You may have seen ads for "Our Undiscovered Universe" in magazines like Smithsonian, Discover, and Popular Science. The ads claim that the author, Terence Witt, has overturned a century's worth of supposedly-misguided physics and explained why the Universe exists. This might sound exciting---but if you Google for this book, you'll find only two things: (1) Witt's own web page, full of glowing claims and positive reviews, and (2) random weblog and online forum posts, all of the form, "What's this Null Physics ad? Looks like some crackpot." Well, I asked Witt for a copy of his book; I read it; what follows is the most careful review of Null Physics you'll find on Earth at the moment. (Update: Ian Fisk has now posted another review.) It's long, so let me summarize: Witt's ideas are standard crackpot claptrap: some things are meaningless sophistry (pseudomathematical exposition of Existence vs. Non-Existence and Infinity), some things are flat experimental falsehoods (Witt's guesswork about the atom, for example), and some things are chains of completely unanchored speculation (a new phenomenon to explain the Cosmic Microwave Background; a second phenomenon to hide the first; a third phenomenon to explain the second; and so on). It's an expensively marketed version of the same forgettable mistakes you'll find on hundreds of web pages at crank.net.
I'm reviewing this tiresome nonsense, not because Witt's theory has some special claim to being taken seriously, but because Witt's ad campaign outpaces that of any physics crackpot I've heard of before. In this I'm following the biology practice; the best-funded and publicity-hounding "Intelligent Design" crackpots get rebutted by biologists; the more numerous random-creationist-with-a-web-page gets ignored. This practice is sometimes criticized for giving non-notable voices "undeserved attention." In this case: if Witt's praising himself in two-page color advertisements in the mass media, this webpage is hardly getting him more attention.
There are two ways to review a crackpot book. First, you can point out the general crackpot features of the author; much has been written on this topic, and virtually all of it applies to Witt. See the Crackpot Index (Witt scores high on points 2,3,17, and 18 in particular), Sean Carroll's more sympathetic Alternative Science Respectability Checklist, or Wilfred Hodges' article "An Editor Recalls some Hopeless Papers" (Bull. Symbolic Logic Volume 4, Number 1 (1998), 1-16) which applies in particular to Witt's misuses of set theory. The other, less common way to review a crackpot book is to point out its specific failures, and I'll mostly follow this route, despite it boring me (and, doubtless, you) half to death. I bother with this because some readers may wonder whether Witt got lucky---even the proverbial monkey may sometimes type Hamlet---and written a true theory, thereby becoming history's first and only Self-Educated Outsider Physics Paradigm Shifter. In a word: no. Witt's ordinary crackpot status announces itself on every boring page of "Our Undiscovered Universe".
(Editorial note: if a phrase in quotation marks is cited by page number, it's a direct quote; otherwise it is probably my paraphrase. I have no wish to insult Mr. Witt personally---he is obviously a successful engineer and businessman---but I will use his name metonymically to represent "the theory" or "the book" which is the legitimate target of criticism. Finally, I don't want to give the misimpression that this is "The Scientific Community Paying Attention to Challenge From Crackpot." This is an annoyed Smithsonian subscriber complaining about the crackpot with the full-color ads.)
Witt would surely disgree with that statement, but it's true. Witt manages to cook and manipulate this pseudo-set-theory into various isolated islands of definitions and circular logic, none of which lead to "therefore the observable physics does X". It piles up in the corner, damaging the ambience but not the architecture. The rest of the book lobs itself at two standard crackpot salients: (a) The Big Bang "must be" wrong, so Witt will invent new astrophysics until he's mentioned all of the contrary data, and (b) since quantum mechanics wasn't derived from such a Gloriously Self-Evident Axiom, Witt feels free to invent new microphysics.
Chapter 3 illustrates a standard crackpot trick which is worth highlighting. Witt claims to have "derived" the fact that the Universe has to be four-dimensional, and that any other dimensionality is inconcievable (pg 78). That's a neat trick, if it works---how did Witt do it? How do you get the number 4 using pure deduction from the Null Axiom? He doesn't---earlier in the chapter he invents an expression called "metavolume" with a 2 in an exponent. In his final "proof" he squares (power of 2) this and finds---voila! An equation with a 4 in the exponent! In case my sarcasm isn't obvious, this is comically stupid. You can almost imagine the nine-dimensional crackpot TTeerreennccee Wwwiittt a parallel nine-dimensional universe, blithly inventing a "metavolume" with a 3-exponent, then casually cubing it to "prove" that the only possible Universe is nine-dimensional.
This is all, again, more or less beside the point and will not come up again; it supplies terminology for what follows, but nothing derives from it. Chapter 4 is just like chapter 3, replacing space-related pseudologic with time-related pseudologic.
That's it---Witt's entire conception of modern atomic physics is that it involves "probability clouds" designed to resolve the Rutherford catastrophe. That's the version I learned when I was in middle school---Witt writes as though everyone else learned that too, accepted it as unthinking gospel, and built a religion around it. Did he ever notice the thousands of studies, both in physics and in philosophy of physics, discussing the plausibility or implausibility of quantum mechanics and alternatives to it? Did he ever notice that the Argument from Incredulity is not considered sound scientific practice (see, for example, its other conclusions: geocentrism, Intelligent Design creationism, opposition to plate teconics)? Apparently not---Witt must think that his own work brushes all past experience under the rug. This is, sadly, the familiar crackpot standard.
Never mind that---throughout this review, I don't want to complain too much about Witt's lack of knowledge of modern physics; this is (a) a bit like shooting fish in a barrel and (b) not terribly convincing unless you're well-versed in (or convinced of) the huge amount of cross-checking of mainstream physics. Witt's theory is not merely "not as good as" today's Standard Models---it's usually just wrong. The only places it's not wrong are where it's "not even wrong".
Let's look at Witt's solution to the Rutherford catastrophe: Theorem 5.1, "Ground-state electrons orbit atomic nuclei in less time than it takes to emit a photon with energy equal to their available kinetic energy". OK, that's a proposal for a new physical principle; as a principle, it has implications that we can analyze. Witt thinks that these implications (a) are consistent with experiment and (b) somehow "explain" of the structure of the atom---I suspect he wants it to explain why atoms have ground states, and he wants this explanation to be deeper and simpler than the quantum explanation. He's completely and utterly wrong. The proposed principle doesn't say a darn thing about ground states, and it makes a raft of explicitly wrong predictions.
Witt doesn't want the electron to have a magnetic moment. Why not? Because in his world there's no reason for this moment to equal the Bohr magneton. The unstated premise is "...because quantum mechanics is wrong", since quantum mechanics generates this equality very naturally. For unclear reasons, Witt isn't happy either (a) finding a Null Physics excuse for this or (b) setting the electron moment to some non-Bohr-magneton value, so he assumes that the experiments are wrong. (This is, of course, the lamest of the crackpot escape hatches.) Witt states "These moments have never been observed for individual particles" (pg 101), he says, flatly falsely---indeed, that measurement has been done, most recently to 13 digits of precision (!) using a single electron (Gabrielse et. al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 120801 (2008) and arXiv:0801.1134v1) and the results agree perfectly with all data for non-free electrons. Witt may, of course, be able to invent a new phenomeon to explain this fact---and presumably yet another for a parallel list of measurements on muons, protons, other nuclei, and whole atoms. Witt doesn't mention electron angular momentum at all---another thing that makes perfect sense in quantum mechanics, apparently contradicts his maximally-simplified particle model, yet is observed fifty different ways in reality.
Witt's supposed explanation of Bell's Inequality has so little in common with actual Bell test experiments, it's hard to critique. Witt announces that, for a linearly polarized light source, the transmission through a filter at 30 degrees is less than half of the transmission through a filter at 60 degrees---indeed, he showed that a classical description of a polarizer agrees with a classical description of a polarizer. Um? Wha? We knew that, thanks. Please look up an actual Bell Inequality experiment, in a journal article rather than a high-school textbook, and use your technique to explain what's going on. (Note: there are no sources cited in this section, so I can't even track down Witt's error.)
Witt's general quantum mechanics is even worse. Why are electrons and photons observed to interfere, not just with one another (as in classical diffraction) but apparently with themselves? "This is patently ridiculous", says Witt, and proposes that diffraction is the result of temporary storage of the photon's state ("momentum", Witt calls it, forgetting phase and polarization, both of which matter) in the slits. This provides a correlation between each photon and all of its predecessors. Um. What correlation, exactly? Why does that correlation happen to yield diffraction with exactly the properties of a wave equation? I dare say it doesn't---if I give Witt the maximal benefit of the doubt, his theory predicts (even for the simplest two-slit experiment) a bizarre time-varying diffraction pattern as the "hysteresis" accumulates. But there are so many doubts involved, maybe Witt was counting on more benefits? But don't expect answers in the book. Witt has declared victory (I can imagine him saying: well, my hysteresis does something nonclassical, doesn't it? That was the hard part, isn't it? Some math geek can clean it up later!) and moved on.
Now, it's clear that such a correlation, if you could construct a theory for it, might do something nonclassical-looking. But what? Of the zillions of non-classical-looking effects you could generate with hysteresis, how will Witt find one where the only result is things that look just like Schrodinger-equation solutions? How many photons are needed to "initialize" the hysteretic memories in a trillion-slit Bragg crystal? Where are the hysteretic memories stored in an acousto-optic modulator, where the "slits" are merely the high-density crests of a passing sound wave? There are as many objections as there are quantum measurements, but Witt has once again taken an utterly standard crackpot approach. The lesson he missed is this: Your random idea for making the world not-quite-classical is unlikely, unless you can explicitly prove otherwise, to describe the one particular nonclassical world we live in.. Similarly, a manuscript typed by a monkey is unlikely to include Hamlet, and I shan't presume it does as a courtesy to an especially ambitious monkey.
To summarize: Witt's critique of standard quantum mechanics is limited to a few dismissive lines. His new Null Physics description of the quantum world consists of:
Let's get back to Null Physics. There are a few more sad tidbits in the quantum chapter. Witt restates (in ALL CAPS THEOREM FONT) something that looks like normal mass-energy equivalence, but he them forbids particles from ever falling into a potential well deeper than their rest mass. At first glance, this seems to imply distinctly non-GR equation of motion. "The maximum energy loss caused by a particle's departure from the surface of a black hole is one rest mass. (p 120)" Yep, that's explicitly non-GR motion. Do we have an equation of motion for such a particle in such a field? A non-crackpot physicist would try to make this predictive. Does it contribute an extra one-one-billionth to the orbit of the Moon, or of Gravity Probe B, or of the photons in the Pound-Rebka experiment? Don't ask. After all, if nobody asks for a consistent theory that agrees with experiments, Witt is free to say whatever the heck he wants. Black holes have a "veneer"! Black holes are cubic! Black holes sing 'The Star Spangled Banner' in 5/4 time!
Of course, ignoring units---or treating them like free parameters---is standard practice both among undergrads taking their first physics classes and among crackpots. The Autodynamics crackpots were laughed at, I recall, for proposing E = mc^3. That's energy in mass*distance^3/time^3. Ugh.
Witt piles on more consequence-free definitions of physics in this chapter. "External deflection is the displacement of space normal to the third dimension". "A photon is a sinusoidally deflected rectangular spatial volume ..." "Energy is intrinsically neutral" (yes, those are quotes). Is this all going to mean something later, when you actually show that "a sinusoidally deflected rectangular spatial volume" has thus-and-such properties? Nope. This is all just sophistry, like the quasi-set-theory blather of Chapter 1.
Indeed, Chapter 9 is full of crackpot nuclear physics, which I'll spend some time on because it's my field. Figure 10.3: a calculation of the bound state of two protons. First of all, there is no bound state of two protons. Normally I would fault Witt's calculations for getting this wrong, but there is really no energy/stability calculation here at all: he simply draws two protons next to each other, then varies their radii to minimize some energy function that he invented---the only thing he looks at is the radius, which is in the right ballpark because it's basically a restatement of the roughly-correct classical radius.
So: two protons (pg 191) have a radius when Witt sticks them together. A proton + an electron (pg 192) have a radius. (You might ask: why would a proton-electron pair be a neutron rather than a hydrogen atom? Never mind, there's a picture!) Two protons and an electron---Witt draws them in a triangle (!)---have a radius. Three protons and two electrons have a radius. (pg 193.) What do these radii mean? For the most part, they're all just slight adjustments of the ballpark-correct nuclear density. Witt attempts one and only one comparison to data: the two protons in Witt's "deuterium nucleus" end up centered 1.747 F apart. Can we compare this to the real deuterium radius? Yes---but since Witt doesn't have any idea how to observe a "core separation" experimentally, we'll use something we can observe. The experimentally best-known deuteron property, other than the mass, is the RMS charge radius. For Witt's deuteron, his picture puts this at about 1 fm. Measurements put it at 2. I'd call that "wrong". (Witt claims agreement with something in a 1987 textbook I don't have access to.) Following crackpot practice, Witt ignores the fact that his pictures have none of the real properties of particles. He's drawn a neutron that's almost twice the size of a proton, for example---in explicit disagreement with all evidence.
He's also drawn a neutron with an electric dipole moment of over 10^-15 e*m. Sounds wrong, you say? Real neutrons have an unmeasurably small dipole moment, below 10^-28 e*m. Witt dismisses this casually because "the electron orbits at relativistic speed"---he does not, of course, bother to calculate the angular momentum or magnetic moment that would result from this lopsided 1.7 fm electric dipole rotating as fast as he wants it to; neither of these calculations, if he cared to do them, would agree with reality. Oh, and why are those electrons orbiting at relativistic speeds? In the atom Witt had to invent a pseudo-Bohr-atom rule to prevent this orbit from slowing down. In the neutron, he just ignores it; he only needed the velocity as an excuse for dipole moment, and doesn't care otherwise. Standard crackpot practice.
Much of what we claim to know about particle physics comes from transformations between particles: the list of things that can be created or destroyed in collisions and decays. This list is incredibly well-studied and specific. For Witt, it's apparently in the list of ignorable details, which is silly given his explicit construction of particle compositions---but smart, perhaps, given that when he does describe interactions he exhibits his ignorance. (Example: on pg. 392 Witt wants to account for the fate of "the 940 MeV photons released by proton annihilation" with antiprotons. This never occurs; proton-antiproton annihilation produces light mesons, almost exclusively.) Nevertheless, everything Witt offers about particle properties seems to be in explicit contradiction to known particle properties. How is it possible to believe that a neutron is "just an electron stuck to a proton", but find the fact that neutron collisions never release electrons uninteresting? Well, it's possible for Witt, who has no laws whatsoever governing those properties; he apparently feels that he can make up whatever he wants.
Comparing these force laws to data might sound worth doing---and, indeed, calculating cross-sections and bound states from force laws is something undergrads can do in the non-crackpot world. But don't waste your time. For example, I set out to plug Witt's electron-electron force law into a cross section calculation, including the hard core equation he provides. But then Witt tells us that "the potential, but not the actuality, exists" (pg. 225). Because the electron attractive potential is less than the "-1 MeV required to produce electron positron cores" (pg. 225), the force law is pure Coulomb. Ugh! He stated a force law, used it when it looked right, and retracted it in favor of another law when it looked wrong. And once again, Witt's huge piles of definitions, principles, and pictures have failed to produce an equation of motion. What happens, I would ask, when you shoot two electrons together at 2 MeV? Do they get within 100 fm of each other (violating your Inviolable Core Principle) or does some force push them apart (violating the claim that the core-based force law doesn't apply?) Don't bother asking; the answer isn't in the book. The answer is, as with all crackpots, "The theory is conceptually right, so any apparent discrepancy is resolved by my future army of grad students."---or, equivalently, "Null Physics is incapable of mistakes, so please stop looking for them."
Black holes, he says, are composed of degenerate nuclear matter. He gives a full numerical calculation of the internal density of a black hole, as well as the density of a veneer at its surface. He plugs this back into the uncalculable quanties of his nuclear physics, telling us that "the density of atomic nuclei on a neutron star's surface is about half that of the same nuclei on Earth." All of this comes from a mishmash of general relativity---from which he borrows the Schwarzchild gravitational potential energy---and, well, something else, since he clearly can't think GR is right if he thinks that his black-hole-interior is a valid solution to it. Once again, I want to ask for any useful equation---a force law, something to compare to precision gravity experiments? Something to compare to helioseismology, where there are extremely well-measured nuclei and atoms in a reasonably deep potential well? No such luck. If you want predictions, you're stuck with the lousy predictions Witt himself calculates.
Of course, Witt's half-invented decay mechanism can't produce anything like a 2.73 K thermal photon bath---or indeed a thermal bath of any sort. It produces weird collinear beams of redshifted photons and their decay products; every high-Z optical source, Witt thinks, must also be a source at every freqency from radio to microwave. Witt invents his way through five or six tweaks to this idea: he invents an excuse for quantizing the decays; he throws out his calculated decay constants and tosses in two trial values from another paper. I was reading this and wondering, "Hmm, but there's no way he will make this look like a blackbody!" But crackpottery always finds a way---he simply assumed that the optical spectrum was a blackbody; he put this blackbody at a particular distance; he rescales the wavelengths and finds (voila!) that he's got an almost-CMB-like blackbody as the decay spectrum. (In related sarcastic news: did you know that if you take a triangle, flip it over, and multiply all of its sides by 0.1, you get another triangle? That's pretty much what Witt did. And he still got a non-blackbody spectrum, which disagrees with data by extremely large factors.)
OK, so if you grant all of Witt's handwaving miracles, you can sort of predict that the Null Universe is full of low-energy photons. Why aren't the low energy photons decaying, too? Because Witt inserts a "quantized decay" condition (p293) specifically to prevent the CMB band from undergoing this decay. This is, yet again, standard crackpot obliviousness.
(Witt claims (pp. 305-306) to see evidence for these "currents" in Galactic spiral structure. Why? Because some galaxies are sort of spirally, and you can sort of imagine current flow sort of doing this. Sort of. This is a very common crackpot idea, arising throughout "plasma cosmology" and "electric universe" subcultures. The ordinary gravitational cause of spiral arms, though quite simple, doesn't make an impression on the fundamentally visual/geometric crackpot amygdala.)
And what happens to that current when it gets to the Galactic center? It breaks up the metal nuclei which were also flowing (how? why? under what force?) to the Galactic center, where they get into (How? Via what accretion disk?) the Galactic center black-hole-like-thing, and breaks up---how? Photodisintegration? No idea. No laws, no forces, no calculations. All Witt cares about is insisting that the total input flux matches what he wants for his steady-state.
The most important thing to point out is that this violates the laws of thermodynamics. There is no way to turn a bath of 2.7K microwaves into a compact, hot power source. If Mr. Witt thinks there is, I invite him to build me an engine that turns the ambient 300K microwaves on earth---my office is full of them---into a source of steam for a small turbine. The proof that this is impossible, by the way, does not depend on any detail of mainstream physics that Witt has actually challenged---indeed, it's one of the hardest physical laws to imagine breaking. Witt must be expecting the benefit of the doubt; he doesn't even seem to realize how big that doubt is.
A less important observation (but an amusing one) is that Witt has to explain the neutrino version of Olber's Paradox. Witt seems to think that neutrinos are just some sort of pair of collinear photons, and decays into photons. By inventing a decay mode for the neutrinos (spin-1/2 neutrinos decaying into spin-1 photons? What's an antineutrino, then?) Witt simply plugs them into his cosmology as though they were photons. Another piece of real-world physics conveniently swept under the rug of Witt's complete freedom to invent microphysics.
What went wrong? Well, everything, or exactly the usual crackpot list of things. Null Physics relies on a standard-of-proof that would embarrass a homeopath. Witt seems to have fooled himself with the infinite mutability of Null Physics. Any particle that the experimentalists can invent, Witt thinks he can "explain" by adding up his components. In the crackpot mind, this is good; in science it's bad. Witt's theory is just as good/bad at "explaining" the Unobtainino, which doesn't exist, as the Omega- baryon, which does---in other words Null Physics conveys no information whatsoever. Witt's atomic physics similarly contains no information about atoms---orbits? quantum numbers? spin? Pauli exclusion? Ground states?---except for the single solitary property ("ground state hydrogen cannot emit photons") he read about and decided to include. Witt's theory of "quantum hysteresis" is just as good at predicting that the two-slit experiment shows interference, doesn't show interference, reflects/destroys/bends every 2nd photon, or hoards photons and mails them to Ovaltine for a free decoder pin. Witt's theory of astrophysics predicts, with equal confidence, that the Universe is static, quasistatic, winding down, or filling with energy from an unknown source---Witt has simply chosen the numbers (he thinks of these as "solutions" because equations are involved) in order to match his philosophically-preferred version.
In other words, if you've bothered reading this far: my professional physicist's opinion is that Terence Witt's book, "Our Undiscovered Universe: Introducing Null Physics, the Science of Uniform and Unconditional Reality" is worthless and unreadable crackpottery. Trying to find sensible physics insights in this book is like trying to glean advice about aerospace engineering from a hypnotized UFO abductee. It is not going to "lead to" an exact theory, because Null Physics fundamentally does not and cannot lead at all---it can look at experiments and respond, like a bad analyst who explicates yesterday's markets with a new theory every day. Despite its strenuous objections to the contrary, Terence Witt has written a book of crackpot physics, expounding a crackpot theory. There is, of course, a fan base for crackpot theories, and he may attract some of it with his massive ad campaign---but his hopes for a Null Physics paradigm shift are, like so many crackpots hopes, (is there any way to discuss this book without saying it?) completely null.
-Benjamin Monreal, Assistant Prof. of Physics, UC Santa Barbara
These opinions are my own; my employers have probably never heard of "Null Physics".
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I would note that I am, probably obviously, a mainstream physicist with no small affection for the Standard Model of Particle Physics (which includes quantum mechanics and Special Relativity, but not, I am compelled to point out, string theory) and for Standard Cosmology (which includes the Big Bang and General Relativity)---neither of which are The Final Truth, but their incredible predictive power suggests that they're the correct low-energy approximations to such a truth, which is actually really neat. For readers who doubt one or both, I would point to The Standard Model and Why We Believe It, by J.L. Hewett, for the particle side, and PJE Peebles' "Principles of Physical Cosmology" and The Growth of Astrophysical Understanding by Martin Harwit for the modern cosmology.