'Free' Energy or Perpetual Madness?
There are people I've developed a great affinity for via the internet without ever meeting face to face.
Donald Simanek is one of them.
From the first time I began putting up links to worthwhile Physics sites his
pages have figured heavily. I've just discovered another great part of his site,
The Museum of Unworkable Devices
Last Month I was musing about how we scientists can
let healthy skepticism spill over into some kind of mutant cynicism. There is probably
no place we are accused of this as much as with "perpetual motion" (or the
term now in fashion "free energy") machines. We are just so "closed minded" on this
aren't we? Proponents of these machines love to cite quotes where scientists said
something couldn't be done - whether its getting a man to the moon or harnessing
nuclear energy or whatever. The fact is, we've been wrong before and surely we'll
be proved wrong on this one. How can you fight logic like that?
What many people don't realize is that there is nothing as exciting to Physicists
as the likelihood that an old law is about to be corrected. Everybody wants in on the act.
I was a graduate student in semiconductor Physics when "High Temperature Superconductors"
were discovered. Everybody wanted in! And what about "Cold Fusion"? Sure the press
made up this Chemists versus Physicists thing, but inventing things is what the press
does when they have a big story and new facts aren't coming fast enough. (oops, there
goes my cynical side again) At least from where I was watching, every Physicist was hoping it was
true and wanted to get their hands on some Palladium to try it for themselves.
So why is perpetual motion different? I don't think it is. Sure there is a bit of
the "never cry wolf" syndrom. The looooooong list of failures certainly has bred a
hesitation to waste time on yet another claim. But fundamentally I don't think there is
a difference. If somebody could present a credible reason why a certain type of device would
provide "free energy", Physicists would be spending all night in the lab constructing one
of their own.
So what constitutes a "credible reason"? Lets compare this with flying to the moon.
There were good arguments presented why the proposed methods wouldn't work, and those
methods don't. New methods were found. When somebody says "let's do it this way instead",
then scientists and engineers will consider the new way and if it is credible they will
look more closely. What many people don't realize is just how all-encompassing the
arguments against perpetual motion are. The law of conservation of energy spans a huge
amount of physics. We can look at proposals and immediately say there is nothing new. Even
without finding exactly where the flaw lies, it can be obvious enough that there is a flaw.
Do I think a perpetual motion machine will ever be invented? I don't deny its
possible, but as Donald Simanek says it probably won't come from the crop of would-be
inventors currently out there. The ones I've looked at are spinning their wheels in
areas that we know won't work. If the First Law of Thermodynamics is ever violated
with some machine, I predict it will be one which violates "for every action there is
and equal and opposite reaction". In fact, I would suggest determined
inventors begin there rather than with a machine.
Take a look at The Museum of Unworkable Devices,
its fun and educational.
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