The Right Coast

January 10, 2006
Weird and interesting
By Tom Smith

I finally got the issue of New Scientist by snail mail that has the story about a possible 'hyperdrive' based on a strange sort of physics. It is quite a bit more interesting than I thought it would be. In fact, it is downright intriguing.

So how is this for a human interest story. Burkhard Heim was a German physicist, born in 1925, who as a boy was fascinated with explosives (as was John Nash BTW). In 1944, he was working on explosives development for the bad guys, and accidentally blew off both of his arms below the elbows, as well as destroyed his hearing and most of his sight. Because of this, he was unable to pursue a scientific career in the academy, or industry, in spite of various benefactors' efforts to help him. Fortunately, it seems his family was sufficiently wealthy that he was able to pursue his scientific studies independently.

This he did, apparently going off entirely on his own tack. He seems to have pursued unified field theory very much along Einsteinian lines (not that I could tell you what that means, really) developing a highly idiosyncratic and individual mathematical approach to do it. He seems to have taken a purely mathematical and geometrical approach to figuring out the masses of various subatomic entities (and this is the really astonishing thing), which actually predicts highly accurately the masses of various particles which cannot be derived via the Standard Model. I understand this only at a lay person level, but it does seem to be a Holy Shit sort of thing.

If this is really true, it means a blind and deaf German with no hands, no PhD, and no job, figured out an approach to fundamental physics completely different from the one we are now spending billions of dollars on confirming and extending. And one that it is claimed at least has produced highly accurate predictions of physical quantities no one else has been able to produce. Not that anyone is saying there has been some sort of conspiracy to suppress this science. Apparently the mathematics Heim invented to do his work is extremely non-standard and dense. It sounds like it would require years of work just to figure out his approach, and it is hardly surprizing that physicists haven't dropped everything to do that, especially given that it is the work of a non-academic scientist.

As the article above explains (sort of), a consequence of Heimian physics is that we live in a six dimensional world, with the extra 2 dimensions not being curled up, as in string theory, but actually being accessible at very high magnetic energy levels. Don't ask me how. I have just exhausted my understanding of this stuff. Some Heim-ians think that at these energy levels it would somehow be possible to enter a hyperspace at which travel at greater than the speed of light in our regular dimensional manifold is possible.

My point is simply this. Lots of physicists are spending a lot of time and money on string theory, which as I understand it, is not producing anything that can be tested anytime soon, at least not until that giant new CERN accelerator is on line, if even then. At the same time, we are spending hundreds of millions, if not billions, on stupid highway projects that do nothing except line the pockets of people who deserve to be in jail, rather than driving BMWs and eating sushi. So, why not take a few hundred million away from highways to nowhere and build another Z machine (that's the thing they're using at Sandia to try to create fusion inside a magnetic field, also very cool, if incomprehensible, research) and see if this strange German was actually on to something? It may well lead nowhere. But unlike a lot of these bridges, it would not lead nowhere on purpose. Or if government doesn't want to do it because it is not stupid and corrupt enough, maybe Jeff Bezos could come up with a few hundred million he's not using otherwise, and perhaps revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos. Or just waste a few hundred million. But internet billionaires do that routinely anyway.

WIKIPEDIA has a long article on Heim, and the talk section indicates controversy over whether he is legit or not. I guess the comparison between Heim theory and string theory is naive. I should probably stick to what I know. It's just that much of what I know is pretty boring. I would just hate to see potentially new science wither because it is non-standard and unfunded. Maybe it is a job for the Air Force and DOD funded entities, which are less enthralled by reputation, which understandably is the engine of the academy. But you have to wonder if Einstein were around today, whether he could ever get published. Very lucky he managed to get published when he did. Not that Heim is Einstein; I don't know and am unqualified to judge.