Avoiding philosophical arguments, we must ask ourselves: has the question of the veracity of these claims been settled to date? If not, why does the government continue to issue patents to these claimants? If so, then why do we not see these ideas put to use? Perhaps this is asking too much. After all, only about 5% of all the world's patents are ever exploited for their economic or commercial value, indeed many have no such value.
A better question would then be: given the potentially great scientific importance of these claims why does the academic community refuse to take an interest? Can the lack of interest be blamed, exclusively, on the complacent attitude adopted by most scientists and engineers, or are there other contributing factors? These questions are perhaps more interesting from a sociological rather than a technological point of view. However, it is of great importance that everyone realise and acknowledge the fact that this attitude is detrimental to both scientific and economic progress whether these claims are real or not. The sheer refusal to investigate a reasonable claim is tantamount to tribalism and backwardness on the part of the academic and industrial communities.
The ancient Greek philosophers believed that the mind was the sole arbiter of truth as a guide to the behaviour of nature. This simple (but wrong) ideal was directly responsible for the hibernation of the scientific method for over two thousand years. When it comes to physics we should know better than to rely exclusively on conventional views. Historically, we can be certain that today's theories are merely approximations and that science is the process whereby we are led to progressively better approximations and thus better understanding. We cannot predict when a particular theory will be supplanted by a better one, but ultimately it will.
Assuming that the U.S. patent office will continue, as it has in the past, to issue legal rights of ownership, over intellectual property, (to people who claim to have workable reactionless propulsion devices), then does this action constitute acknowledgment of proof of the existence of a new physical principle, on the part of the U.S. government? A principle whose veracity is denied by the vast majority of physicists. Or is the government simply unwilling to forego a revenue stream which would not otherwise exist if the official policy were to be openly enforced? It seems unlikely that this revenue stream is large enough to warrant government deception, so what's going on? Kick-backs to patent examiners perhaps (corruption)? Could it be that some of these devices really work as claimed?
Today there exists a long list of anecdotal evidence which points in favour of small but perceptible effects, ( like for example the efforts of Hideo Hayasaka and Sakae Takeuchi at Tohoku University, Japan ). These require only confirmation by independent research groups in order to gain acceptance in the wider scientific community, ( Hayasaka and Takeuchi's claims were tested, with negative results, an exception not the rule). The catch is that most researchers do not believe that there is anything in these claims and thus they have no reason to even attempt to look for such effects. Subsequently progress is made slowly, in a piecewise fashion, if at all.
Those that come to realise that their efforts will require substantial funding usually give up, under the current climate of economic rationalisation. Some, like the late Sir Eric Laithwaite, in England, dedicate their lives fighting an uphill battle, for many years, trying to promote a kind of scientific renaissance by acting as a catalyst to try to " get the ball rolling ". But usually the claims are slowly forgotten and eventually fade away into the past with every subsequent edition of the journal in which they are published, only to be rediscovered, periodically, in the future.
A good example of the kind of anecdotal evidence I'm referring to can be found in both the 28 March/4 April 1975 edition of Electrical Review p.398 and the 19 November 1974 edition of New Scientist. It is a letter from Mr Christopher Hook to "Ariadne's" column:
You imply that there can be no possible deviation from Newton 3 but I am a witness to a very disturbing case:
At the 7th Symposium of Naval Hydrodynamics in Rome
which I attended in August 1968 as a member of the BAC
team (being at the time their consultant on hydrofoils)
there was a paper and a demonstration by Professor A. Di
Bella, Director of the Institute of Naval
The proposed application was for docking ships
sideways and as such did not retain much attention
because of low efficiency but the force was a steady one
You will find more information on Professor Alfio Di Bella, and the U.S. patent issued to him, in the bibliography.
This announcement appeared in the February 14, 1980 issue on New Scientist, in the Patents review on page 485, under the title: "Anti-gravity not so crazy after all":
|It is now nearly 10 years
since Henry Wallace was granted a pair of US patents (3
626 605 and 3 626 606) on what was initially written off
as a crazy science fiction notion - a machine to generate
an anti-gravity field. But in the interim,
Professor Eric Laithwaite of Imperial College, London,
has achieved both fame and notoriety by arriving
independently at a similar theory.
According to Wallace's patents, bodies made of carefully chosen materials generate an "energy field" when placed in rapid relative motion. This field is not electromagnetic and was christened by the inventor as a "kinemassic forcefield". If this kinemassic field is made to undulate, a secondary gravitational field is produced which can "neutralise" gravity.
In one kinemassic machine a pair of wheels of brass alloy, like gyroscopes, are mounted in close-fitting air gaps between massive structural supports formed from steel. The wheels are driven to a high speed of rotation by jets of compressed air or nitrogen. The inventor claims that, at speeds of about 20 000 revs/Min, polarisation of the spin nuclei of the alloyed metal occurs. If one wheel is balanced on a knife edge, it will start to oscillate under the influence of the other. If the spinning wheels are rotated about another axis, a secondary gravitational field is created which reduces the wheels' weight. If a sufficiently strong field is created, it can generate localised areas of gravitational shielding and thus provide an effective propulsion force.
Although the Wallace patents were initially ignored as cranky, observers believe that his invention is now under serious but secret investigation by the military authorities in the US. The military may now regret that the patents have already been granted and so are available for anyone to read.
While most evidence can be placed into a single category, there can be many alternative levels of proof which are deemed acceptable by different people. I am not referring here to the difference between the physical as opposed to the mathematical notion of a theorem, ( i.e. theorems in the physical sciences involve a process of revision and refinement whereas once a proof of a mathematical theorem is devised or discovered its validity is perpetual ), but rather the more subjective idea that while one person may accept a preponderance of circumstantial evidence as sufficiently convincing proof, another may reject outright as unsubstantiated rubbish! This singular human trait is, in my opinion, at the heart of the problem.
Examples of this behaviour can even be found in mathematics. How many mathematicians would be easily convinced of the validity of a proof if it ran to one thousand pages or more. Not many. Indeed this occurred in Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem, which took the efforts of many specialists over a year to find an error and to correct it, prior to announcing a tentative general acceptance of the proof. On the other hand how many mathematicians would give Wiles the benefit of the doubt simply because of the sheer bulk of the work and mental effort required in such a endeavour? Granted, this is an extreme case but this kind of behaviour can occur even in short proofs, notably where there exists a possibility of logical paradoxes, tautologies and other conundrums.
Similarly, this kind of behaviour can occur in the analysis of complicated biochemical, mechanical, physical or dynamical systems. Systems such as the ones we have considered in the preceding pages. However there is one fundamental difference between a purely theoretical abstraction and any physical system. Chemical reactions can be induced, electric and mechanical devices can be built and tested, planetary motions can be observed. In a nutshell, we have the capacity to carry out experiments in order to verify (or falsify) any physical hypothesis that can be tested in a laboratory or otherwise observed.
At this point a computational mathematician might object and retort that maths too is an experimental science. However, while this is now true, to a certain extent, (thanks to modern digital computers and methods), there are subtle differences, (some having to do with Gödel's famous incompleteness theorem and Turing's uncomputability or halting procedure) which go beyond the scope of the argument and would thus take us too far afield.
Perhaps there is at play here a kind of critical mass of evidence that is reached (both in quantity and quality), that allows some degree of consensus to be established in the wider scientific community. This limits the burden of any individual member having to invest a huge amount of time, money and effort towards proving or disproving some claim. An exemplary instance of this philosophy can be found in the article by Russell E. Adams, Jr. (a physicist) on page 43 of the April 1978 issue of Analog SFSF magazine entitled, "In Search of the Bootstrap Effect":- "Negative theorems are the hardest to prove. But to an engineer, negative experimental results are proof enough."
Although Russell 'approximated' the models under consideration using an "Erector set", and as a result limiting the usefulness of any conclusions as to the error in his observations, his conclusion neatly summarises my views on the subject:
|"... it is not my
intention to debunk the concept of a mechanical space
drive. ...However, in order for simple impulse or
gyroscopic drives to produce a unidirectional thrust
there would have to be a gross departure from known
physical laws. The idea that such a gross departure would
not have been noticed in the three hundred year history
of mechanics seems inconceivable.
This is not to say that a mechanical space drive cannot be built. However, the machine would have to be of a type which would create specialised conditions in which Newton's Laws would not apply.
I have played with the idea of mechanical space drives for over 13 years. I have built numerous models, none of which produced any measurable reactionless thrust. Yet, I still am fascinated by the concept. There must be a way to do it!"