Apr 03 2008

Levitating Frogs and Free Energy

I am away this week filming the pilot for The Skeptologists. For NeuroLogica this week I am updating and editing some previous essays that I have written. This one was originally published in my Weird Science column in June 2005.

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When I was a child some of my favorite toys were simple magnets. I was fascinated by the way they could push or pull on each other at a distance with an invisible force. It was like magic. Energy itself, all types of energy, seems like magic. Physicists, performing almost like stage magicians (nothing up their sleeves), recently delighted in showing off how they could levitate frogs using superconducting magnets.

It’s no wonder that mysterious energies play a central role in so much of the science of the weird. Many gurus and mystics claim they can heal by simply manipulating “life energy.” There is also no shortage of con artists and the self-deluded who claim they have found the secret of limitless free energy. Simply inserting the word “energy” into any claim, no matter how ridiculous, will give it the appearance of cutting-edge science.

Shortly after the discovery of electromagnetism, while it was still cutting-edge science, Anton Mesmer claimed to have discovered “animal magnetism,” a new force that he could detect and manipulate to “mesmerize” his subjects. Benjamin Franklin, considered an expert of his day in the electrical force, was asked to head a commission to investigate Mesmer, and he definitively showed the claims to be nothing but delusion.

The idea of a “life force” goes back even further than Mesmer, at least thousands of years. Every human culture had some concept of a life energy that animates living things, such as chi, spiritus, animus, etc. Modern science has failed to find this energy, however, and biological models have rendered the concept quaint and unnecessary. But the concept survives in numerous mystical healing modalities, collectively called “energy medicine.” Some chiropractors still believe that by manipulating the spine they are freeing up the flow of the life force called “innate intelligence.” Therapeutic touch practitioners believe they can manipulate the “human energy field” without any actual touching, it turns out. And acupuncturists believe their needles are altering the flow of life force, which they call chi. It is too easy to make vague references to “energy” as the explanation for any unconventional healing method.

But the universe is basically composed of two things, matter and energy. It was Einstein who taught us that matter and energy are actually two sides of the same coin, and are related by the most famous of equations: E=Mc2 (energy = mass times the speed of light squared). Humans have a much more comfortable and intuitive grasp of matter. Matter, after all, is tangible, and (usually) obeys what feel like common-sense rules of behavior. Energy, on the other hand, is not easily grasped by the human mind. It is intangible, often invisible, and spooky.

To scientists, however, real energy is as lawful and comprehensible as matter. Science knows of only three forces, or kinds of energy, in the entire universe: the strong nuclear force, the electroweak force (which includes both the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism), and gravity. Astronomers now think there may also be a new mysterious force in the universe called dark energy, a long-range repulsive force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate; this is still somewhat speculative. Energy follows strict laws of nature, like the law of conservation of energy (you can’t get something from nothing) and the laws of thermodynamics. The rules that govern energy are so thoroughly established by countless careful and irrefutable observations and experiments that they truly deserve to be treated as iron-clad laws of nature.

Sometimes energy itself is the scam. The promise of free energy, often in the form of perpetual motion machines, or engines that produce more energy than they consume, is almost an obsession with many cranks. Free-energy con artists try to beguile audiences with presentations that have all the dazzle and detail of a ride at EPCOT Center. They hope that at least some members of the audience will be sufficiently ignorant of the laws of energy that they will think investing thousands of dollars for limitless free energy is a good deal.

It is best to be skeptical of any claims of mysterious forces, or vague references to “energy” as catch-all explanations for seemingly fantastical phenomena. And it would be a safe bet that any claims to produce energy from nothing are mistaken or fraudulent. Sure, science is a journey and not a destination, and the claims of scientists change all the time. But some things are more certain than others, and the mechanics of energy ranks near the top. Any claim that would seem to topple the existing laws that govern energy would have to meet an enormous burden of proof before it would (or should) be taken seriously.

Now if only I could get my hands on one of those levitating-frog gizmos.

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63 responses so far

63 Responses to “Levitating Frogs and Free Energy”

  1. Amon1492on 03 Apr 2008 at 10:21 am

    Are there any reports of side-effects from exposure to very strong electromagnetic fields? Do the frogs or other living creatures levitated by physicists in these lab experiments develop cancer, or other diseases?

    Most of the information I can find relates to fields generated by overhead power lines. Nothing specific on exposure to the high-intense fields required to levitate non-ferrous organics (such as frogs).

  2. Jim Shaveron 03 Apr 2008 at 10:25 am

    Steve:

    I have plans for a gizmo you can use to levitate a frog, which you can build at home. Here’s what you need:

    Opaque box or container
    Flashlight
    Video camera (an old one works best)
    Duct tape
    Frog
    Tall building

    Have fun experimenting!

  3. DevilsAdvocateon 03 Apr 2008 at 10:57 am

    I like to levitate frog *legs* every once in a while.

  4. Roy Nileson 03 Apr 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Frogs have not found this subject a matter for levity.

  5. Roy Nileson 03 Apr 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Actually I’m told Mark Twain had found an electric cattle prod to be an effective frog levitating gizmo.

  6. pecon 03 Apr 2008 at 12:56 pm

    “Benjamin Franklin, considered an expert of his day in the electrical force, was asked to head a commission to investigate Mesmer, and he definitively showed the claims to be nothing but delusion.”

    And since Benjamin Franklin decided mesmerism was nothing but delusion, how could any scientist disagree? That was that.

    “Science knows of only three forces, or kinds of energy, in the entire universe: the strong nuclear force, the electroweak force (which includes both the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism), and gravity. ”

    So let’s just stick with those. People who see or feel life energy should be reminded that they are suffering from delusions.

  7. Roy Nileson 03 Apr 2008 at 1:37 pm

    pec really didn’t want to talk about life energy, so when asked why he did anyway, he said, “I just couldn’t levite alone.”

  8. daedalus2uon 03 Apr 2008 at 2:59 pm

    pec, no one can see the strong nuclear force, the electroweak force, or gravity. What we can see are effects which are explained and so far can only be explained by the existence of these forces.

    There are no corresponding effects of any hypothetical “life force”.

  9. Roy Nileson 03 Apr 2008 at 3:15 pm

    If pec actually does feel a life force, how does he know that’s not evidence he is less susceptible than most to gravity, and just more susceptible to the weak gravitational sub-force?

  10. Michelle Bon 03 Apr 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Pec wrote: “And since Benjamin Franklin decided mesmerism was nothing but delusion, how could any scientist disagree? That was that.”
    ______

    So true, as there was no scientific development related to energy and matter after Ben F. (that guy Einstein is just a myth), just how narrow minded is Science? Hummph. Sticking with one old guy who wore granny glasses.

  11. daedalus2uon 03 Apr 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Roy, along your line of thinking, that may be evidence that pec is full of hot air and so has a tendency to rise, or perhaps it is vacuum?

    Franklin was not just considered the expert of the day in electrostatics, he was the expert. He did make one mistake, he named the charge on the electron negative instead of positive. His arbitrary choice of sign convention made some of the mathematics developed 100 years later somewhat more complicated.

    That there has been no science that has refuted Franklin’s conclusion in a couple of centuries, is pretty good evidence that Franklin was correct. We will likely never know “for sure” because Mesmer is now long dead.

  12. pecon 03 Apr 2008 at 5:22 pm

    After Franklin’s pronouncement, mersmerism was dead as far as science was concerned. So no one looked after that. Until relatively recently, anyway — fortunately now we have CAM.

  13. Roy Nileson 03 Apr 2008 at 5:36 pm

    That was a wry bit of levity right there!

  14. Sastraon 03 Apr 2008 at 7:47 pm

    A few years ago I heard a lecture by physicist Laurence Krauss, who was speaking on, I think, the topic of creationism and pseudoscience. In order to make the point that the general public could indeed give up on old ideas if exposed to scientific findings, he used the example of vitalism, or the life force. “Most people used to believe in it, but today virtually nobody does. Science won out. Creationism may go the same way.”

    I tried to tell him later that he was wrong. Vitalism has not gone away. It’s not a just “fringe” belief held by a tiny amount of fanatics. It’s mainstream, and one of the underlying assumptions in alternative medicine. When I try to tell friends that there is no scientific support for chi energy, they laugh at me: of course there is! There’s a whole branch of physics devoted to it!

    I don’t think I persuaded him, but it’s been a while since then. If he’s still following the rise of pseudoscience, I suspect he no longer uses that particular example as the success story.

  15. DevilsAdvocateon 03 Apr 2008 at 8:13 pm

    This notion that Science is owned by Scientists, controlled and manipulated, handcuffed to the status quo, and that if mainstream science declares a thing not so,it stays not so, is one of the more annoying of the anti-science arguments of the pseudos, post-moderns, and ‘alternative’ medicos. It’s not even an argument, it’s just apologetics for the absence of scientific evidence for a given belief, mesmerism included.

    Science is a discipline, but one needn’t be a Mainstream Scientist to practice it. If believers in mysterious life forces, chi, vibrational energies, etc., want Mainstrean Science to accept these things, they need only learn and practice science and produce the evidence Manstream Science requires to take a look. Develop some compelling evidence, or even data that suggests there is ‘something’ there and you won’t be able to beat research scientists off with a club.

    Conversely, if they hold Science in such disdain and consider it a failed methodology, why then do they whine on about how Science won’t accept their beliefs as truth?

    In any case, for criminy’s sake, woosters… enough with the whining. If you want acceptance by Mainstream Science, and if you don’t believe Mainstream Science will ever deign to consider your purported powers, energies, and whatnot, by all means – learn science and conduct your own work. Science is every bit as much yours as it is your perceived nemeses, the Scientists. If your work is good, and replicable, it will get accepted and furthered. Till then, *enough* with the childish and churlish whining.

  16. DevilsAdvocateon 03 Apr 2008 at 8:17 pm

    RE: ‘for Science to take a look’ (at outre ‘energy’ beliefs), I ought to have added that Mainstream Science *has* looked, repeatedly, and looked and looked. There’s no there there. It will require the presentation of some level of compelling data or actual evidence to get another look.

    [Cue the excuses as to why The True Energies Of Life And Spirit cannot be captured by graybeard science.]

  17. Roy Nileson 03 Apr 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Funds are more likely blocked because the theories can’t be TESTED scientifically, and therefor aren’t supported by extensive SCIENTIFIC research. The only standard the theories themselves would or should need to meet is one of PLAUSIBILITY.

  18. Chris Nobleon 03 Apr 2008 at 11:10 pm

    “Most of the information I can find relates to fields generated by overhead power lines. Nothing specific on exposure to the high-intense fields required to levitate non-ferrous organics (such as frogs).”

    Magnetic Resonance: Bioeffects, Safety, and Patient Management. F.G. Shellock. E. Kanal.

    Chapter 1 is on static magnetic fields and chapter 2 is on field gradients.

    There is little evidence of any significant damage from static fields.

    Rats will avoid parts of a maze with high magnetic fields ~ 4 Tesla.

    You can also see lights if you move your head too fast in a strong magnetic field. They’re called magnetophosphenes.

  19. badrabbion 04 Apr 2008 at 2:40 am

    I readily admit my ignorance on this subject, but I have a couple of questions:

    1. What is CAM research?

    2. It takes energy for a massive object to produce the attractive force of gravity, right? So, for example, for Earth to pull me toward it by gravity, it must exert gravitational energy right? Well how much energy does it have? Does a massive object run out of ‘gravitational energy’? If not, why not?

  20. badrabbion 04 Apr 2008 at 2:42 am

    One more question: The moon revolves around the earth. Where does it get its rotational energy? Does the energy not eventually run out?

  21. Nitpickingon 04 Apr 2008 at 8:27 am

    It would require a huge amount of energy to STOP the moon from orbiting the Earth. Newton’s First Law: an object in motion tends to remain in motion.

  22. Amon1492on 04 Apr 2008 at 9:44 am

    Tidal forces do have an effect on the Moon. This drains kinetic energy and momentum from the Moon resulting in a very small increase in orbital distance from the Earth.

    I may be generalizing, but the Moon’s kinetic and angular momentum is derived its innate potential energy through exposure to Earth’s gravitational field.

    Similar to a ball being dropped. Before being dropped, the ball possesses potential energy in respect to the ground (Earth). The potential energy becomes kinetic energy as it falls to the ground. The Moon is in orbit and constantly falling towards the Earth and possesses its kinetic energy infinitum.

  23. Freddy the Pigon 04 Apr 2008 at 11:15 am

    Badrabbi – energy is force times distance, no energy is required for a static force. If you hold your car still on a slope with the braks, the brakes will not get hot no matter how long you sit there because no energy is being absorbed by the brakes although they are exerting a force. However when the brakes are used to stop the car, they get hot because the the friction between the tires has acted through a distance and the brakes have absorbed the kinetic energy of the car.

  24. badrabbion 05 Apr 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Pig: What you are saying would be true for an object going straight. There is no energy expended if the velocity of a moving object is constant in a vacuum. The moon, however, takes a circular path in its orbit around the Earth. If there was no force acting on the moon, it would simply go straight and not orbit around the world. Clearly there is a force acting on the moon, namely gravity.

    What I do not understand, though, is why gravitation energy limitless. If an object of a given mass exert gravitational energy, why does the energy not end after a while? Why is gravitational energy without limit?

    Isn’t gravity an example of free energy?

  25. Roy Nileson 05 Apr 2008 at 8:59 pm

    E=mc2
    One of Einstein’s great insights was to realize that matter and energy are really different forms of the same thing. Matter can be turned into energy, and energy into matter.

    Science has found no free energy that just runs down and dies. And if there were to be such a thing, gravity is not it. Gravitation is a natural phenomenon by which all objects with mass attract each other, and is one of the fundamental forces of physics. If it were to run down and fade out, we’d all float off into space.

  26. badrabbion 06 Apr 2008 at 2:07 am

    Roy;

    Please explain what E-Mc2 has anything to do with the seeming limitless gravitational energy.

  27. Roy Nileson 06 Apr 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Your question was about whether it was free energy. I suggest that it’s not. If you really want an answer rather than to advance some juvenile proposal about how energy relates in some fashion to, say, creationism, then read a beginner’s manual on the laws of physics.

    A certain suspension of disbelief might be required, but at least you will learn more about the materialistic point of view on that subject.

  28. badrabbion 07 Apr 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Roy;

    You are so quick to attack that you forget that you seem not to know the answer either.

    Skeptics are those who don’t automatically buy peddled nonsense even when the nonesense is conventional wisdom. Skeptics verify things for themselves. They are not quick to attack.

    More and more I am becoming convinced that you are a conventional lackey.

  29. Roy Nileson 07 Apr 2008 at 5:39 pm

    It was obvious why I mentioned the famous Einstein formula. Even more obvious is your sneaky attempt to advance your advocacy of the supernatural, as you have demonstrably done in the past.

    Where is this peddled nonsense you make reference to? The belief that modern physics has a more trustworthy explanation of nature’s laws than some creationist handbook? A book that says cobbling together out of thin air a brand new and fully formed species because your God was dissatisfied with the apes is no violation of any of nature’s rules?

    Skeptics verify things for themselves? Was that what you were doing?
    Try showing a way to verify your belief in the operational proficiencies of the purposeful supernatural and someone might actually regard you as an effective skeptic.

    Quick to attack? All those who use duplicity to advance a cause feel any attack on that duplicity is too quick for their taste.

    On the other hand, would you rather I had lured you on so that you could make a bigger ass of yourself than you did under a previous category?

  30. badrabbion 07 Apr 2008 at 7:30 pm

    My question, for Roy and any other person who can answer was the following: Forces causing planets and satellites to rotate about a larger object require energy. This energy is said to be supplied by gravity. So, if the force is gravitational, why does it not get consumed? This is my question.

    Roy comes along and says: “Simple! E = MC2″. I then ask him how this is related to my original question. His reply is “you are a creationist. Can’t you see that God can not exist?” Or, “you have a hidden agenda. You are duplicitous!”

    Get off it, Roy. If you can not answer the question, no sweat. But don’t obfuscate. Don’t try to hide behind creation/evolution issue every time you are challanged by a question.

  31. badrabbion 07 Apr 2008 at 7:37 pm

    And by the way, and just for kicks, Roy’s answer of E-MC to the power of 2 seems to imply that gravitational energy is supplied by mass. In other words, if I understand Roy correctly (and God knows if I am, since he has not given any explanation beyond displaying the formula) is that gravitational energy is supplied by its mass. If this were so, though, then objects should have less and less mass as time goes on. For the Earth to cause the Moon to rotate about itself, it gets the energy by transforming its mass to energy according to Einstein’s formula. Thus, Earth’s mass should decrease in accordance to its gravitational pull. Is this so? Is this Roy’s prediction – that the Earth’s mass is constantly decreasing?

    No way man!

  32. Roy Nileson 07 Apr 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Creationists don’t have the capacity to understand any scientific explanation that in any way conflicts with and narrows the gap through which they can insert a hypothetical law allowing for spontaneous creation of fully functional sapient beings.

    If the rabbi can explain that hypotheses, I’ll gladly explain why it’s complete crap.

    By the way, can an idiot be defined as someone who has just demonstrated that Einstein’s theory doesn’t apply to the earth, because it appears that the mass has not changed from where he’s spinning in space during the time he’s been told he’s spinning.
    Which he also doubts, since how could a thing so flat be so easy to stand on?

  33. badrabbion 08 Apr 2008 at 12:14 am

    Roy. Buddy. I never said that Einstein’s theory does not apply to Earth. It does! What I said was that it does not apply to the question I asked. For that matter neither does the creation/evolution debate concern itself with my question.

    I do not think that my writing is that obscure. Let’s review again; you say gravitational energy is coming from earth’s mass, given by the formula E=MC2 right? Am I not understanding you correctly?

    Well if this is so, then for Earth to generate a given E, then it has to expend a mass M to do so, right? So are you saying that Earth’s mass is decreasing by a quantity M per second? Am I understanding you correctly?

    Again, stop with the ad hominems and deal with the question.

  34. Roy Nileson 08 Apr 2008 at 1:15 am

    Did it ever occur to you that there is an exchange going on that involves more than just the earth exchanging energy and mass within itself? That our complete solar system is engaging in an intricate balancing act? Which is itself in an intricate balancing act with the rest of the universe? Or maybe you have a problem with the theory of relativity as well? Some do, but I’m confident it’s not one that involves his failure to account for the supernatural.

    In any case the way you are going about this, changing your initial questions, misstating my responses, etc., is there for anyone to see, and see that you did exactly the same on a previous thread, and that you are ultimately hoping to build a case for a supernatural presence to theoretically fit somewhere in the equation. The talk about free energy is patently bullshit and there’s no other reason to even propose it except to bolster some bullshit hypothesis.

    I know it’s bullshit and you know it’s bullshit, and there’s no reason to go through the motions of explaining why it isn’t bullshit, so you can then say, this guy just isn’t explaining it right, and proof of that is that he’s on the side of the materialists. Which begs the question that if I don’t know anything about the science to begin with, what have you proved by arguing with me at all? Look back and see you were the one that picked this fight.

    Ad hominem? Does that apply to the conventional lackey designation? And did you not know that can be a valid inference in a particular argument – and it applies more to deductive than inductive processes – but wait, this is getting over your head.

    But more reliable proof that you’re slinging the bull is you’re on the side of the creationists. You actually believe this ID crap and although you know or profess to know nothing about physics, you’re convinced it has to be wrong somewhere, and that Einstein’s proposals must be somehow wrong or wanting as well.

    You can twist things all around if you want, but it’s clearly on the record that’s what you were arguing – Einstein is wrong about the results predicted by his formula.
    Tell us of the one thing you haven’t yet referred to – the eery elephant in the room, if you will – do you or do you not believe there’s a supernatural force out there somewhere with the ability and inclination to create life on earth?
    And if you do, tell us how you imagine that was accomplished.

  35. badrabbion 08 Apr 2008 at 9:55 am

    Roy;

    OK, the elephant in the room: Do I think there is a God who created the world? YES!

    Evidently you do not. OK. That is your choice. In fact I grant that you might even be right about this opinion of yours. We can debate whether God exists or not. However, as far as I know, this is not the topic. The topic is related to the question I asked before: Seemingly there is no free energy right? If this is so, where does the energy for gravity come from? This, man, is my question. OK?

    Now, your answer seems to be Einstein’s specific formula that relates mass to energy. You say this answers my question. Roy, it obviously does not. That E=MC2 does not answer my question does not mean that the formula is wrong. It just does not answer my question. It can not be applied to the question at hand. If I asked you why Paris Hilton’s nose is shaped the way it is, and you said because E=MC2, then you would be wrong. Not that the formula is wrong, but that the formula does not apply to the issue. Similarly, E=MC2 does not answer where the energy comes from for gravity. In fact, talk I think this is a dumb offer of an explanation for what I asked.

    Your defense of my answer is that I said “Einstein is wrong about the results predicted by his formula”. No, dumb ass, I did not say that. Einsteins formula, as far as I know, is correct. It just can not be used as an explanation for the source of gravitational energy.

    It may be that Einstein’s relativity theory might explain gravitation. I have been reading about it, and no thanks to you, I am beginning to understand gravity a little.

    Finally, let’s say that I am a young earth creationist (I am not). If I then come along and ask you a question about gravity, you can not give a wrong answer and say “what’s the difference – anyway, you are a creationist, make due with this answer”!

  36. Amon1492on 08 Apr 2008 at 10:31 am

    Badrabbi, your supposition that gravity is a form of ‘free energy’ is inherently flawed.

    ‘Free Energy’ implies an ability to harness energy to do work without any initial cost (such as the zero point energy machines, perpetual motion machines, etc).

    The Law of Gravity is one of the four fundamental forces of the Universe: Meaning every object in the Universe attracts every other object with a force directed along the line of centers for the two objects that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the separation between two objects.

    This law is true everywhere throughout the cosmos.

    All matter exhibits a gravitational energy field, but we only perceive Earth’s field directly (due to its massive size compared to ourselves). We can observe gravitational fields by the motions of the planets about he sun, stars around a galaxy, and galaxies around each other.

    We can not harness the force of gravity yet. We can harness the potential energy from objects existing in the gravitational field generated by all objects of matter by dropping or allowing objects to fall, thereby converting their gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy (falling water as in hydroelectric plants). This potential energy does not come without cost.

    As far as gravity running out of energy:
    According to Einstein, gravity is generated by mass. The larger the mass, the greater the gravity. Gravity is present for all matter, but negligible in a sense until the mass really starts to pile up.

    Badrabbi, as Roy Niles said earlier, I think you have some sort of agenda here to claim gravity is a form of free energy in an attempt to justify pseudoscience. Manipulation of words through semantics will not alter the scientific laws which are upheld by scientific proof and observation.

  37. JoHon 08 Apr 2008 at 11:31 am

    I don’t know badrabbi’s posting history, but I think he just wants an understandable layman’s explanation why his take on this is (obviously) false.

    I’m not a physicist, but here’s my attempt: Einstein showed that mass (or equivalent energy) has the innate property of deforming spacetime. Having mass (or equivalent energy) in some place means that spacetime around it is deformed. They can not be separated. One just comes with the other. The effect of the earth on spacetime could therefore be best visualized as analogous to a very heavy metal ball lying on a bed: it creates a (gravity)well, a depression in the mattress. If you take a marble and roll it towards the well, it will be “captured” by the well, and it will start to circle the metal ball. You could say that the marble tries to go straight ahead (from its own point of view it continues to go “straight ahead”), but since its spacetime (the surface of the mattress) is bent, it no longer does if you observe this from outside. It will also fall towards the metal ball and hit it eventually, but this ONLY happens because it loses energy through friction of the air and mattress. The moon going around the earth is the same as the marble going around the metal ball, with this difference that the moon doesn’t lose speed because there is no friction. It continues (because it retains its kinetic energy, ignoring very small effects by tidal forces etc) to fly “straight ahead” in its spacetime, with this caveat that spacetime ITSELF is bent and thus causes the circular motion.

    No energy is ‘spent’, because the moon actually remains at the same level of “gravitational energy” in the gravitational field. I hope this is a somewhat correct picture. (but I’m sure a physicist will be around soon to correct me if not) :)

  38. TheBlackCaton 08 Apr 2008 at 12:25 pm

    badrabbi, my understanding may be flawed, but I’ll try anyway. Newton’s laws of motion or incomplete, basically. It is not that objects follow a straight line unless acted on by an external force, they follow the shortest line through space-time unless acted on by an external force. This simplifies to a straight line in our experience, but that simplification fails when dealing with strong gravitational fields. In euclidian (or flat) space, which is what we are used to, this is what we normally consider a straight line. You can imagine flat space as though it were a flat piece of paper. Now our universe is flat, or very nearly so, on a large scale (billions of light years), but on smaller scales it takes on a wide variety of other shapes. Mass, in particular, causes space-time to change its shape so it is no longer flat, but sort of dimpled. People use the example of putting a marble or bowling ball on a rubber sheet.

    Alright, if that doesn’t blow your mind then here is where things get tricky. In curved space-time, a straight line is no longer the shortest way of getting between two points. A curved line can become shorter depending on the local geometry. Imagine a globe. If you looked at a flat map of the Earth, for instance, you would think that the shortest route between California and Japan would take you through the central pacific ocean. But on a globe the shortest distance would actually take you through Alaska. This is because the Earth is not flat, but a sphere, and that path is actually the equivalent of a straight line in a flat geometry (i.e. it is the shortest distance between two points in that geometry). Similarly, near large masses (like the Earth) space is not flat, but curved. Objects near the Earth will take the shortest path through space-time. Because space-time is curved, however, the shortest path is also curved. That is what we call gravity. The Moon orbits the Earth because doing so is actually the shortest path it can take, the only path that does not require an external force. In deep space the shortest path would be very nearly straight, but near anything with significant mass the path becomes curved. Similarly with light, it will follow the shortest path between the point of origin and the point of detection, but that shortest path gets curved near massive objects.

    So to make it simple, the same principles that make objects on our scale travel in straight lines causes objects affected by gravitation fields to travel in curved lines. It would actual require expending energy, a great deal in fact, to travel in anything other than a curved line. Traveling in the curved line, however, does not require any energy because it is taking the shortest path it can. Thinking of gravity as a force works mathematically in some simple situations, but that is not how it really works.

  39. Steven Novellaon 08 Apr 2008 at 12:56 pm

    gravitational energy is not limitless. Gravity can convert potential energy into kinetic energy – but this does not create energy, it just converts one form to another. You have to have an object that is “up” a gravitational field to begin with – i.e. it already has potential energy. This is part of the total usable energy of the universe which is decreasing over time. In this process, potential energy is converted to kinetic energy (via gravity) which may be dissipated through friction or impact, dissipating largely as heat.

  40. Amon1492on 08 Apr 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Stephen Novella wrote:
    “gravitational energy is not limitless. Gravity can convert potential energy into kinetic energy – but this does not create energy, it just converts one form to another. You have to have an object that is “up” a gravitational field to begin with – i.e. it already has potential energy. This is part of the total usable energy of the universe which is decreasing over time. In this process, potential energy is converted to kinetic energy (via gravity) which may be dissipated through friction or impact, dissipating largely as heat.”

    Stephen put it much more eloquently than I in my response, but this is exactly what I was trying to say.

  41. Cannidaeon 08 Apr 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Shout out to Dr. Novella, keep up the great work.

    Wanted to make a few points about this thread.

    1. the moon does not revolve around the earth without expending energy. Tidal forces do act on it and eventually it will move out so far in its orbit that it will be flung away from the earth. Likewise the earth is moving away from the sun. I think where human minds get stuck is on the timescales. If the earth does indeed lose its moon, which I believe is the current accepted model of the system, it wont be for 5 billionish years. Hopefully by then the Earth will have moved far enough away from the sun that it wont get gobbled up when the sun goes puffs out to the current orbit of the earth, not that you or I will care at that point.

    I suggest listening to the podcast Astronomy Cast for a very comprehensive and extemely interesting education on our solar system and the cosmos in general.

    2. As to the apparent bad blood between Roy and Badrabbi I would like to offer some comments as well.

    Roy, you need to wait until BR actually says something to incite you before flying of the handle as you did in this thread. To the casual reader, BR asked a simple question to which you apparently didnt have the answer to and rather then do a little work it was easier for you to launch a series of personal attacks against him. The last post I read from you was still so off topic and off base, and you seemed so proud of yourself, that I wonder where your head is at.

    We, as skeptics, are here to EDUCATE.

    NOT to ridicule, punk, insult, or debase the very minds we are trying to open.

  42. TheBlackCaton 08 Apr 2008 at 2:18 pm

    The Moon will not get flung away from the Earth. Tidal forces happen because the Moon is orbiting the Earth at a different rate than the Earth is rotating. because of this, the moon exerts different amounts of gravitational “pull” (to use a layman’s shorthand) on different parts of the Earth at different points in time. This causes the Earth to change its shape slightly, which causes friction and bending stress, which robs the Earth-Moon system of energy. This cause the orbit of the Moon to move outward slowly, and causes the moon orbital period to slowly approach the rotation period of the Earth. When the moon’s orbit is such that it orbits the Earth exactly once every 24 hours, then the tides will stop. The moon will appear to hover over one point on the globe. Because the pull on a given place on the Earth will remain constant from then on, there will no longer be any energy removed from the system and the orbits will become stable. This has actually already happened with the moon. At one point the moon rotated with respect to the Earth, but because of the tidal forces the Earth exerted on the Moon the moon’s rotation slowed until it became as it is now, with one side of the moon always facing the Earth and the other side always facing away. This is called “tidal locking”. Once both the Moon and the Earth are have tidal locking with each other then the orbit will remain like that forever unless something catastrophic knocks them around.

  43. Cannidaeon 08 Apr 2008 at 2:26 pm

    thank you Black Cat

    Here is a good discussion on why the moon will not leave earths orbit. dont know where I got my wires crossed but I appreciate the correction.

    http://www.bautforum.com/archive/index.php/t-34229.html

  44. Cannidaeon 08 Apr 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Thank you TheBlackCat,

    Dont know where I got my wires crossed but appreciate the correction.

    very well explained too = )

  45. llysenwion 08 Apr 2008 at 3:23 pm

    If we can levitate frogs with superconducting magnets, then we are only one small step away from shooting frogs out of Gauss guns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gauss_gun). This would probably have some significant side effects for the frogs.

  46. Roy Nileson 08 Apr 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Cannidae: if you go back to a previous thread at – http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php?p=260#comments – you will see where this started, and where I had tried to deal with these same questions in a civil discourse. The rabbi was trying to sandbag whoever answered him then and he tried it again this time.
    it wasn’t any accident that he finally confirmed where he was really coming from.
    Of course I knew the answer to his question, and he already knew I knew it. As a casual reader, you had no idea of the history, yet decided to censure me nevertheless. You’re doing the exact same thing you accused me of doing to the rabbi, calling me to task without knowing anything of the back story.

    I repeat, it was NOT a simple question that I had no answer to. He had already revealed the motive behind that question and had already done his best to provoke me.

    I think this guy got an education he would never have got if I had just pretended to believe he simply wanted to understand energy. And in fact I did give him a simple and direct answer at first which he pretended not to understand.
    Did you really believe he joined this thread to ask a simple question about science? Did you really believe he didn’t already know the stock answer? Did you really believe he called me a conventional lackey because I didn’t know the answer?

    Perhaps you as a skeptic should be here to learn as well as educate.
    And perhaps you should tailor your lesson to fit the needs of the particular student.

    And as to the propriety of ridicule in dealing with ID proponents, et al, you might go back and notice that the theme of this particular thread was the ridicule of proponents of the type of weird science that the rabbi was himself proposing in response.

    I won’t hold my breath in waiting for you to censure the blog owner of course.

  47. Cannidaeon 08 Apr 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Ilysenwi:

    I like the frog gauss gun idea, keep your eyes on Youtube !

    Roy:

    I did what you asked and though I must admit I am not enough of a sadist to read every line of every post of that convuloted argument, my opinion is thus;

    You never attempted to answer the question in the other thread either.

    You stoop to personal attacks quickly

    You accuse me of Censure:

    a: a judgment involving condemnation
    b: archaic : opinion, judgment (no opinions, why are we here)
    c: the act of blaming or condemning sternly
    d: an official reprimand

    I am not official, condeming or stern, merely pointing out that you are quick to fight. I recommend giving people enough rope to hang themselves before pulling the lever.

    I do not claim to know why br asked the questions he asked, I also submit that neither do you. you seem to want to pigeonhole him into something he hasnt claimed and then bash him for it. Wait till he makes a statement worthy of dispute, then dispute it. You put words in his mouth in both instances that he never spoke claiming knowledge of his motives before he ever made them clear.

    If you think I am not here to learn from capable minds willing to teach, look up. (apologize for the double post)

    I do not find the caustic attitude you present in your posts in the blog above, not sure why you are comparing the two especially when this is not a blog about the ID debate, at least not till you hi-jacked it into one.

    I am new to this blog, but I have been a listener of SGU forever. You probably think I am attacking you, but I assure you that is not the case.

    If you were my Best Friend in the whole wide world I would just say, “Dude, tone it down a little”

    Cannidae

  48. Roy Nileson 08 Apr 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Candidae: I’d say in return, dude, turn it up a little, but it’s not my place to critique your style, and neither is it yours to critique mine..

    And yes, I am proud of myself. Dealing with and exposing the deceptive is what I do for a living.

    Oh, and if you didn’t read every post in the earlier exchange, you wouldn’t know if I “never attempted” to answer the question or not.
    Because I clearly did.

    And if I WERE to offer a critique purely on a tit for tat basis, I might remind you of the famous last words of Candid, who said: One must never debase the intolerant and narrow minded, as they inevitably possess the very minds we are sure to open by kindness and consderation.

    Or point this out: Urban dictionary: shout outs
    When a rapper attacks or abuses someone in one of his song lyrics.

    Or share with you some relevant quotes from the old master of ridicule:

    Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.
    H. L. Mencken

    It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.
    H. L. Mencken

    Also: Sometimes to make an effective argument, one risks the possibility of irritating the simple minded.

    And: To kiss ass effectively, make your comment indistinguishable from one that would otherwise be intelligent.

  49. badrabbion 08 Apr 2008 at 8:02 pm

    Cannidae, Black cat, Amon, and Dr. Novella;

    Thanks for the education. I appreciate it. I suppose the answer to gravity is the distortion of space time. I have to crack a relativity book…..

    One more question: An electron’s revolving around an atomic nucleus. Does that require energy too, or is it governed by gravity also? I had come to understand that relativistic phenomena are much less relevant in atomic particles.

    Where is the energy supplied in the orbital rotation of an electron around the atom?

    (Predictable reaction of Roy: “See, see I told you he is a creationist! What did I tell you?”)

  50. Roy Nileson 08 Apr 2008 at 8:41 pm

    Rabbi: You mean you DON”T think God created the world?

    And are you thanking Amon for not exactly trusting your motives either?
    “Badrabbi, as Roy Niles said earlier, I think you have some sort of agenda here to claim gravity is a form of free energy in an attempt to justify pseudoscience. Manipulation of words through semantics will not alter the scientific laws which are upheld by scientific proof and observation.”

    I won’t speak for any others as to whether or not they saw through your ploy, although clearly you have fooled candidae. Address further questions to him (her?) and you should do well.

  51. badrabbion 08 Apr 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Roy,

    The FBI is after you.

    (Just thought you should know)

  52. Roy Nileson 09 Apr 2008 at 12:06 am

    What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t go too far kid. I’m a retired Federal Agent, and the FBI doesn’t appreciate using their name to make threats.

  53. Roy Nileson 09 Apr 2008 at 12:24 am

    You went too far kid and I’m calling this to the attention of some friends of mine at the Bureau. Is this your website?
    http://badrabbi.blog.com/1759780/

    If not, they can still find you through your email with WordPress. Expect a little knock on the door any time now.

  54. Cannidaeon 09 Apr 2008 at 1:34 am

    LOL

    I respectfully disagree with you Roy. You say that we shouldnt critique each others style yet you freely critique people with a different opinion.

    I am glad I live in America where free speech, even if waning, is still alive. Free speech protects the un-popular opinion which means anyone can say whatever they want and then its up to intellegent people to explain its truth or lack of truth.

    Qoutes ?

    John Stuart Mill

    “Silencing an opinion is a peculiar evil. If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; and if it is wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in its collision with error.”

    STFU you’re a creationist/ID’r is not a valid argument which seems to sum up your style.

    For the record, I am Agnostic. The answer is unknowable and therfore I do not claim there is or is not a God. I find Atheist just as annoying as creationists in thier assertion that they have the answer.

    If Rabbi asks me a question I will do the best I can to answer it, and if I do not know the answer I will freely admit to it or find it. Anyone who sees me posting that someone is a dumbass, I would very much appreciate if you all take me to task for it.

    After this discourse and reading 30 or so of your posts I see that dont seek the truth so much as you seek to be right. In that I doubt I can make difference so this is my last word to you in this thread.

    I simply seek the truth.

    Retired FBI agent ? riiigghhtt /sarcasm off

  55. Roy Nileson 09 Apr 2008 at 3:53 am

    Actually I am a retired Federal Agent. And I use my real name, so not only did this kid pretend to have FBI connections, he made a public statement to the effect that those connections gave him access to some information that I have done something unlawful, which is defamatory. And you have proved the deed was done by acknowledging you read the accusation.

    Add to this that he has violated a statute by pretending he has FBI connections and therefor may be an employee of that agency, and this becomes a serious matter, especially as he used that impression to facilitate defamation and worse.

    Aside from that if you don’t know the difference between style and substance, you wouldn’t know the truth if it bit you in the ass. I seek to be accurate, not to be “right” by trickery or deceit. I don’t lie for Jesus.
    And I have publicly stated that I am an agnostic, so save your anti-atheist bile for someone else. I didn’t ask to deal with you, so I hope this will be the last time ever – except you have made yourself a witness to the rabbi’s transgression.

    And it was of course the rabbi who first called me a dumbass, but no comment on that from you – and that’s substance, not style.

    But he went too far and you seem to think that was somehow OK. He’s about to find out it’s not.

  56. Cannidaeon 09 Apr 2008 at 5:36 am

    How quickly I break my own rules /sigh

    He was not claiming FBI connections or threatening you, He was calling you paranoid delusional.

    Your response only lends verasity to what WAS a joke under a “levity” blog.

    Using federal resources to harass some one you disagree with in a science blog ? Gestapo comes to mind.

  57. badrabbion 09 Apr 2008 at 9:11 am

    Hook, line & sinker!

    I rest my case.

    By the way, the blog is http://badrabbi1.blogspot.com/

  58. Roy Nileson 09 Apr 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I reacted to a threat, boys, that had nothing to do with what you laughingly call a disagreement. Anyway, how would candidea know what the rabbi was up to unless she was a shill that came in just at the right time trying to salvage something out of the mess he made of his arguments for god. Disagreement? He had simply been nailed to his own cross.

    Rest your case? For what, god creating the world? Where’s the delusion? I drew the rabbi in with his own line and gutted him.

    Style? I would think defamation that has nothing to do with allegedly resolving any disagreement is an example of the style candidae could really find fault with.

    Anyway, thanks rabbi for giving the correct blog (if it is correct). The rest is now out of my hands and I’ve been asked not to discuss the case further or react to any further attempts to back out of the problem.

    Although it would speed things up if candidae revealed her own identity.

  59. badrabbion 09 Apr 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Theblackcat;

    Outstanding explanation! Thank you.

    Do electrons revolve around the nucleus when not changing their orbital positions?

    When they are in stable orbits, do they expend energy?

  60. TheBlackCaton 10 Apr 2008 at 10:24 am

    No, they do not expend energy when in stable orbitals. They asborb energy to move to higher orbitals, or release energy to move to lower ones, but when they are in a given orbital they don’t absorb or release energy. And they do not “revolve” around the nucleus in the sense that planets do. Due to quantum mechanics they do not follow deterministic paths at all, their motion is probabilistic. They have a certain probability of being at any given point in space. What we call “orbitals” are generally the region they will be found in 90% of the time, and these orbitals tend to have fairly complicated shapes determined by the electromagnetic attraction holding the electrons close to the atomic nucleus and the electromagnetic repulsion pushing the electrons away from each other. Thinking about electrons as though they were planets revolving around the nucleus is just the wrong way to think about it, their behavior is not even remotely similar.

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