Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything

Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything

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by Margaret Wertheim

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Who is Jim Carter? And why isn't mainstream science paying attention to him?

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Who is Jim Carter? And why isn't mainstream science paying attention to him?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With insight, wit, and warmth, Wertheim (Pythagoras’ Trousers) offers a look into the hearts and minds of the “outsider” physicists: solitary figures who, usually with little or no formal training, strive to explain our world. Wertheim builds the book around the affable Jim Carter, explorer, self-taught physicist, trailer park owner, and proponent of circlon synchronicity, with atoms shaped like tiny circles of coiled spring. Carter is one of thousands of outsider theorists with their own books and papers often patterned “ an abundant use of CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation points!!!” Those included in this special breed of scientist feel alienated by accepted physics, from gravity to the space-time continuum. Often their work recreates or builds upon concepts proposed and discarded hundreds of years ago. A chapter is dedicated to A Budget of Paradoxes, a collection of alternative science theories compiled in the 18th century by mathematician Augustus De Morgan. NASA’s brief Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project even hoped to exploit outsider ideas, whereas the complex wonderland of mainstream string theories seems to echo the work of fringe theorists. Readers may hope for a deeper look into outsider theories past and present, but this sympathetic portrayal of one outsider’s work offers an entry point into a fascinating corner of pseudoscience. (Nov.)
Library Journal
What does it mean to be a scientific outsider and question contemporary paradigms? Wertheim (Pythagoras' Trousers; The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace) describes the historical background of several nontraditional ideas in this collection of outsider theories in physics, focusing on Jim Carter, creator of the Absolute Motion Institute, in the book's middle section. Rather than an exposé, the book is an objective, compassionate look at those on the fringe—individuals with unconventional and potentially revolutionary ideas about the nature of the universe that challenge the status quo. The text's final section discusses the broader implications of the insular culture of theoretical science. Wertheim covers new ground in this treatment of how science is communicated and what it means for scientific ideas that aren't part of the discussion. Her previous work provides the best comparison with this one, as well as older historical works such as August De Morgan's A Budget of Paradoxes. VERDICT Both conversational and easy to read, this is an accessible guide to the world of the weird, although a bit long in the middle section and brief in the final. Both practicing and casual scientists will find value in the content. [See Prepub Alert, 4/25/11.]—Elizabeth Brown, Binghamton Univ. Libs., NY

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Bloomsbury USA
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