Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Twists and turns

A recommendation to anyone who wants to completely revolutionize the scientific world: learn some damn science first.

It's why I get so completely fed up by people like Deepak Chopra, who blather on about "quantum frequencies" when I doubt he could give an accurate definition of either word.  Look, I get that physics is hard; I majored in physics, for fuck's sake.  Okay, I wasn't very good at it, but at least I came away with (1) a great deal of respect for the people who are smart enough to truly understand it, and (2) a determination not to pretend I'm an expert when I'm not.

But this isn't the perspective that a great many people have, to judge by the success of Chopra's books, which include -- I shit you not -- Quantum Healing and Quantum Body.

But I'm not here to rail about Deepak Chopra, who in any case has been something of a frequent flier here at Skeptophilia.  No, today's rant comes to you courtesy of a long-time loyal reader who asked me if I'd ever heard of "torsion field theory" and if so, what I thought about it.

My first thought was that any kind of field theory was going to involve mathematics on a level that would lose me after the first paragraph, so (Cf. my statement in paragraph two above) whatever opinion I had of it wouldn't be worth much.  But I'm nothing if not dedicated to my readers, so I said I'd look into it.

And... holy Moses.

Torsion field theory was born of some research (using the term loosely) in the 1980s by two Russian scientists (using that term loosely as well), Anatoly Akimov and Gennady Shipov.  The basic idea was that a particle's spin configuration causes it to give off "emanations" that allow for the transfer of information faster than the speed of light.

If you're thinking, "Wait... but... Einstein said...?", you're not the only one.  In 1991, physicist Yevgeny Aleksandrov exposed them as frauds, and called the grants they'd received from the Russian government to support their work "embezzlement."

Anyone who's saying, "Okay, well, that was that, then," obviously doesn't understand how persistent the purveyors of pseudoscience can be.  Akimov and Shipov portrayed Aleksandrov's attacks as coming from a hidebound scientific establishment that couldn't handle being challenged -- and also wanted to keep all the grant money for itself.  (Similar to all of the alt-med proponents complaining about being suppressed by "Big Pharma.")  They fought back -- and won, receiving grants from the Russian government throughout the 1990s, and ultimately founding "The International Institute for Theoretical and Applied Physics" to continue doing their thing.  (Thus showing that having a fancy-sounding name for your "institute" doesn't mean that you're doing actual science.)

Not a single thing they did -- not one -- ever generated a paper in a peer-reviewed physics journal.  Despite this, "torsion field theory" is still being talked about as a "revolution in physics" (and its proponents still claim the physics community is suppressing it), and it has been used to explain -- once again, I feel obliged to mention that I am not making this up -- such phenomena as telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, and levitation.  It's said to be the basis of homeopathic "remedies," perpetual motion machines, stargates, and UFO propulsion systems.

Did you notice a commonality between every one of the things I just listed?

Yeah, me too.

Here's the problem.  This is not how science works.  Proposing a "theory" that flies in the face of not one, but two of the most thoroughly tested models in physics (the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics), based upon exactly zero evidence, and then using that "theory" to explain a bunch of phenomena that to the best of our current knowledge, don't exist, isn't science.  It's self-delusion at best, and outright fraud at worst.  And it doesn't improve things when you name it by swiping some actual terms from physics (torsion means a twisting force; a field is a distribution of values of a quantity in space).

A diagram of the torsion tensor. Like, you know, actual science [Image licensed under the Creative Commons Circle development with torsion, CC BY-SA 4.0]

No, science isn't perfect.  But it does have one enormously important thing going for it -- it self-corrects.  And scientists, far from being the sticks-in-the-mud the pseudoscientific community would like you to believe, are always on the lookout for the places it's not working, because identifying and correcting those places is how careers are made.  If there really was some mysterious twisty-turny field generated by quantum spin that could generate faster-than-light information transfer, the physicists would be clambering over each other to get their papers published first.

That'd be Nobel Prize material, right there.

So many thanks to the reader who suggested I research "torsion field theory."  I now have many dents in my forehead from all the faceplants I did.  If you find any other revolutionary developments in physics that for some reason no actual physicists are working on, though, I'd rather not know about them.

Maybe you should just send them directly to Deepak Chopra.


No comments:

Post a Comment