Ever lose something valuable? Ever loan something to somebody and not get it back? Ever know you got it back but, I dunno, left it on a bus or something? This is the second essay I've started in four days that's trying to deal with a 30-plus year old monkey that's been riding on my back for over three decades. There's no connection between this blog and that one, Pascal's Angles, although the monkeys might be related.
Here follows the meaty part of an email I wrote a few years back to a friend who was looking into what was probably a perpetual motion scam. After covering that for a few lines, I then changed the subject:
I have never forgotten an article in Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact I read way back in the '70's.
It referred to 'rate of change of acceleration' which they also called 'rate of onset of force' which is the term I prefer (I call it ROF). The idea starts with the classical equations for motion where velocity is the first derivative of position displacement, and acceleration is the first derivative of velocity. ROF is the first derivative of acceleration, or the third derivative of position. I see these days it does have a name, Jerk. Jerk_(physics). Anyway, classical physics never really gets beyond the study of acceleration.
The author of the article, G. Harry Stein (unfortunately not the same Harry Stein who wrote science fiction) was working R&D for a now long defunct company called Huyck Corporation which manufactured, among other things, rollers to squeeze water from pulp. Only, the rollers were not operating as efficiently as predicted. After studying the problem for months, someone on the team finally decided maybe the problem was too much change in too little time. Most of the article describes the experiments they set up to try to identify effects of ROF - a heretical idea at the time (one physicist told them, "stress is proportional to strain!" "Yeah, but what if it isn't?"). Long story short, they did develop improvements to the roller system using their theory. They also described some fascinating ideas about other physical systems ranging from armor-piercing shells to why bumblebees can fly.
To me, the most amazing: they eventually brought a mathemetician onboard, E. I. Victory, or I. I. Victory, to try to develop a theoretical foundation for their work. After several months of work, one afternoon he gave them a blackboard session where he derived Planck's constant from classical mechanics. Amazing. To me anyway.
Little or none of this work got published since it didn't meet the scientific paradigm of the time, and the Huyck Corp. soon got bought out and the R&D department disbanded.
None of this stuff seems to be online, I've done some searches now and then. Unfortunately, even the late 70's is pre-cambrian when measured in 'internet years.'
Well, fun to speculate, anyway.
This article was the most intellectually stimulating thing I ever came across during my college years. I guarded it religiously. I did loan it to my calculus professor (he found it interesting), but I KNOW I got it back! And yet it went missing somehow soon thereafter.
Anyway ... the science-fact article describes the research Stein and his associates did there at Huyck Corp. to try to test the whole ROF concept. My memory still brings back some of the descriptions:
For example, they attached model rocket engines to the weight of a pendulum to see if the effect on the pendulum's swing turned out to be different than they would calculate from the known energy of the engine, to no measurable effect. So they abandoned that approach. Some weeks later, after having developed a bit of theory to guide them, Stein mentions parenthetically that the ROF of the little rocket firing was well below the threshold necessary. "We should have hit it with a sledge hammer instead." he wrote (yes, I still remember the quote).
And as far as the theory went, when they realized they were getting beyond the accepted physical ideas of the day (the "stress versus strain" engineers were not convinced), they brought in some consultants to keep them honest. That's when they started to develop some math around the jerk - the third derivative of position. The part of the article that made the biggest impression on me was when they ultimately derived the Planck constant. More on this below.
At the end of the article, Stein listed close to a dozen unresolved issues in physics, two of which I remember and went into the odd title of this page.
He mentioned that nobody could explain how the unaerodynamic bumblebee could actually fly and speculated how the ROF of its fast-beating wings might be the answer (By the end of the last millennium, aerodynamics researchers had finally decided that counterrotating vortices produced by the bees' wings accounted for the missing lift. In this case, this actually seems to be more likely to me, as it is hard for me to credit fragile bee wings hitting mooshy air molecules with enough ROF to have much effect).
Another of his examples concerned armor-piercing shells, of which high speed photography shows the front end of the shell hammering back and forth through the armor while the back end moves forward smoothly. Not an expected result when considered by classical physics.
I only remember one more: He mentions the confusing plethora of particles produced by atom smashing experiments, and makes the point that the incredibly high rates of change of force involved might just help to figure out what is going on.
As it happened, I forwarded the email to my friend Brian (who's behind the Tesla Coil and Hobby CNC pages right here on this site), and it turned out he had some background of his own he could share. He had a friend who worked for many years with the cyclotron at Cornell University. Here's an excerpt from Brian's reply back:
.....he claims they have never collided anything and got a strange result that was never defined...after research it was determined every time to follow the laws of physics.........if anyone would have jerked anything out of the ordinary it probably would have been there.....in the 50's 60 70's that thing ran 24/7 days a week with student running huge amounts of projects....one other thing with these projects, you didnt just go over there and bang fire one time and done.....most projects the advocate professor would decide how many firings and tests were made. sometimes 10 times sometimes a 1,000 times.....and i guess sometimes it took hours to get every last voltage, vacuum, temperature perfect to duplicate the first shot......some projects ran for months at time in order to duplicate exactly....the flip side of this was the setting by the project person or nearly the exact opposite of the initial firings... sort of a random tests with wildly changing values. last but not the least the "what if" they would take a what if we smashed this into this?" what happens they randomly drew these what if's and attempted to set the system up and run the tests....... so i have a hard time believing when someone says they are making energy, hasnt happened yet.....the only one that seemed to defy the rules later it was discovered the project was adsorbing 60 hz electromagnetic power from an underground cable with a fault in it. when they measured the leakage of the fault it turned out to be almost perfectly nulled their claim of output.... above input level........ didnt the Huyck co. make rollers with 2 different diameters and also they moved back and forth to achieve faster reduction rates because the product was under the rollers longer? i think that is what i remember.....cul bri
I wrote him back:
Interesting stuff. Thank you. Did you talk to Jim Nye since my email or had you covered this jerky stuff b4?
You know more about Huyck than I do. All I know is what I read in that Analog article. Of all the crap on physics and etc. I've saved over the years can't believe I lost that article. I must have loaned it out to someone undependable. - Bob
... and it obviously still rankles me that it got misplaced!
The final end of the email thread:
well i think Jim Nye by now is long gone...i had covered that years ago... he did believe that some things in physics would change eventually but he never saw any indication of it in his lifetime...he just about lived on the tron.....nothing went on without his being there or on the phone with him.....almost as if it was his baby.....he had 6 phones at the house. 4 for tron and 1 for personal and one for the kids......
he was one of these people most down to earth, would say i run the tron when i am not doing other things.....had radio telephone in his car.......with 3 telephone lines as well.... he would come to al's radio shack and drag a phone line with phone into the radio shack while he visited al.......... one of a kind people...cul bri
All of us engineering types seem to be one of a kind people. Good human interest stuff. But, back to changing accelerations ...
Brian's emails were sort of a wet blanket on my enthusiasm. I've chased red herrings before (the link at the top to the math essay comes to mind), so I figured maybe the 70's technology that Stein & company were equipped with simply wasn't up to the job of getting to the true bottom of things.
I have no problem with pseudo science getting debunked. I can remember when I was a bench tech at National Semiconductor how hard it was to get voltage and other measurements to stabilize at three and a half digits of accuracy. The meter display was always bouncing around, making itself hard to read. Yet high level physics experiments routinely get repeatable results at 8 digits or more - orders of magnitude beyond my best efforts with good quality commercial equipment (in an electromagnetically noisy building, I'll add in my defense). I have a huge respect for the scientists and technicians who embody modern physics, and so it would take a lot to make me doubt any of it.
Yet as I revisit this topic now, I don't think there is necessarily a conflict after all. Stein never implied in his article that physics was wrong - merely incomplete. If it is truly possible to work down to Planck's constant by way of the classical calculus of classical physics, then the two approaches do meet at a very, very key point. I wouldn't expect "ROF theory" to overturn any of the particle results found at the Cornell cyclotron. But it might point to some new ones to look for, and offer a new way of arranging them. And might some current quandaries in the field be resolved by looking at them from a different direction?
I can remember when chaos theory was the hot issue. It was supposed to revolutionize physics and science. Now it seems to have gone away. Yet it hasn't! Maybe the media has moved on to new things, but chaos theory is alive and well, and even if the prediction of a "revolution" didn't pan out, it has provided a whole gamut of useful tools that scientists use everyday. It didn't go anywhere, it simply found its place in the overall body of scientific inquiry.
I just remembered another theoretical result that Stein mentioned at the end of his article: mathematician Victory had reached a conclusion that gravity must propagate at some insane multiple of the speed of light (something like 30,000,000?). This is of course very counter to the speed of light being the fastest you can go. Yet, as I researched this essay, I came across this quote in the Wikipedia article on Planck units:
Our understanding of the Big Bang begins with the Planck Epoch, when the universe was 1 Planck time old and 1 Planck length in diameter, and had a Planck temperature of 1. At that moment, quantum theory as presently understood becomes applicable. Understanding the universe when it was less than 1 Planck time old requires a theory of quantum gravity that would incorporate quantum effects into general relativity. Such a theory does not yet exist ...
I've always had a problem with the Big Bang having to 'inflate' at greater than light speed in the first few micro-moments of its existence. Seemed a bit too convenient that light is the top speed - except when it isn't. But maybe if gravity is even faster ...
Stein came across as very passionate as he reached the end of his article. He finished with something my memory can only loosely quote after all these years: "There are unanswered questions here getting worse by the day." He wrote in Analog some years after his experiences at Huyck, and there was no followup happening. The research hadn't been, and wasn't being published, because it wasn't "Einsteinian" enough to make it into the journals.
There is something known as the "streetlight effect," based on an old joke about a drunk being rousted by a policeman as he's stumbling around under a light post.
"I'm just looking for my keys, occifer," he tells the cop, "I dropped them somewhere in the park."
"Then why are you looking for them on the corner?"
"... Because the light's better here!"
It's very human to succumb to this kind of 'observational bias,' yet in a perfect world, scientists should be immune to it. Alas, it is not a perfect world. As David H. Freedman writes in the July-August 2010 of Discover Magazine, "Many, and possibly most, scientists spend their careers looking for answers where the light is better rather than where the truth is more likely to lie." (Why Scientific Studies Are So Often Wrong).
Food for thought ...