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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
 
Question 1452

I recently read a full-page ad for FREE ELECTRICITY from a company called United Services Company of America. Their Website is at http://UCSofA.com/Free%20Electricity.htm. I walked through their site and viewed some of their videos "demonstrating" clear violations of the well-known and well-founded Laws of Thermodynamics, and listened to the description of the new Fourth Law of Motion (following Newton's other well known three). Are these people the same who were denied patent approval for a Perpetual Motion Machine? Have any reputable independent test labs reviewed their products under controlled conditions? Do they publish, even at a price, the fundamental mathematical and physical processes that allow for the claims that seem to be shown? I realize you're not a "debunker", but maybe you can shed some light on this. They have scheduled dozens of seminars across the country at considerable cost (and most likely considerable profit to them), and taken out full-page ads in national newspapers. The speakers do not comment on their academic training or experience, but tend to speak of hidden conspiracies from the power industry to stop their proliferation of free power. — DH
What a great find! This site is filled with pseudo-science at its best. I don't know the history or training of these people, but it's pure garbage. They use the words of science but without any meaningful content. Just as putting on a crown doesn't make you a king, using phrases like "action and reaction" and "Newton's third law" doesn't mean that you are discussing real science.

I watched the video on the "Counter Rotation Device" and found the discussion of "Newton's Fourth Law of Motion" quite amusing. The speaker claims that this fourth law was discovered about 30 years ago by a person now at their research lab. It is based on Newton's third law, which the speaker simplifies to "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." In a nutshell, his fourth law claims that you can take the reaction caused by a particular action and apply it to the action in the same direction—action causes reaction which causes more action which causes more reaction and so on. Pretty soon you have so much action and reaction that anything becomes possible. The video goes on to show devices that yield more power than they consume and that can easily become net sources of energy—by using part of the output energy from one of these energy multiplying devices to power that device, you can create endless energy from nothing at all.

Sadly enough, it's all just nonsense. Newton's third law is not as flexible as the speaker supposes and this endless feedback process in which reaction is used as action to produce more reaction is ridiculous. A more accurate version of Newton's third law is: "Whenever one object pushes on a second object, the second object pushes back on the first object equally hard but in the opposite direction". Thus when you push on the handle of a water pump, that handle pushes back on you with an equal but oppositely directed force. The speaker's claim is that there is a way to use the handle's push on you as part of your push on the handle so that, with your help, the handle essentially pushes itself through action and reaction. You can then pump water almost without effort. Sorry, this is just nonsense. It's mostly just playing with the words action and reaction in their common language form: if you scare me, I react by jumping. That action and reaction has nothing to do with physics.

The speaker uses at least three clever techniques to make his claims more compelling and palatable. First, he refers frequently to a power-company conspiracy that is out to destroy his company and its products. Conspiracy theories are so popular these days that having a conspiracy against you makes you more believable. Second, he describes the fellow who discovered the fourth law of motion as a basement inventor who has taken on the rigid scientific establishment. Ordinary people love to see pompous, highly educated academics brought low by other ordinary people; it's kind of a team spirit issue. And third, he makes casual use of technical looking equipment and jargon, as though he is completely at ease in the world of advanced technology. Movies have made it easier to trust characters like Doc Brown from "Back to the Future" than to trust real scientists.

In fact, there is no power-company conspiracy because there is no free electricity. The proof is in the pudding: if these guys really could make energy from nothing, they'd be doing it every day and making a fortune. They would be the power companies. If they were interested in public welfare rather than money, they'd have given their techniques away already. If they were interested in proving the scientific establishment wrong, they'd have accepted challenges by scientific organization and demonstrated their devices in controlled situations (where they can't cheat). The fact is, they're just frauds and of no more interest to the power companies than snake oil salespeople are to doctors. No decent people want to see others defrauded of money, property, or health, but the free electricity people present no real threat to the power companies.

The popular notion that an ordinary person is likely to upset established science is an unfortunate product of the anti-intellectual climate of our present world. Becoming a competent scientist is generally hard work and requires dedication, time, and an enormous amount of serious thinking. Physics is hard, even for most physicists. The laws governing the universe are slowly being exposed but it has taken very smart, very hardworking people almost half a millennium to get to the current state of understanding. Each new step requires enormous effort and a detailed understanding of a good part of the physics that is already known. Still, there is a common myth that some clever and lucky individual with essentially no training or knowledge of what has been discovered before will make some monumental breakthrough. The movies are filled with such events. Unfortunately, it won't happen. In new or immature fields or subfields, it is possible for an essentially untrained or self-trained genius to jump in and discover something important. Galileo and Newton probably fit this category in physics and Galois and Ramanujan probably fit it in mathematics. But most of physics is now so mature that broad new discoveries are rare, and accessible only to those with extremely good understandings of what is already known. A basement tinkerer hasn't got a prayer.

Finally, real scientists don't always walk around in white lab coats looking serious, ridiculing the less educated, and trying to figure out how to trick the government into funding yet another silly, fraudulent, or unethical research project. In fact, most scientists wear practical clothes, have considerable humor, enjoy speaking with ordinary folk about their science, and conduct that science because they love and believe in it rather than as a means to some diabolic end. These scientists use the words of science in their conversations because it is the appropriate language for their work and there is meaning in each word and each sentence. The gibberish spoken by "scientists" in movies is often offensive to scientists in the same way that immigrant groups find it offensive when people mock their native languages.

I don't know about any patent history for the free electricity organization but everyone should be aware that not all patented items actually do what they're supposed to. In principle, the U.S. Patent Office only awards a patent when it determines that a concept has not been patented previously, is not already known, is not obvious, and is useful. The utility requirement should eliminate items that don't actually work. One of my readers, a patent attorney, reports that he regularly invokes the utility regulation while escorting the "inventors" of impossible devices such as "free electricity" to the door. They consider him part of the conspiracy against them, but he is doing us all a service by keeping foolishness out of the patent system. However, proving that something doesn't work often takes time and money, so sometimes nonfunctional items get patented. Thus a patent isn't always a guarantee of efficacy. Patented nonsense is exactly that: nonsense.

Finally, how do I know that Free Electricity is really not possible? Couldn't I have missed something somewhere in the details? No. The impossibility of this scheme is rooted in the very groundwork of physics; at the deepest level where there is no possibility of mistake. For the counter rotation device to generate 15 kilowatts of electricity out of nothing, it would have to be a net source of energy—the device would be creating energy from nothing. That process would violate the conservation of energy, whereby energy cannot be created or destroyed but can only be transferred from one object to another or converted from one form to another. Recognizing that our universe is relativistic (it obeys the laws of special relativity), the actual conserved quantity is mass/energy, but the concept is the same: you can't make mass/energy from nothing.

The origin of this conservation law lies in a mathematical theorem noted first by C. G. J. Jacobi and fully developed by Emmy Noether, that each symmetry in the laws of physics gives rise to a conserved quantity. The fact that a translation in space—shifting yourself from one place to another—does not change the laws of physics gives rise to a conserved quantity: momentum. The fact that a rotation—changing the direction in which you are facing—does not change the laws of physics gives rise to another conserved quantity: angular momentum. And the fact that waiting a few minutes—changing the time at which you are—does not change the laws of physics gives rise to a third conserved quantity: energy. The conservation of energy is thus intimately connected with the fact that the laws of physics are the same today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow.

Scientists have been looking for over a century for any changes in the laws of physics with translations and rotations in space and with movement through time, and have never found any evidence for such changes. Thus momentum, angular momentum, and energy are strictly conserved in our universe. For the counter rotation device to create energy from nothing, all of physics would have to be thrown in the trashcan. The upset would be almost as severe as discovering that 1+1 = 3. Furthermore, a universe in which physics was time-dependent and energy was not conserved would be a dangerous place. Free electricity devices would become the weapons of the future—bombs and missiles that released energy from nothing. Moreover, as the free electricity devices produced energy from nothing, the mass/energy of the earth would increase and thus its gravitational field would also increase. Eventually, the gravity would become strong enough to cause gravitational collapse and the earth would become a black hole. Fortunately, this is all just science fiction because free electricity isn't real.

For more information about the "free electricity" hoax, sent in by readers of this site, touch here.

         

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