I’ve got a couple of pet peeves.
As the author of this blog, the obvious one is bad math. And as I always say, the worst math is no math.
Another pet peeve of mine is free energy. Energy is, obviously, a hugely important thing to our society. And how we’re going to get the energy we need is a really serious problem – almost certainly the biggest problem that we face. Even if you’ve convinced yourself that global warming isn’t an issue, energy is a major problem. There’s only so much coal and oil that we can dig up – someday, we’re going to run out.
But there are tons of frauds out there who’ve created fake machines that they claim you can magically get energy from. And there are tons of cranks who are all-too-ready to believe them.
Take, for example, Bob Koontz.
Koontz is a guy with an actual physics background – he got his PhD at the University of Maryland. I’m very skeptical that he’s actually stupid enough to believe in what he’s selling – but nonetheless, he’s made a donation-based business out of selling his “free energy” theory.
So what’s his supposed theory?
It sounds impossible, but it isn’t. It is possible to obtain an unlimited amount of energy from devices which essentially only require that they be charged up with negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons. Any physicist should be able to convince himself of this in a matter of minutes. It really is simple: While ordinary positive mass electrons in a circuit consume power, negative mass electrons generate power. Why is that? For negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons, Newton’s second law, F = ma becomes F = -ma.
But acquiring negative mass electrons and negative mass electrons is not quite as simple as it sounds. They are exotic particles that many physicists may even doubt exist. But they do exist. I am convinced of this — for good reasons.
The Law of Energy Conservation
The law of energy conservation tells us that the total energy of a closed system is constant. Therefore, if such a system has an increase in positive energy, there must be an increase in negative energy. The total energy stays constant.
When you drop an object in the earth’s gravitational field, the object gains negative gravitational potential energy as it falls — with that increase in negative energy being balanced by an increase of positive energy of motion. But the object does not lose or gain total energy as it falls. It gains kinetic energy while it gains an equal amount of negative gravitational energy.
How could we have free energy? If we gain positive energy, we must also generate negative energy in exactly the same amount. That will “conserve energy,” as physicists say. In application, in the field of “free energy,” that means generating negative energy photons and other negative energy particles while we get the positive energy we are seeking. What is the problem, then? The problem involves generating the negative energy particles.
So… there are, supposedly, “negative energy” particles that correspond to electrons and positrons. These particles have never been observed, and under normal circumstances, they have no effect on any observable phenomenon.
But, we’re supposed to believe, it really exists. And it means that we can get free energy without violating the conservation of energy – because the creation of an equal amount of invisible, undetectable, effectless negative energy balances out whatever positive energy we create.
So what is negative energy?
That’s where the bad math comes in. Here’s his explanation:
When Paul Dirac, the Nobel prize-winning physicist was developing the first form of relativistic quantum mechanics he found it necessary to introduce the concept of negative mass electrons. This subsequently led Dirac to develop the idea that a hole in a sea of negative mass electrons corresponded to a positron, otherwise known as an antielectron. Some years later the positron was observed and Dirac won the Nobel prize.
Subsequent to the above, there appears to have been no experimental search for these negative mass particles. Whether or not negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons exist is thus a question to which we do not yet have an answer. However, if these particles do exist, their unusual properties could be exploited to produce unlimited amounts of energy — as negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons, when employed in a circuit, produce energy rather than consume it. Newton’s 2nd law F = ma becomes F = – ma and that explains why negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons produce energy rather than consume it. I believe that any good physicist should be able to see this quite quickly.
The following paragraph is actually wrong. There is such a thing as relativistic quantum mechanics. QM and special relativity are compatible, and the relativistic QM fits is at that intersection. General relativity and QM remains an unsolved problem, as discussed below. I’m leaving the original paragraph, because it seems dishonest to just delete it, like I was pretending that I never screwed up.
There is no such thing as relativistic quantum mechanics. One of the great research areas of modern physics is the attempt to figure out how to unify quantum mechanics and relativity. Many people have tried to find a unifying formulation, but no one has yet succeeded. There is no theory of relativistic QM.
It’s actually a fascinating subject. General relativity seems to be true: every test that we can dream up confirms GR. And quantum mechanics also appears to be true: every test that we can dream up confirms the theory of quantum mechanics. And yet, the two are not compatible.
No one has been able to solve this problem – not Dirac, not anyone.
Even within the Dirac bit… there is a clever bit of slight-of-hand. He starts by saying that Dirac proposed that there were “negative mass” electrons. Dirac did propose something like that – but the proposal was within the frame of mathematics. Without knowing about the existence of the positron, he worked through the implications of relativity, and would up with a model which could be interpreted as a sea of “negative mass” electrons with holes in it. The holes are positrons.
To get a sense of what this means, it’s useful to pull out a metaphor. In semiconductor physics, when you’re trying to describe the behavior of semiconductors, it’s often useful to talk about things backwards. Instead of talking about how the electrons move through a semiconductor, you can talk about how electron holes move. An electron hole is a “gap” where an electron could move. Instead of an electron moving from A to B, you can talk about an electron hole moving from B to A.
The Dirac derivation is a similar thing. The real particle is the positron. But for some purposes, it’s easier to discuss it backwards: assume that all of space is packed, saturated, with “negative mass” electrons. But there are holes moving through that space. A hole in a “negative mass”, negatively charged field is equivalent to a particle with positive mass and positive charge in an empty, uncharged space – a positron.
The catch is that you need to pick your abstraction. If you want to use the space-saturated-with-negative-mass model, then the positron doesn’t exist. You’re looking at a model in which there is no positron – there is just a gap in the space of negative-mass particles. If you want to use the model with a particle called a positron, then the negative mass particles don’t exist.
So why haven’t we been searching for negative-mass particles? Because they don’t exist. That is, we’ve chosen the model of reality which says that the positron is a real particle. Or to be slightly more precise: we have a very good mathematical model of many aspects of reality. In that model, we can choose to interpret it as either a model in which the positive-mass particles really exist and the negative-mass particles exist only as an absence of particles; or we can interpret it as saying that the negative-mass particles exist, and the positive mass ones exist only as an absence of negative-mass particles. In either case, that model provides an extremely good description of what we observe about reality. But that model does not predict that both the positive and negative mass particles both really exist in any meaningful sense. By observing and calculating the properties of the positive mass particles, we adopt the interpretation that positive mass particles really exist. Every observation that we make of the properties of positive mass particles is implicitly an observation of the properties of negative-mass particles. The two interpretations are mathematical duals.
Looking at his background and at at other things on his site, I think that Koontz is, probably, a fraud. He’s not dumb enough to believe this. But he’s smart enough to realize that there are lots of other people who are dumb enough to believe it. Koontz has no problem with pandering to them in the name of his own profit. What finally convinced me of that was his UFO-sighting claim here. Absolutely pathetic.