Comments on conversation with Synthese editor

Dewey B. Larson
755 N.E. Royal Court
Portland, Oregon 97232

April 11, 1986

Dear Jan:

Because of the heavy schedule of work that I have undertaken during the last few months, I have not been able, until now, to give consideration to the correspondence between you and the editor of Synthese, copies of which you forwarded to me. However, I now have a little breathing spell, and I want to make some comments on the referee’s report that the editor kindly allowed you to see. I want to be sure that you understand how completely lacking in merit the criticisms in this report actually are. Whether or not you wish to pass the information on to the editor is something for you to decide. In my opinion, it would probably be advisable.

The publication problem faced by anyone who challenges a currently accepted theory is that the average referee is so convinced of the validity of the conventional view that he does not take the time, or make the effort, to understand the case that is being made in favor of the unorthodox ideas. The comments made by the Synthese referee are typical of this lack of critical thought. I will discuss them in the order of their importance.

He says that my logic is “astonishing", and in support of this statement he proceeds to misstate my argument. He says. “From the premise that distant galaxies are moving away from us, he concludes that ‘we are moving outward in all directions.’” I do not draw my conclusion from that premise. I draw it from that premise plus the premise that our galaxy is not unique. From these two premises, which no one contests, it follows that all galaxies are moving outward away from each other, and the astronomy textbooks so state. In order to do this, all galaxies have to move outward in all directions, as I have asserted.

The second flaw that the referee finds in my logic is described in these words, “He calls such motion, which has magnitude but no direction, ‘scalar motion.’ How one could change one’s position by moving in no direction he seems not to have considered.” Here again he makes his case by misquoting my statements, Twice in these few words he quotes me as saying that the motions of the galaxies, the scalar motions, have “no direction.” I do not say anything of the sort. I say that the motion of a galaxy has no specific direction, and that scalar motion in general has no inherent direction. Furthermore, I devote several paragraphs to elaborating these points, explaining that the directions of scalar motions, as seen in the context of the spatial reference system, are determined by the coupling of the motion to the reference system; that is, they are properties of the representation of the motion in the reference system, not properties of the scalar motion itself.

The referee says that my distinction between objects which have “an independent capability of motion” and those which do not “has not been valid in physics since Aristotle.” The truth is that a distinction based on an observable difference is always valid, I am distinguishing between objects that have a known inherent mechanism (gravitation that causes them to move, and objects (photons and neutrinos, for example) that have no such mechanism, so far as we know. I am pointing out that the objects of the latter class move outward at the speed of light. The distinction is clear, and the facts are not in question.

Another criticism is that I have not described the big bang theory adequately. My account of the theory is “brief, confused, and inaccurate,” the referee says. But I did not describe the theory at all. It was not necessary to do so, as the only feature of existing theory with which I was concerned was the explanation, or lack of explanation, of the origin of the universal expansion. The original version of the big bang theory explained the expansion as the result of an explosion, while the newer version, the one that Paul Davies refers to, simply assumes the existence of the expansion. The referee claims to have found a “philosophical lapse” here, but all that I have done is to call attention to the difference between the two versions, and point out that those who accept the new version will either have to take the expansion as a given feature of the universe, or look elsewhere for an explanation, So, if there is any “philosophical lapse,” it is not anything for which I am responsible.

The referee is, of course, entitled to disagree with my characterization of the hypothesis of an explosion of the entire contents of the universe as “never very plausible.” This cannot be more than a subjective judgment. Aside from this issue, which has no bearing on the development of thought in the article, there is no substance in any of the referee’s criticisms. Indeed, criticisms based on misquoting statements in the article deserve something less than a zero rating. Actually, the inability of a critic to find any solid support for his adverse opinion is, in effect, testimony in favor of the product.

I am not suggesting, however, that you ask the editor to reconsider her decision. Reversal of such a decision may be somewhat awkward. But it would be in order to ask that she consider another of our papers, and that we be permitted to respond to the referee’s criticisms before a final judgment is reached. This may be a departure from the usual procedure, but my analysis of the referee’s report on the big bang article certainly supports my contention that it is difficult to get an unbiased opinion of an article that arrives at unconventional conclusions.

It would be advisable to explain your connection with these papers, which may be somewhat of a puzzle to the editor. You should let her know that you are a member of a group of scientists who are undertaking to investigate some of the more obscure areas of physical science on our own time and at our own expense, purely because of our personal interest in the advancement of scientific knowledge. We are the kind of people that Dr. James B. Conant called “uncommitted investigators.” You should explain that one of your functions, as a member of the group, is to arrange for publication of our results in the appropriate media.

As Dr. Conant pointed out in a discussion of the subject some years ago, we uncommitted investigators have a significant role to play in scientific research, as we are the only ones who can afford to undertake research off the beaten path—to investigate the possibility that long-continued existence of certain problems may be due to errors in currently accepted fundamental laws or principles. It is conceded. that this possibility exists. Physical and astronomical literature is full of suggestions that “new physical laws” may be needed in order to resolve some of the more difficult issues. But the odds against being able to identify the required “new laws” are stupendous, and no one who makes research his profession can afford to gamble his entire career against such odds. This kind of research has always been left to the uncommitted investigator. It follows, as Dr. Conant emphasized, that the continued existence of such investigators is essential “if you want advances in the basic theories of physics and chemistry in the future comparable to those of the last two centuries.”

In line with this tradition, our group is exploring some of the dark corners of physical science, and, as it happens, we have arrived at some very significant results, Some of these involve modifications of basic physical concepts, and the articles that I, and others, have written to explain the required modifications should be appropriate for publication in journals such as Synthese that deal with the scientific and philosophical principles underlying the main body of scientific knowledge. These articles raise important new questions that should have serious and thoughtful consideration.

The primary advance in understanding on which the big bang article is based is the discovery—or more accurately, the recognition—of the existence of scalar motion. This calls for a drastic revision of the present-day definition of motion—certainly something in which the philosophers of science should be vitally interested. If the editor would like to see something further along this line, addressed directly to the definition issue, I suggest that you offer the article entitled The Nature of Motion. If she would prefer a different subject, I recommend the article The Physical States of Matter, which shows that an equally drastic change is required in the prevailing concept of the nature of physical state, in which the different states are regarded as “states of aggregation.”

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Reciprocal System Research Society

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