einstein's theory. It originated in 1932 and relied purely on deductive reasoning to produce a scheme he hoped would be simpler than relativity.

L — Logic

I adapted this page by William Dembski on Evolutionary Logic (eliminating the anti-evolution bits) and just listing the various forms of 'argument'. This was intended as a jokey interlude.

M — Mathematical Mysticism

M was not selected so I'm saving it for a later date.

N — Numerology

N was not selected so, as for M, I'm saving it for a possible future presentation.

O — Owt for Nowt

The folk-wisdom of "Owt for Nowt", or "It is Impossible to get Something from Nothing", is often appealed to to settle the argument about where the universe came from, but a simple argument shows that it must be false. By definition the Universe is Everything there is. Therefore outside or before the Universe (assuming these terms have any meaning) there can only be Nothing. This Nothing is not merely emptiness, it is absence of space and time as well as absence of matter, energy, gods and anything else. Absolute Nothingness. The Universe now exists, before it there was Nothing, therefore Something must have come from Nothing. QED.

The question now becomes: How can Something come from Nothing? There is an answer in fuzzy logic. The concept of Absolute Nothingness is a very precise concept. It is not merely zero it is zero followed by an infinity of zero decimal places; 0.000000... going on for ever. It only takes one of these distant zeros to mutate into 1 and we no longer have Nothing but Something. This Something may not be very much, but what else do we have to compare it with? Any amount of Something is immediately a great deal. This argument was influenced by Bart Kozko's Fuzzy Logic.

Finally, a bit of quantum theory. According to this the difference between Space and Absolute Nothingness is that Space fluctuates. Bits of stuff keep appearing and disappearing continually. This doesn't contradict the principle of conservation of matter and energy because bits of matter and antimatter appear at the same time. Where the antimatter of our universe went to seems to be one of the problems physicists are working on at present. Perhaps it formed an AntiUniverse. Here is one standard theory on this: Baryogenesis - why more protons than antiprotons? See also: Antimatter, and sections Q and V.

P — Plasma

The proponents of the Electric Cosmos maintain that Galaxies are not held together by gravity but by dynamic electromagnetic forces. (Much of this website seems plausible to start with, but towards the end it becomes dubiously Velikowskian.) Anthony Perratt made simulations of Maxwell / Lorentz equations for large ensembles of charged particles. His results are almost indistinguishable from astronomical images of actual galaxies. See the illustrations midway down this web-page: Electric Plasma Effects in the Cosmos. This dynamics obviates the need to postulate the existence of Missing Dark Matter.

Q — Quantum

This may be a good place to start: Quantum Mechanics for beginners. See also Victor J. Stenger on: Quantum Quackery. Here is a discussion of Uncertainty and the Scrodinger's cat paradox, by Steve Dutch. J.W.Barrett describes Quantum Gravity in 4 dimensions, with links to other work on this subject. Doug Sweetser relates Quantums and Quaternions. Matti Pitkänen has a whole site devoted to Topological Geometro-Dynamics: — Quantum TGD includes a theory of consciousness!

R — Redshift

Redshift by Photon Decay. Several galaxies have been observed that have four quasars surrounding them in the form of a formation, known as Einstein's Cross (see photo mid-way down this web page). This formation is attributed to 'gravitational lensing': it is claimed that the four quasars are all images of the same quasar, situated far behind the galaxy, and visible due to bending of light round the galaxy by its gravitational effect (but if so, why do they not appear as a circle, or some other number than four? - no-one seems to explain this obvious point). A review of Halton Arp's Seeing Red. See also: Age of the Universe.

S — Self-Organising Systems

E. H. Decker (New Mexico): Self-Organising Systems a Tutorial in Complexity. Complexity, Chaos and Concrescence were alternatives I had in mind for C, but didn't have time to investigate far. Here is one link: Novelty and Concrescence.

T — Topos Theory


"Topos, or cosmological, logic is the right logic for understanding the human world. It and not Aristotle, must be the right basis for economics, sociology and political science. George Soros' approach to economics, his theory of reflexivity, is a start in the right direction. They are sciences that cannot be formulated sensibly unless we build into their foundations the simple fact that all possible observers are inside the systems they study." John Baez explains Topos Theory in a nutshell. This could just be post-modernism in mathematical disguise!

U — Universe

See section O for more about the Universe - but does it exist? I drew some diagrams questioning the very existence of a "Universe", if relativity and quantum uncertainty are accepted as correct. The argument being that because of the velocity of light the "visible universe" that we can see now is not the "universe now" that we would see if the velocity of light was instantaneous. The only part of the "universe now" that exists, from our point of view, is the "here and now". All other parts of the "universe now" are in the future and do not yet exist. But if we suppose the Andromeda Galaxy, say, continues to evolve for 200 million years the way our's has, then presumably there might be observers there "now" (in the instantaneous sense). But on the other hand there might not, because the future of the Andromeda Galaxy cannot be predicted by us. So there is a sense in which, like Schrodinger's cat, the Andromedans both exist and don't exist "now".

V — Vacuum and Void

H. E. Puthoff, Institute for Advanced Studies has a lot of information on Quantum Vacuum Fluctuations. This also has a lot on the same subjects that appear under Q and O. He expounds Zero-point energy, Lamb shift, Casimir effect, Sakharov's theory of gravity, and Zitterbewegungen. According to this "Gravity can be understood as a kind of long-range Casimir force."

W — Wrong!

This was a collection of dogmatic statements or predictions by eminent scientists of their day that were soon after proved false. I will save this material for possible future use.

X — Xenobiology

Also termed Astrobiology or Exobiology; the study of extraterrestrial life, or the possibility that it might exist - Martians, Venusians, Greys, Cthulhu, Daleks, ... to name but a few. Related to Cryptobiology - mythical or legendary or fictional creatures such as Sphinx, Basilisk, Chimaera, Gorgon, Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Yeti - and could also apply to religious beings such as Gods, Demons, Angels. It is sometimes said that Cryptoscience is easier to validate than Parascience - you just have to find the crittur! But I'm not convinced this is true - thought-transference, prayer-effect and other paranormal phenomena are just as elusive as bigfoot.

Y — ??

This is the only letter for which I was unable to find any interesting pseudoscientific topic. Perhaps something on the Elixir of Youth would have served.

Z — Zeteticism

The zhthtai at Athens were "commissioners to inquire into state offences" (Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, abridged edition, 1935). In other words a sort of 'Special Branch'. The verb zhtew means "to seek, seek for, seek after, to search out, inquire into, examine, investigate". The term has been revived by Marcello Truzzi. (Sociologist of Science, Center for Scientific Anomalies Research, Ann Arbor) to describe an open-minded form of scepticism. He accuses professional sceptics such as James Randi and CSICOP of being paradigm police, closed-minded, debunkers, deniers, pseudosceptics, nay-sayers, ridicule-mongers, boloney detectors, dismissing genuine enquirers unjustifiably as mavericks, eccentrics, incompetents, crackpots, charlatans and frauds. While we should not go to the other extreme of mystery-mongering, thinking anything possible, we should aim to achieve a better balance between doubt and belief. The Blavatsky Archives have a comprehensive Collection of Weblinks presenting "Arguments for and against the Paranormal with a Critical Look at Pseudo-Skepticism and CSICOP". The Skeptics Dictionary entry on Pseudoscience has many more links.

Links on Pseudoscience

Pseudoscience and Scientific Method
Pseudoscience Skeptics Dictionary
What is Pseudoscience?
Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience
List of Disputed Theories
List of Proto-Sciences
Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science
Science, Pseudoscience and Irrationalism
Characterisation of Quack Theories
What Pseudoscience tells us about Science
The Text-Book Wars
The Anti-Science Movement
Dutch's Laws of Everything Steven Dutch.
Zeteticism Marcello Truzzi on Scientific Method
Cargo Cult Science Richard Feynman
Closeminded Science

Science and Religion
Misconception about Relgion
Dumbest Statements about Relgion
Why Science cannot accept Miracles
David Hume and the Argument from Design
Honour: The Toxic Value System Steven Dutch.
Science Teaching for Creationists
Genuine Science versus Dembski's Z factors
The Geometry of Meaning Arthur M. Young
Science, Spirit and the Soul Arthur M. Young
An Evening with Dean Radin Conscious Universe
The Eschaton
Novelty and Concrescence

Rewriting History
The Hall of Maat: Topics Alternative History.
The Da Vinci Code

Paranormal Research: Mind over Matter
Paranormal Research
Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research PEAR
International Consciousness Research
Engineering Anomalies Research
Remote Viewing
Critique of Remote Viewing
Global Consciousness Project

Cosmology: Alternative Physics
An Open Letter to the Scientific Community on the Big Bang Theory.
The Electric Cosmos
Electric Plasma
Local Space
Red Shift by Photon Decay
Seeing Red
Age of the Universe
Missing Dark Matter
Causality, Measurement and Space Michael Miller
Alpha Institute Myron Evans
Topos Theory in a nutshell.

Flat or Hollow Earth Theories
Hollow Earth Theory
Mysteries of the Inner Earth
Looking for Lighthouses
Bedford Canal Flat Earth Experiment of A. R. Wallace
Effect of Atmospheric Refraction in surveying.

Climate and Atmospheric Phenomena
The Singing Sand Dunes
Aliens Cause Global Warming Michael Crichton.
Real Climate: Michael Crichton's Confusion
Hawkhill Science Newsletter
UFO Evidence Skeptics and their arguments.

Mathematics and Numerology
Mayan Calendar End date 2012.
Timewave Theory
Trisecting the Angle
Simply Beastly: The Search for 666 Steven Dutch.
Fibonacci Flim-Flam