SCIENCE * THEORIES OF EVERYTHING

In Gdn Weekend 19.10.13, Oliver Burkeman reports on the success a wealthy entrepreneur called David Birnbaum has had in promoting his personal Theory of Everything, Summa Metaphysica.
Burkeman says in passing: “The science writer Margaret Wertheim has made a specialism of studying people she calls ‘outsider scientists’: obsessive amateurs, usually with little or no university education, who assert that mainstream science has taken a wrong turn, and devote themselves to constructing elaborate alternative theories of reality. The star of her 2011 book on the subject, Physics On The Fringe, is a trailer-park owner from Washington State, named Jim Carter, who rejects quantum physics, arguing that the universe is actually composed of minuscule doughnut-shaped particles called circlons.
“Wertheim is unashamedly sympathetic toward her cast of eccentrics, a fact that led some critics to misread her as arguing that their ideas ought to be taken seriously. What she really wants us to take seriously, though, is the motivation behind their efforts: their insistence that the deepest secrets of the universe, as she puts it, ‘ought to be understandable by an ordinary, thoughtful person, who’s willing to do some contemplating’. Science is supposed to explain the world to us, turning shimmering mysteries into intelligible truths. But, in practice, few of us will ever understand the cutting edge of a field such as physics, because it requires so much advanced mathematics; we must take it on trust. ‘What happens to a society when the official cosmology, the official picture of the world, is literally incomprehensible to 99.9% of people?’ Wertheim wonders. ‘On some level, isn’t that just a very unhealthy situation for a society to be in?’”

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