Skip to main content

The Theory of Elementary Waves – Lewis E. Little ***

This has to be one of the hardest books to review I’ve ever seen. It has some genuine interest, but there are a whole lot of caveats to get out of the way first.
The immediately obvious problem with the book is that has several of the hallmarks of a piece of crank science. We get sent crank books all the time and don’t usually review them. They’re by someone who believes he has disproved some fundamental piece of science (often relativity) and wants to show just how clever he is. Because he’s so excited by his genius, the book tends to be filled with an aggressive language, saying how stupid all those other physicists are, with their ‘so-called’ theories. Not only is The Theory of Elementary Waves a book that attempts to overthrow one of the central aspects of physics – quantum theory – it has exactly these ‘crank’ markers: often using emotional terms, referring to ‘concepts’ in inverted commas as if to discredit them, and peppering the text with ‘so-called’ and disparaging ‘modern physicists say’ type comments.
Secondly, the bumf on the back suggests that this book makes quantum physics understandable to the general reader. It doesn’t. I’d suggest you need a physics degree to get on top of what Little is saying. Although it’s not academic writing, it isn’t good quality popular science writing either.
Thirdly, there are some aspects of the physics that just seem wrong to me. I haven’t the qualifications to say this for certain, but when Little covers quantum entanglement, something I do know something of, his arguments drastically oversimplify reality. And elsewhere, for instance, he seems to be saying that ‘modern’ quantum physics relies on something that sounds to me like the old pilot wave theory, which I thought was long dead and buried. I know Richard Feynman is hardly up-to-date, but I always took his comments on QED as being still valid when he said ‘I want to emphasize that light comes in this form – particles. It is very important to know that light behaves like particles, especially for those of you who have gone to school, where you were probably told about light behaving like waves. I’m telling you the way it does behave – like particles.’ I know quantum theory involves waves – but these are probability distributions, not actual waves.
However -and this is why I have to give the book three stars instead of two, and why it is quite interesting – what Little does is to come up with a semi-plausible theory that explains some of the observed effects at the quantum level without resorting to all the oddities inherent in quantum theory. This doesn’t mean he is right – just because something is weird doesn’t make it wrong. And Little definitely does go astray with that assumption, because several times he says that because something is weird it’s impossible. That’s not science. However Little’s is an interesting theory.
I contacted a theoretical physicist who is quoted on the back of the book, and this was the broad thrust of his feeling. He in no way suggests that this theory is correct, but it’s interesting and worth considering.
And it’s in that spirit that you might want to look at this book. Science isn’t about consensus. Even well-established scientific theories like the Big Bang have good alternatives available which may eventually displace them. The same goes with quantum theory. I don’t think this is such a theory yet, but it has the possibility of being the seed of one – and as such is quite interesting. But definitely not one for the general reader who wants to find out more about quantum theory.
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…