Physics on the Fringe
Physics on the Fringe
Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything
Walker & Company, Hardcover, 9780802715135, 323pp.
Publication Date: October 25, 2011
For the past fifteen years, acclaimed science writer Margaret Wertheim has been collecting the works of "outsider physicists," many without formal training and all convinced that they have found true alternative theories of the universe. Jim Carter, the Einstein of outsiders, has developed his own complete theory of matter and energy and gravity that he demonstrates with experiments in his backyard, -with garbage cans and a disco fog machine he makes smoke rings to test his ideas about atoms. Captivated by the imaginative power of his theories and his resolutely DIY attitude, Wertheim has been following Carter's progress for the past decade.
Centuries ago, natural philosophers puzzled out the laws of nature using the tools of observation and experimentation. Today, theoretical physics has become mathematically inscrutable, accessible only to an elite few. In rejecting this abstraction, outsider theorists insist that nature speaks a language we can all understand. Through a profoundly human profile of Jim Carter, Wertheim's exploration of the bizarre world of fringe physics challenges our conception of what science is, how it works, and who it is for.
"Margaret Wertheim writes beautifully, passionately, and with great humanity about a most unusual mind. This book is ultimately about big things: What is science? What is the universe? And who says?"—Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein
“With a vivid storyteller’s glee, Margaret Wertheim spins us one of those wide looping yarns that starts out all in good antic fun, only to become more and more confoundingly profound. Her sagas of outsider physicists open out onto some of the most intriguing of questions, not least of which are: Who and what gives anyone the right to decide on the legitimacy of anyone else’s passions, on what gets to be deemed ‘in bounds’ and what not?”—Lawrence Weschler, author of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder
“Margaret Wertheim's fascinating portrait of Jim Carter wonderfully captures both the pathos and the brilliance hidden in a venerable tradition of science: the quixotic amateur who thinks he might have figured out the answer to the mysteries of the universe.” —Paul Collins, author of The Murder of the Century
"Physics on the Fringe is a compelling, sympathetic study of the outsiders who challenge the gates of official science with impassioned theories of the universe, much the way outsider artists challenged the art establishment.”—Lisa Stone, curator, Roger Brown Study Collection, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
"Maverick science writer Wertheim challenges the right of the scientific establishment to lay claim to the position of gatekeepers of truth… Wertheim raises an important question with broader ramifications." – Kirkus