The Final Theory
June 28, 2006 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Mark McCutcheon's book is a Top Science Bestseller at (currently #28, ahead of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The reader reviews are overwhelming five star. In other news, the correct value of PI is 3.125 and the wheel has been reinvented. You may find this simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics useful when considering these ideas.
posted by unSane (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I can't follow scientists' 10-dimensional universes or quantum mechanics, it's obviously the scientists who are mistaken.
posted by revgeorge at 9:08 AM on June 28, 2006

posted by loquacious at 9:12 AM on June 28, 2006

Rogue Scientist Has Own Scientific Method.

Has anyone seen McCutcheon's book? Any testable predictions?
posted by teleskiving at 9:15 AM on June 28, 2006

Does anyone have a summary of what his "final theory" is supposedly about? All I can get from the website is "everything you know is wrong."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:20 AM on June 28, 2006

Oh, that's the least of our mistakes. (But this is less likely to be true because, while it also has a 4.5-star rating at Amazon, it's sold fewer copies.)
posted by Wolfdog at 9:21 AM on June 28, 2006

Could somebody sum up his hypothesis?
posted by gsb at 9:21 AM on June 28, 2006

(With a summary of his hypothosis.)
posted by Floydd at 9:22 AM on June 28, 2006

I tried to understand the "correct value of Pi", but couldn't see what the guy is getting at. Has he just redefined Pi so it isn't circumference/diameter?
posted by Orange Goblin at 9:23 AM on June 28, 2006

Isn't that "square wheel" gizmo more like a just a square tire on a round wheel? You can tell from the smiley face at the hub that it's turning exactly like any normal wheel would.

I mean, sure I could start creating dramatically less efficient versions of perfected inventions just for fun, but I have my own style of fruitless ignominy to pursue.
posted by hermitosis at 9:31 AM on June 28, 2006

I was stunned by the questions in this book.
Take this one for instance:

'Light slows as it passes through water or
glass, causing it to bend, but how can it
return to light-speed on its own once it exits?'

I'm stunned, too!
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:34 AM on June 28, 2006

His ideas seem to stem in part from a fundamental ignorance (or misunderstanding) of the principle of the conservation of energy. He seems to think that a fridge magnet sticking to a fridge requires a power source to stay there. Once you mistake a force for work, the game is up.
posted by unSane at 9:36 AM on June 28, 2006

I think you forgot the "batshitinsane" tag. But then, I'm part of the scientific establishment and therefore one of the opressors.
posted by JMOZ at 9:38 AM on June 28, 2006

Wow. completely idiotic.

I even wasted time glancing at his sample first chapter - so many misconceptions I dont know where to start...

One thing he brings up is how orbits violate energy conservation - you know, like how the Earth is doing all that constant "pulling" on the Moon. Of course, the fact that the Moon returns approximately to its same position every 28 days (or whatever) is a clear argument that no energy is being generated...My nephew could have figured that one out.

He spends a lot of time criticizing Newtonian theory as incomplete (which it is) but then dismisses GR because its "too complex" - clearly he doesnt understand it at all. Ugh. what a mess.

Anyways Mcutcheon took the beating all cranks get in sci.physics. It does sort of sadden me that despite the efforts of Feynman and others, many people think current physics is wrong for no other reason that they themselves cannot fully understand it.
posted by vacapinta at 9:39 AM on June 28, 2006

thanks for the sci.physics link -- I missed that
posted by unSane at 9:40 AM on June 28, 2006

Orange: If I understand it, each square has 3 circles (and likewise, each circle has 3 squares) which together form NATURE'S HARMONIC SIMULTANEOUS 4-DAY TIME CUBE with a volume of exactly 3.125 sinuses.

Which is to say I couldn't make any sense out of it either.
posted by jepler at 9:44 AM on June 28, 2006

Pi is not pi guy reminds me of timecube. I can't figure it out either, OG.
posted by blacklite at 9:47 AM on June 28, 2006

dammit, should have previewed. And not left this window sitting open for 20 minutes.

And actually, in retrospect, I understand timecube more than I understand pi not pi abc time cube time.
posted by blacklite at 9:49 AM on June 28, 2006

haha... this post was such a waste of time, except that it did give me a laugh.
posted by j-urb at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2006

To be fair, I've been flipping through his website and reading a bit about him, and his not as much of a crank as other crank's I've read.

He doesn't demonstrate a complete ignorance of modern physics, though this little gem stood out as definatively moronic:

Q: But don't we know all about the gravity of Black
Holes and how even light can't escape?

A: No. This often-repeated error is based on a simple oversight. Black Holes are said to form when a star expends its nuclear energy and collapses. But starlight only shines from intact, functioning stars, of course. There is no more reason to expect light to shine from Black Holes than from a burnt-out, smashed light bulb...

At the same time, it doesn't seem like he believes that the scientific community is purpetuating some massive conspiracy. He commends its successes, but points out that our modern theories don't 'explain' anything. On one hand, this entirely misses the point of the scientific method, but on the other hand, many physicists have been deeply troubled but conceptually unatainable theories.

The Pi guy is nuts though.
posted by Alex404 at 10:09 AM on June 28, 2006

Oh, and excellent post.
posted by Alex404 at 10:10 AM on June 28, 2006

And on further reading, the Final Theory guy is pretty nuts.

I'll shutup now.
posted by Alex404 at 10:12 AM on June 28, 2006

Metafilter: The best in Unscience.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:38 AM on June 28, 2006

Alex404- not to mention that if you put that "burnt-out smashed light bulb" under appropriate conditions, you'd still get light. For example, if you apply a large voltage, you can get an arc between the two contacts which will produce light. Alternatively, heat the bulb up and you'll get blackbody emission of photons.

See, complexities like these (and other things which are more sophstication and less sophistry) are part of why the scientific community has a hard time communicating with the public. There is also a severe language barrier. "Theory" means something very different to the public and to the scientific community. I think that's where a lot of the popular debates/arguements in our society about science come from.

I find it sad that the net result of this inability to communicate is that the general public has some very wrong ideas about science. unSane's post does a fantastic job of pointing out how poorly the marketplace is at determining good science. At the risk of creating controversy, I would argue that Stephen Wolfram's New Kind of Science is another example.

Many in the scientific community don't view this insularity between itself and the public as much of a problem; the peer review process works fine and the scientists can be the arbitrars of truth. Even if you accept this (elitist?) premise, the problem is that most research (and virtually all basic research) in the physical sciences is publically funded. Generally, the funding agencies (NSF, DoD, DoE) are somewhat removed from the court of public opinion, but their funding is determined by Congress. That means that, at some level, the public has alot of control over scientific funding. I argue that the scientific community needs to do a better job of explaining itself to the public. Of course, better science education (starting from a young age) would help quite a bit.

on preview: Sorry for such an essay! If it's too far off-topic, please feel free to delete it and flog me with a wet noodle.
posted by JMOZ at 10:38 AM on June 28, 2006

At the risk of creating controversy, I would argue that Stephen Wolfram's New Kind of Science is another example.

No controversy.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:49 AM on June 28, 2006

My reason for posting this was that in the public arena, science is increasingly being treated as a kind of rhetoric which you can simply disagree with if you wish. Don't like the research on global warming? Choose to believe it's crap. Don't like the theory of evolution? Treat it as an optional extra. Books like this are dangerous exactly because they encourage people to believe that science is a process of argument, rather than of testing and evidence. I personally believe this is exceptionally dangerous.

(I also happen to agree with Paul Feyerabend on a lot of his criticisms of the so-called scientific method, but from the point of view of someone who doesn't think there's a better alternative).

It feels like the reality-based community is shrinking fast.
posted by unSane at 10:49 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

More proof that science education is shit in this country. And more proof that things aren't always a simple as "common sense" would have you believe.
posted by SirOmega at 11:05 AM on June 28, 2006

It feels like the reality-based community is shrinking fast.

I don't know, personally I'm kind of excited by developments like this. When people start seriously questioning the authority of science and scientists, it represents real progress over the previous attitude where science was allocated its own "sphere" and largely ignored.

And, as my Asian friends like to remind me, there's no real danger here to science in general. If the hostility to the scientific process continues to grow in the US, the smart ones will be welcomed to Europe/Asia with welcome arms and science on the whole will continue to progress. The reality-based community is actually bigger than ever and what happens in America is increasingly less relevant.
posted by nixerman at 11:16 AM on June 28, 2006

This promotion for the square wheel has what has already one of my all time favorite jokes:

"However generally everyday we are hearing locutions as: The triangle was an improvement of a Square Wheel - it eliminated one bump"

That is definitely one of those general everyday locutions I overhear such as.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:17 AM on June 28, 2006

No, no, no! you've got it all wrong!

posted by pieisexactlythree at 11:30 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

From Amazon
Customers tagged this product with ... intellectually reckless, rubbish, unscientific

What do customers ultimately buy after viewing items like this?
17% buy Occult Ether Physics: Tesla's Hidden Space Propulsion System and the Conspiracy to Conceal It (2nd Revised Edition) by William Lyne
12% buy Quest for Zero Point Energy Engineering Principles for Free Energy by Moray B. King

The Reviews, sorted by lowest ranking first are also an amusing read :)
posted by nielm at 11:42 AM on June 28, 2006

/me puts on boots and wades through a river of Carl Sagan's tears.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:46 AM on June 28, 2006

Great post! Disturbing, but great. There is so much knowledge available now, too bad Gresham's Law seems to work in this domain also.
posted by RussHy at 11:51 AM on June 28, 2006

unSane: "It feels like the reality-based community is shrinking fast."

Not according to McCutcheon's theory that everything is expanding fast.
posted by revgeorge at 12:31 PM on June 28, 2006

So... Science is wrong, which should we beleive in instead? UFOs or Jesus?
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on June 28, 2006

For a non-crank look at some problems with modern string theory, Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong is supposed to be pretty good, as is Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:03 PM on June 28, 2006

Well, the bad news is that my wasteline is expanding according to this theory

The good news is, so are other parts of my anatomy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:20 PM on June 28, 2006

As a scientist with a degree in physics. I can agree with some of my collegues who posted earlier and tell you that this guy is 100% missing the point. His book is total trash. I've read through many of his "unique perspectives" on physics and he consistantly misses the basic points. I think it's the Calculus where he is really lacking. Pretty much all of his misunderstandings come from his inability to discern the physical meaning of simple calculus expressions, a skill which is fundamental to physics of any sort. Trust me, when you crunch the numbers on the "problems" he mentions, there isn't actually any problem, even though it may seem like there should be. All the physics he mentions is totally explored by experiment and totally consistant with mathematics. You could make a case against String Theory (many physicists do actually...) but Classical/quantum mechanics and electrodynamics and relativity... these things are iron clad and so faithfully mirrored between mathematics and experiment that question their validity is idiotic. Physicsts are always looking for new pieces to add to these works, but they understand that with so much agreement to experiment, new pieces never actually replace existing ones, just build another layer of complexity underneath. Just as Einstein didn't "remove" Newton's pieces, he just added to the fringes of a work that Newton thought was already complete. McCutcheon misses the boat, and I would say, misses the beauty of these works of physics as well. Blah blah, just listen to me gush about science like total geek.
posted by Farengast at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2006

Pseudoephedrine: For a non-crank look at some problems with modern string theory, Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong is supposed to be pretty good, as is Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics.

Looks interesting, but I doubt that string theory is holding physics back too badly. It's not as if the experimentalists have packed up shop and gone home, the particle colliders and giant telescopes are still running. The next generation of equipment will hopefully provide evidence for or against the Higgs boson and supersymmetry whether string theory is right or not.

It's worth noting that no one has suggested that string theory is untestable in principle, only that current technology does not allow it. That's substantially different from fundamentally undisprovable claims made by religion and sometimes philosophy.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:26 PM on June 28, 2006

posted by Smedleyman at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2006

The Amazon mention isn't really that amazing. It's in the 10k overall bracket, it just seems that science books don't sell that well through Amazon.
posted by drezdn at 3:46 PM on June 28, 2006

The point about the Amazon stats is that it's right up there with the best 'real' science books. That's amazing to me.
posted by unSane at 4:55 PM on June 28, 2006

I just want to point out that contrarians can and do have a significant place in the scientific canon and in scientific "progress" (scare quotes because progress is an often hotly contested concept... hellooooo, Mr. Kuhn) when their work is rigorous and testable -- a good example would be Fred Hoyle's work on the steady state theory of the universe. But, as they say, your shit had best be super tight if you're going to argue for a fringe or highly controversial scientific position. Even from my cursory knowledge of McCutcheon, it would appear his shit is orders of magnitude less than tight.
posted by davideads at 5:00 PM on June 28, 2006

The point about the Amazon stats is that it's right up there with the best 'real' science books. That's amazing to me.

If anything, the book is just miscategorized (most likely it should be new age). I'm not familar with Amazon specifically, but it's entirely possible that none of those books on that list are moving a lot of units and therefor it's possible to just sell a small handful and end up on the list above a bunch of books that only sold one or two less copies.

In most bookstores, outside the realms of giant bestsellers, the better selling books are only moving between 5-10 copies a week, which can be enough to get them flagged as among the best-selling in their category.
posted by drezdn at 5:12 PM on June 28, 2006

pieisexactlythree, or anyone: Who does the song in that YTMND? I must have it. I must, I must.
posted by loquacious at 6:19 PM on June 28, 2006

Could somebody sum up his hypothesis?

Gravity doesn't make things fall, actually the ground rushes up to meet the "falling" object. Also, everybody but him is wrong.
posted by telstar at 8:29 PM on June 28, 2006

Loquacious: It's called "Pi" (surprising, no? ) by Hard'n'Phirm. Unfortunately, the full song completely fails to live up to the brilliant Stereolab-esque chorus. Youtube. Shame.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:52 PM on June 28, 2006

Pseudoephedrine: We've actually had a rather nice exchange with Peter Woit after a coincidental ad we mocked up for our magazine. I'm terribly excited to read the book and see what he has to say.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2006

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