His ideas seem to be extraordinarily popular, and he has quite a following, so my article has caused a bit of a stir. But to a lot of people, I get the feeling it looks like I'm just being horrid. Why else would someone pull another person to pieces? It's not very nice.
And it might look a bit horrid to people who've never heard of him too. Why is Bob spending so much time pulling someone to pieces? Why doesn't he write about birds and stars like the good old days?
Anyway, aren't people entitled to hold differing views? Doesn't the human race already spend far too much time putting each other down?
I was thinking about this the other day and I came up with a little story.
Imagine you grew up speaking fluent Mandarin, as well as English. And you'd spent a lot of time in China, living among people in many different parts of the country.
One day, probably somewhere in the US of A, you come across someone giving public lectures on how to understand Mandarin. Lots of people are interested, it seems, because Mandarin is still quite alien to most people in English-speaking countries, yet it's a language that may prove increasingly valuable to learn for the future. You're curious, so you take a look.
What you see is someone making stereotypical Chinese-sounding noises. He utters words that sound vaguely Chinese, and explains what he thinks they mean. He tells his audience that he's studied this language for many many years, and has learned things that most teachers of Mandarin would never even realise. You do recognise some of his words, but they're not put together in a way that makes much sense to you.
You ask his students, who proudly tell you that this is the true Mandarin, and that what they teach in language schools is flawed. When you take issue with this, they insist that obviously that's because you're only able to see what you've been taught, and you've never thought outside of this box, and if you could see the bigger picture then you'd understand what he was saying and what a revolutionary understanding of the language it was. And the reason no other teachers of Mandarin teach this way is because of a massive conspiracy to put down creativity and keep the language in the control of the elite. Or something like that.
Anyway, who are you to tell people how they should speak Mandarin?
He has thousands of followers, and they all happily believe this is the true Mandarin. What do you do?
I guess most people in this situation would decide, after perhaps a little time trying to argue, that what we have here is a bunch of nutters, and walk away. And I probably would too, because, well, what can you do? If they're so keen on believing that this is the true Mandarin, then let them.
It was a little like this for me to find Nassim Haramein claiming he's speaking from years of cutting-edge physics research. The language of physics and mathematics and reasoning is one that I grew up with and use regularly, and I know enough of it to recognise clearly when someone is blagging it.
Science and mathematics is much more like a language than art or music. Learning it is first of all an attempt to get things right – you're trying to get at the way things are, using reason and evidence. Once you're fluent, you can be wonderfully creative with it, but first of all you have to learn to make some sense of the process of rational investigation. Otherwise, no matter how impressive it might sound to some people, you're being as transparently meaningless and ridiculous as the guy who claims that his Mandarin is more true than the one spoken in China.
* * *
I thought I'd devote some time to 'refuting' Haramein because it's clear that there are a good number of people who are curious about him and want to know more, and there's surprisingly little on the web that points out clearly why he's a fake.
I can understand why there's so little on the web analysing him critically and objectively. Firstly, he may have a huge internet presence but he's hardly a household name. Secondly, it's not especially enjoyable to listen to someone when you know they're talking rubbish – it does feel like an awful waste of time. Thirdly, efforts to communicate with his followers isn't entirely pleasurable either. And fourthly, you can end up looking like a proper spoil-sport, taking the side of run-of-the-mill pernickety correctness against the forces of liberated thinking.
Not everyone is a big fan of excessive rationality, but when most of us turn to newspapers, politicians or scientists, we don't appreciate being led up the garden path. However lovely someone might seem, if you can see that they're gathering a following and making money by misleading people, then you do start to feel for the people who are taken in by it.
Of course, we could always view him as a spiritual guide instead of a scientist, as some clearly do – so long as we don't mind our spirituality being served up with delusion, prejudice and an inflated sense of its own importance. (Some would argue that we have a long history of not minding this.)
That's a personal choice. I just wanted to put the information out, so there it is. I've tried not to be unpleasant with it, and to be as objective as I can.
I'm not especially bothered about physics. What I'm bothered about really is the process of searching for truth. (I certainly don't confine this search to physics.) Integral to the search for truth, it seems to me, is the willingness to ruthlessly cast out whatever is obviously false, and then to gleefully jump up and down on its head if it tries to show its face again.
So, well, maybe that means I do enjoy being a little bit horrid sometimes. I'll leave that for you to decide.
You can see my article at http://bit.ly/haramein
(though you might not find it very interesting unless you happen to know who he is, or have a particular curiosity for people who like to pretend to be physicists).
* * *In the process of trying to get my head around all this stuff, so that I can argue with people on YouTube and things like that, I've come across some great places to sharpen your understanding of real physics on the web. (I have genuinely been trying to find ways to remain open to everything I've heard Nassim and others say, from all sorts of perspectives... and the more I've tried, the crazier they've looked.)
On YouTube now, not only can you watch the whole of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series, and several programs about the great Richard Feynman, and many other great science documentaries, but if you REALLY want to get to grips with the understanding of reality that modern physics has given us, there's a fabulous selection of lecture series by Stanford University's Leonard Susskind. He's done an entire 15 to 20 hour series on each of Classical Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, Quantum Entanglements, Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity, Quantum Field Theory, The Standard Model, General Relativity and Cosmology.
I'm working my way through his presentation of General Relativity as we speak, and it's extremely good. I've been scribbling away deriving Christoffel Symbols to my heart's content, and (when told to) even gone so far as to cut things out of cardboard to explore the nature of curved spaces.
A mostly-flat space with a pringularity at the centre
(a negative curvature singularity; thanks to PV for the word)
(a negative curvature singularity; thanks to PV for the word)
As with all physics, though, many of the theories are essentially mathematical in nature, so it's perhaps not for everyone.
(This mathematical nature, oddly enough, isn't because of a massive conspiracy among scientists to keep their ideas out of the reach of those without mathematical training! I've read so much rubbish now, I'm starting to feel obliged to point these things out. It's because using mathematics is the only way to really see that the ideas you read in the popular science books actually work. If all you do is read the ideas in popular science books, you could easily think they're just ideas, and conclude that the ideas of some nutcase from Hawaii might be just as valid. It simply doesn't work like that. It's unfortunate that the only way you can be convinced of this is if you 'do the math'.)
Anyway, don't let me get started on all that stuff again. Give Leonard Susskind a try if you're feeling adventurous (and patient!). I've learnt a lot in the last few weeks, and in some peculiar way it's all down to our friend Mr Haramein. So there we are.
Feel free to think I'm horrid if it makes you happy. I think I'm lovely. (Come on, I used a picture of everyone's favourite mymble! How lovely is that?)
We can argue about it in the comments if you like.
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