After years of observing and sometimes participating in the "fringe
science" arena, I've come up with a set of rules which I try to follow.
(c)1997 William Beaty
The Eight Rules
- I'm probably mistaken.
- If it's real, I'll probably kill it
- Secrecy screws up everything
- Travel opposite to Wrongway Peachfuzz
- Write everything down
- Don't forget the toy possibilities
- De-complexify your demo
- Beware: "INVENTORS' DISEASE"
- Some final thoughts
My first law of unconventional research:
First rule: If I've made a discovery which violates the laws of
conventional physics, then I've almost definitely made a mistake
Seriously! Even though I'm involved with non-mainstream science, I
intentionally maintain this 'skeptic' belief for many reasons. If I let
myself start *knowing* that I've found an anomaly, I will stop trying to
double-check the results, stop trying to think up conventional
explanations, stop trying to look for mistakes, stop looking for subtle
ways I've fooled myself. I've seen how easy it is for people to talk
themselves into things. I want to avoid these traps. Second, if I keep
strongly suspecting an error, I will resist the temptation to let my ego
get the better of me. I know the extent and the power of my ego, and that
delusions of grandeur are very easy to fall into. Therefore, in my saner
moments I set up my beliefs as traps to trip up my future ego trips.
Another: if I "know" that the discovery is a mistake, I will force the
discovery itself to convince me otherwise. No opinions and self-delusion,
just the real world demonstrating its realness. Another: if I present it
to others as an earthshaking discovery, they will later tend to defend
this viewpoint and not help prove out the discovery. But if I present it
in terms of "find my mistake", then they might actually discover a
conventional explanation I've overlooked.
Second rule: if it is a real anomaly, I might kill it.
If it's a small piece of a new field of science, then there is a *very*
large chance that I won't understand what's causing it. I may
accidentally extinguish it and never get it back again. I've heard
laments from several inventors that they rebuilt their devices to improve
them, and they never worked again. So, DON'T take apart the original
invention! Don't move it to another location. Don't turn the power off
and back on. Just moving your arm a bit wrong might eliminate the
conditions which allowed success! Once you have it working, videotape the
heck out of it, call in eyewitnesses, perform experiments, maybe even
build several copies and get them working. Stay paranoid that the
phenomena might vanish at any time, never to return.
Third rule: Avoid SECRECY, that destroyer of new science.
I will publicize it and let others help me find my mistakes.
This rule is a natural consequence of rule one: if I intentionally
maintain a conviction that there is a mistake somewhere, then wide
publicity is the fastest way to get help in finding it. If instead I hide
my discovery from all the greedy people who want to steal it, then I also
subvert the whole process of idea-testing by fellow researchers. If my
discovery is a mistake or delusion, others may help me discover this, but
if I keep it secret, I may remain deluded for decades.
I realize that this isn't quite so attractive an option outside the US.
If I publicize a discovery here in the US, I have a year to decide to
patent it or not. If in another country, first I'd have to decide to put
my invention into the public domain, since the patent laws elsewhere do
not provide the 1-year grace period. Myself, I might break secrecy
anyway, because of Rule Four below. Here is an alternative, from Jerry Decker
Also, I've come to see that there is one big thing that ruins these fields
of mavrick research. That thing is SECRECY. Every time someone thinks
they've stumbled across something important, they go silent and treat
their discovery as a Big Important Secret which must be preserved at all
costs from the many enemies who want to steal it. This is garbage! It is
a trap which leads to creeping megalomania. At the same time, it wrecks
their discovery by burying it. True, there are often business reasons to
keep back proprietary info, but the majority of "weird science"
discoveries are not kept secret for sensible reasons. They are kept
secret because of shameful human psychology: because of inventors' desire
for attention, because of our need to control, and because of our need to
be important, to gain fame and accolades, etc.
I can say such
because I too have suffered from this kind of "inventor's disease." I
problem by posting my inventions on internet! If a single inventor
discovers something wonderful, it does no good at all for mankind, and is
not really a discovery at all, it is an ego trip. Only if an inventor
discovers something wonderful and then STARTS SELLING PRODUCTS, or better
yet, TELLS EVERYONE THE SECRET, then does it make the world a better
Also see George Wiseman's NO PATENT page.
The Prometheus Game
Inventors and Secrecy
Against Intellectual Property
Cult of the Non Disclosure Agreement
Also, take a look at these inventors. Their lives were damaged by their
pathological need for secrecy, and they took their discoveries to the
grave. All that work for nothing...
"We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to
operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way
to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be
free to inquire. We know that in secrecy error undetected will flourish
and subvert." - J. Robert Oppenheimer
Fourth rule: figure out what other o/u inventors did, then do the
Inventors over and over have announced o/u discoveries, yet where are they
now? What did Pons and Fleichman do wrong? Hendershot? Hubbard? There
seem to be a particular set of guaranteed routes to failure. Secrecy is
the biggest one. Another one is to assume that everyone wants to steal
your valuable discovery. Another one is the attempt to sell the discovery
to governments or giant corporations. Another is the loss of humility
and pursuit of fame. Another is the assumption that scientists will
automatically hail your discovery, and that businesses will vie for rights
to manufacture it.
Therefore, in order to succeed, we must do some historical research,
discover the guaranteed routes to failure, then avoid them.
Assume that all scientists will ridicule you. Assume that all businesses
will reject you as a lunatic. Assume that governments and corporations,
if they don't simply ridicule you, will force you into silence (and
perhaps pay you to keep silent.) Assume that your suspicion of
idea-theives will push you into paranoid insanity, and that pursuit of
will destroy both you and your discovery. Now go forth and bring light to
the world. But how? I don't know. Maybe try giving away your discovery
for free, then later make your fortune on your autobiography and lecture
tours? See prometh.html for some clues.
Fifth: Keep a journal. If you notice something strange, WRITE IT DOWN.
Human minds are funny about anything which violates our expectations. Our
minds want to maintain a coherent world, so we tend to get amnesia about
things which don't fit. Amateur scientists should never stop fighting
against this tendency in themselves. Avoid too much skepticism. Search
for "weird" unexpected phenomena. And if ever you see some, write them
down! Here's a story about my own encounter with this issue.
If you don't, you'll invariably forget it.
I was using a VandeGraaff generator to power a "Franklin's Wheel"
electrostatic motor. I was working in a dusty shop, and little hairs would
jump onto the brass knobs of the Franklin motor. I wiped them away, but
one of the hairs simply would not leave. It was a thin gray hair about
2mm long, and even though I wiped and wiped, the same hair kept jumping
back to the knob. But then I looked more closely and realized that
something weird was going on. That hair was a ghost. When I viewed it
against a white background, it was completely invisible. When I viewed it
against a normal complicated background, it looked like a tiny fiber of
transparent glass. "Very weird!" I thought to myself, "I must remember to
play with it tomorrow when I have more time." Ten years later I read an
article in ESJ about fiber-like air flows created by the polished knobs of
a Wimshurst machine. THAT WAS IT! That "ghost hair" thing! But then I
realized that it had not just slipped my mind ten years earlier. Instead
my brain had edited it out. I had been trying to fit that "fiber" into my
prior experience, and having no luck, it was confusing me. It was an
interesting phenomena, but it was also deeply unsettling. I was going to
look at it more closely, but my subconscious got there first and protected
my "reality" by giving me amnesia! When I read Charles Yost's article
about it in ESJ, my original memories came back, but I noticed that they
had a weird "feel" to them. To me they felt like I was remembering a
dream, as if the "ghost hair" event had happened to somebody else. I
suspect that my brain had stored the memories in a different way than
normal. I had no access to them until something broke through the
amnesia, and then the "feel" of the memory was different than the "feel"
of a normal conscious recollection which is accessible through usual
Alterations in recollection of unusual.unexpected events PDF
I suspect that this sort of thing is common in science. Somebody
announces a great discovery, and many other people remember seeing clear
evidence for the same thing. Is the discoverer a great genius, or was
he/she simply the only one with the good sense to write down an observed
anomaly, and then to follow it up?
Sixth: a failed o/u device often makes a great toy.
If my amazing discovery doesn't pan out, it often was because some weird
phenomena fooled me into thinking I had found something new. Therefore,
the same thing will probably befuddle others and act as entertainment. If
Pat Harris of the "TOMI" device had given weight to this concept, his
rollercoaster device might now be in all the stores as an "impossible"
science toy. And if a real anomaly gets ignored by the mainstream,
designing a toy based on new science is a great way to penetrate the
barriers of disbelief.
Seventh: spend all your effort making an airtight demo.
In the "Free Energy" community, a tiny spinner which keeps turning, or
better yet, a light bulb which runs
for weeks, beats any number of electric cars or huge multi-kilowatt
blackboxes hands down. Don't try to build a flying saucer, try instead to
build a soup-can which unexplainably loses 1% of its weight, and which
anyone can duplicate. If possible, make it so very simple that you could
sell it as a kit to school kids. Make it so obvious that your grandmother
could follow the instructions and make a successful replica. If the goal
is to blow away the objections of the skeptics, then the device should
clearly demonstrate the new principle in ways which cannot be explained
away. Doing any more than this will just obscure the principle. And doing
more than this will almost guarantee that your discovery gets ignored as
being just another crackpot claim.
Eighth: beware of the "Inventors' Disease"
OK, you've developed fantastic invention. It is an important discovery.
No *REALLY* important. It might change the face of mankind. But at the
very least, this thing is seriously valuable, and anyone in their right
mind is going to want to steal the idea so they can sell it themselves.
Nobody is above suspicion. Your family is looking at you funny. Don't
trust them, they probably want to market your fantastic idea, but with
THEIR name on it instead of yours. Better start writing in your notebooks
in code, so your spouse won't be able to steal the idea. You mention your
idea to friends, but then they want to know the details! Theives! Do
they think that you are stupid?! Your patent attorney wants to know what
you've invented. Beware, because that's just a transparent ploy to get
clues about your idea! Only the idea is important, not the marketing,
manufacturing, etc. Anyone who even HEARS about the idea can just walk
off and start a wildly successful business. Patent the idea? But that's
ridiculous, since then everyone would KNOW about it! They could just walk
in and take it, and then you'd be spending your whole life battling
lawyers! Actually, your idea is so valuable and so important that mankind
is not ready for it. Burn all your notes, and bury the working model in
the backyard garden where only you know its location. You'll take your
idea to the grave with you. That'll show 'em!
The above is the "Inventors' Disease." The full-blown version (like the
above) is fairly rare, but milder cases are very common. I fell into it's
thrall two times now. I was afraid to take my idea to a patent attorny,
since chances are that he would steal it! In hindsight, I see that I was
courting a totally monumental bloated self-image, and my whole attitude
fairly dripped with poisonous egoism and self-importance. Pretty
disgusting. Yet pretty attractive too. Like a kind of drug.
If I come up with a really important idea in the future, I know that the
whole stupid thing will begin again. What to do? How about this:
acknowledge that I am a weak person, and for that reason I will never be
an inventor. If I have a seriously cool idea, it will blow my ego all out
of normal proportion, and I'll start looking for bugging devices in the
kitchen fixtures. Therefore, any great ideas that I have, I'm
putting them onto the internet right quick! I'll still have a year of
"grace period" where I can patent them before they go irretrievably into
the Public Domain. Besides, ideas are *NOT* worth all that much, and it's
the 99% of perspiration, not the 1% of inspiration, that creates a
successful company. And even if I never make money off of my great ideas,
and if they are promptly stolen by others, at least I won't go strutting
around with a hugely bloated ego, and a pitifully obvious case of the
(Hint: I put the Hand-Drawn Holograms and "Visual Electricity" on
internet, and after many years, nobody has stolen them! I suspect that
it works like this: if it's not secret, and if you give it away for free,
then the "predators" will become convinced that it's worthless!)
And finally, a quote for all scientists (weird ones and otherwise)
to live by:
"What impressed me most was Einstein's own clear statement that he
would regard his theory as untenable if it should fail certain
tests... Here was an attitude utterly different from the dogmatism of
Marx, Freud, Adler, and even more so that of their followers.
Einstein was looking for crucial experiments whose agreement with his
predictions would by no means establish his theory: while a
disagreement, as he was first to stress, would show his theory to be
untenable. This, I felt, was the true scientific attitude."
- K. Popper, CONJECTURES AND REFUTATIONS, 1963