When was the first time I heard of Dr. Randell Mills and BlackLight Power, the company that he has founded? … I guess that was either in 2000 or 2001. Most likely, 2001, the first half of it (while I was still in the SF Bay Area, jobless, and much “targeted”…. Anyway…)
Dr. Mills, his claims, and his company, all were controversial matters back in 2001 when I first read about them. They still is. Just Google on any, and you are sure to see a lot of comments and cross-comments. The subject matter itself is such that one gets intrigued. Though I could not come to a firm conclusion back then, I also felt that, right back then, there may be something to it—just the way there also may be something to cold fusion. I left it at that.
Then, sometime in recent years (I guess in 2008), I happened to remember this matter once again. This time round, I directly wrote an email to Mills. There was no reply (from him or from anyone from his company). None was expected anyway—Mills may not only be on to something big, he also is an American! How could he have written back to someone like me?
Anyway, in between 2001 and 2008, one of things that happened on my side of the things was that I also did my PhD. A part of it did concern QM.
However, my knowledge of QM is not yet advanced, comprehensive and, say, mature enough that I can even today draw any definitive conclusion about this matter.
Yet, when one learns something, one not only learns the concrete details of that specific subject area, but one also learns the methods of reasoning employed in it (at least in implicit terms, as a matter of a skill or a practitioner’s art). And something more. One also develops an ability whereby one is able to judge—accurately or otherwise—whether a given idea or a claim broadly falling in that area might “hold water.”
Now, the judgement itself may be only broad, preliminary; it may even be tentative in nature. Still, the point is, one is able to form at least broad judgments. People call these by such names as “intuition,” “hunches,” “gut feeling,” etc. (Philosophy is the primary culprit behind people using this kind of a terminology, if it can be called that.)
If your education happens to be in one of the physical sciences (say, physics, engineering, etc.), then you do develop the ability to make out or distinguish the scope of a given mathematical theory: what is the realm of application of a given theory, whether it is (or can be) be as comprehensive as indicated by its champions, etc. You can begin to tell that. Thus, you develop an appreciation of the nature of conceptual relations that exist between mathematics and physics. Further, you also develop an appreciation of the limitations of the two types of conceptualizations (the physical and the mathematical). You develop a kind of a “sense” about such things.
It is purely on the basis of such a “sense” that I have developed about physics, science and truth, that I think that there may be something to what Mills claims—his claims do not fall in the category of the arbitrary (the kind that can be thrown out of any cognitive consideration right at the face of it, without any second thought). Thus, there may be something to Mills’ output.
Note, this “something” may not turn out to be exactly as what Dr. Mills puts in words. The concepts he uses, the theory he puts forth, the nature of theorization that he follows, all may be partly incorrect/wrong. Yet, the important point here is that the claims that he makes do not seem worthy of an outright rejection.
Physics cannot progress unless the physicist recognizes the limitations of his theories. Professional physicists often do. Yet, when the claims seem to fall too outside of their developed common sense, most of them tend to shy away.
Of course, some do pick the controversial things up for a closer examination, to etablish truth-/false-hood in the case. Such intentions, undoubtedly, are noble. But intentions do not always translate very smoothly into the process or the end product: the criticism. Examples abound. We all know about the Wright brothers’ flights, and the refusal of some academics to even examine their claim that a heavier-than-air machine can fly. They refused to leave their ivory towers, visit the fields where the Wright brothers were conducting their test flights (a sort of exhibition also was there), and see for themselves. They trusted their theories more than their eyes.
Given the human nature, sometimes, criticism itself also is interesting in its own right.
It is true that quantum mechanics has been a very successful theory. But it does not mean that it is a logically complete theory. Indeed, I think, even an argument can be made to the effect that no theory of special sciences can ever become a logically complete theory. (I wouldn’t argue this position in reference to that popular “incompleteness” argument.)
Further, QM is a very special theory. It is a speficically 20th-century theory. As such, QM is, philosophically speaking, in a very bad shape.
Now, we may choose to ignore all the meaningless verbiage and blabber that, we are told, is logically implied by QM. We may, thus, choose to focus on only those aspects of the theory that do allow us to make whatever quantitative predictions that can still be made with it. Yet, developing this skill does not mean that we understand the inductive roots of the theory. (In fact, physicists are eager to inform us that doing so is in principle impossible!)
When the inductive roots of a concept are not known, when the proper conceptual context of a theory is not fully clear, one has to exercise even greater caution before rejecting some claim if it seems to go against the existing theory.
Here, consider Mills’ claim that quantum states corresponding to fractional principal quantum number, are possible.
Can we reject such an idea out of hand? Do we understand the physical reasons why the number must be an integer? Has any one bothered to at least name such reasons?
If we are so poor in understanding the existing theory that we cannot even name the required physical reasons (let alone explain them), and if we can manage to forget to tell the layman that the integer nature of the number has always been a postulate (even while never failing to repeat that QM theory is based on arbitrary postulates if it helps shake his belief in reason, causality, reality), then how justified we are to say that according to the rules of quantum mechanics, Mills’ idea (of fractional quantum numbers) is “theoretically impossible?”
Here, I hope that no one will give me an argument that (essentially) rests on the well-known limitations as to what kind of boundary conditions can at all be imposed, while solving problems such as the standing waves in a rope. I hope no one will give me that one. I hope people realize that QM particles and/or their trajectories aren’t the same as an ordinary rope (even though the behavior of the classical objects would be obtained from the nature of the microscopic entities, after a proper coarsening process). Since there is this essential difference regarding the very basic nature of abstractions in QM theory and the classical one, I hope, no one will give me an argument based on that. Even if, I anticipate, most objections of most physicists (even of well-experienced, working/teaching, professional physicists) would in fact be based on little more than what I have pointed out in this paragraph. It is a crucial point.
Anyway, today, I was browsing at random, and happened to pick up a link to a news item concerning the validation of Mill’s claims by a proper academic institution: the Rowan University in New Jersey, USA. … One of the academics involved in the experimental verifications is a materials scientist by name Prof. K. Ramanujachary; he not only is an Indian (or an American of Indian origin), even his PhD is from India—from IIT Madras! I have not forgotten the claim to production of petrol of a few years ago. No. Still, I am happy to note that professional scientists are at least willing to reproduce Mills’ findings.
I have just downloaded the research summary paper, and haven’t yet gone through it (and probably won’t.) For all my capitalism, I still hate to see titles like “Executive Summary” in place of the usual “Abstract” or “Summary” in a scientific document reporting empirical details towards basic validation. However, the document seems to be detailed enough.
All in all, an interesting matter.
… Sometime in future—at least a few years later—it would be fun to see if I can develop a theory of the real phenomena (if any) operating here, using my own approach. (As of now, I am excited about my approach, but can’t be sure if it would not turn out to be rather useless for addressing this category of practical problems…) . … Of course, all that is way into future… For the time being, I am still learning QM, and I still am trying to understand the various theories of physics on which it is based. For instance, I have no idea how precisely Coulomb’s law fits in with, say, the QED theory (I mean, at a deep level)… And, I am at least one year away from even beginning to study QED proper. But, yes, study, I surely will. …
As of today, I think that many elements of Mills’ theory would turn out not to be correct—e.g., his idea that the electron in the form of a sphere—a surface at that, I think, might eventually turn out to be incorrect. This model of his may turn out to be just a working model that helps him perform some calculations, but it may not be an accurate physical description as such. But still, as the joke concerning the horse goes, doing so also sure would be physics 🙂
In case you don’t know that joke, it joke goes something like this: Say, you take a horse to an artist and ask him to make a model of it. The artist might choose to create a painting, and offer that as a proper model. You then take the horse to a sculptor, and again ask him to make a model. The sculptor may make a great sculpture out of it, as a model. Then, you take it to an engineer. The engineer might say: “We have two options here. Basically, we can create a scaled model and put it in a wind-tunnel. Or, we could also use CFD to simulate some aspects…” That’s what a typical engineer might say. Now, you take the horse to a physicist and ask him to make a model of it. The physicist will not say anything for some time. He will first think very deeply about it. And, then, finally, his eyes may brighten up, and he may leap to the black-board to draw something even as he tells you in an excited voice: “Let’s build a model to find the wind-resistance of a racing horse. … Let us assume that the horse exists in the shape of a sphere! …”
So, it may turn out that Mills’ electron is spherical out of a similar set of considerations. Which should make him into a physicist. … If so, then why so much of resistance? 🙂
Anyway, to close this post, the following line from The Guardian’s report seems pertinent:
…While the theoretical tangle is unlikely to resolve itself soon, those wanting to exploit the technology are pushing ahead…
As far as I can see, doing so indeed is the best path they (Mills and his people) can take, given the culture of it all: the US government, academics, and physics.
Just two more points: BlackLight Power, Inc., does not seem averse to go the US government for raising research funding. … And, GreenPeace seems to be trailing them already!
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Just one more matter: In case you missed it, I am on the twitter now, as @AjitRJadhav
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A Song I Like:
(Marathi) “saanj ye gokuLi, saavaLi, saavaLi…”
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: Sudhir Moghe
Music: Shridhar Phadake
[The post before the last still is to be updated. As to this post, though it is in a fairly good shape right away, I may add a few links to Mills’ supporters and critics, later on, sometime over the upcoming week-end.]