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$Billions Sucked into Black Holes - Science in the Present Time
by Dr. Jeremy Dunning-Davies

March 13, 2008


As more and more money is being requested for scientific experiments which are becoming more and more elaborate, it becomes increasingly important to attempt to explain the basic theory behind the work involved to those who, in the end, pay the bill - YOU - the members of the general public.

Many look on in awe and wonder when told of the Large Hadron Collider. They have little idea what it is or, in reality, what those in charge hope it will do but are carried along on a wave of, quite probably, genuine enthusiasm from those involved. The lack of knowledge, though, is emphasised by the genuine fear felt by some at the belief that, when switched on, this powerful machine would produce a black hole that would swallow up the Earth.

Ridiculous as this may sound, there were people who did believe this and were genuinely stressed by the day of the switch-on. The cost of this machine, as well as the enormous cost of running and maintaining it, are almost beyond the comprehension of many members of the general public.

Then there is LISA, the Light Interferometer Space Antenna; another project costing vast quantities of money and, yet again, a project funded eventually by an uncomprehending public.

The question must be raised as to whether this is an ethically correct position or not. Also, it seems only right and proper for all those paying the bill to be given some idea of the total background position for each and every one of these massive projects. The need for complete openness is emphasised when the plight of so many, unfortunate to suffer from a grave lack of food or be in the grip of some presently incurable disease or condition, is considered also.

There is little doubt that it would be extremely difficult, if not pointless, to explain the detailed thinking behind some of these modern projects in the general area of cosmology for example, to the general public. This is not to appear élitist; it is rather that much of the theoretical background is so complex that relatively few professional scientists understand all the ramifications. Hence, how do you explain the background to people unused to the world of the scientist?

It is not an easy task but is one that must be attempted and attempted with complete honesty. By honesty is meant the need to explain ALL the background. This would involve making everyone aware if alternative theories and explanations for effects and observations exist. At present, unfortunately, this is definitely not the case.

Discussion of the Basic Problem

Much of the fear felt by so many as the day of the switch-on for the Large Hadron Collider approached was occasioned by a lack of knowledge of the real situation which arose for at least two reasons. Firstly, the explanations offered were necessarily sketchy because the concepts involved were so complicated and required vast amounts of background knowledge in physics to gain a true understanding. Secondly, however, no-one was made aware of the fact that other serious theories abound which made some of the worries pointless.

For over a hundred years now, scientific thought seems to have been held in the vicelike grip of two theories - relativity and quantum mechanics. However, what of the qualms concerning these two theories?


It is well documented that many eminent scientists harboured doubts about the validity of relativity - both the special and general theories - from the beginning. Some, such as Herbert Dingle who became deeply troubled by aspects of the so-called twin paradox, formed doubts after initially being passionate advocates of the theory. Unfortunately, once those doubts arose, it seemed that eliminating them became increasingly difficult, if the account of events outlined in his book Science at the Crossroads[1] is accurate.

Since those early days, little seems to have changed and, seemingly, it is still the case that challenging the validity of the theories of relativity is not a sensible career option. In fact, even showing that the famous tests of general relativity may be explained by other means[2] is regarded by some as a veiled attack on the validity of Einstein's theory.

Quantum Mechanics

There have been worries expressed also over some points in quantum mechanics almost from the very beginning of the subject. Frequently, these have revolved around the role of the observer and over whether or not quantum mechanics is an objective theory. One man who has considered these points at length is Karl Popper, probably one of the best known philosophers of science. Although he has written on the topics at length, his book Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics[3] proves an excellent source of his views.

He expresses the view that the observer, or, as he prefers to call him, the experimentalist, plays exactly the same role in quantum mechanics as he does in classical physics; that is, he is there to test the theory. This, of course, is totally contrary to the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation, which provides the normally accepted position.

This alternative view basically claims that “objective reality has evaporated” and “quantum mechanics does not represent particles, but rather our knowledge, our observations, or our consciousness, of particles”. As Popper points out, there have been a great many very eminent physicists who, over the years, have switched allegiance from the pro-Copenhagen camp. He cites among these Louis de Broglie and his former pupil Jean-Pierre Vigier, Alfred Landé and, in some ways most importantly, David Bohm.

Bohm, himself an acknowledged and deeply respected thinker, wrote a book on quantum theory, which was published in 1951, in which he presented the Copenhagen point of view in minute detail. Later, apparently under Einstein's influence, he arrived at a theory “whose logical consistency proved the falsity of the constantly repeated dogma that the quantum theory is 'complete' in the sense that it must prove incompatible with any more detailed theory”.

It was this very question of whether or not quantum mechanics is 'complete' which formed the basis of the intellectual struggle between Einstein and Bohr. Einstein said 'No'; Bohr claimed 'Yes'. The whole problem is discussed in great detail by Popper and, for those interested in this important topic, there can be no better reference than the book by Popper mentioned already.

It should be noted also that people like Dingle and Bohm who have dared to question what might be termed conventional scientific wisdom have had their position within the scientific community brought into question.

Black Holes

The two enormously expensive undertakings mentioned earlier - the Large Hadron Collider and LISA - have much in common and illustrate well the need for increasing public understanding of some highly abstruse areas of modern science. Worries about the creation of black holes which could swallow the Earth troubled many. LISA will look for gravitational waves emanating from giant black holes. Hence, black holes are mentioned in both projects but what is the public's conception of a black hole and, indeed, of gravitational waves, and how was that conception achieved?

For many years now, black holes have been popular in science fiction and it is probable that, in many cases, the public's perception of what such an object is was derived from some work of science fiction rather than of pure science. This has been augmented by numerous television programmes, purportedly reporting genuine science. In truth, the programmes have reported science but usually only advancing one explanation and ignoring other possibilities.

The modern popular conception of a black hole is almost the perfect example of the public being misled as to scientific reality. Although the idea of a stellar body with an escape speed equal to, or greater than, the speed of light goes back to John Michell in 1784[4], the modern notion initially comes from Schwarzschild's solution[5] to the Einstein field equations of general relativity. There are at least two major problems associated with this and both are kept hidden from the public.

Firstly, a simple check of Schwarzschild's original article shows immediately that the 'solution' so often quoted and used[6] is not actually Schwarzschild's solution. It is a later version due to someone else. The original does not include the mathematical singularity which leads to the idea of a black hole.


Secondly, most modern work in this area of physics revolves around advancing explanations which depend on gravity only; the possible effects of any other forces are effectively ignored. However, most of the matter in the Universe is in the form of plasma. As such, electric currents will be circulating and magnetic fields will be playing a role.

The electromagnetic force is much stronger than gravity by something of the order of thirty-nine orders of magnitude and there is a school of thought which feels that it is this force which plays the dominant role in the Universe, - not gravity! People advocating this alternative point out that black holes are simply not necessary in their scenario for describing the workings of the Universe. Incidentally, they also note that such esoteric notions as 'dark matter' and 'dark energy' are unnecessary also. However, challenging the popular view is not allowed as it actually raises questions about the absolute validity of relativity and quantum mechanics.

This means that the public, which ultimately foots the bill for all scientists do, is not being presented with all the facts before embarking on financing various extremely expensive projects. This is a position which must surely be altered.


Science should be studied with a totally open mind and any advances should be examined in a like manner. Surely the aim of any scientific investigation is to seek the truth? Probably mankind will always be found wanting intellectually and any solution to a problem will be no more than an approximation to the real truth, but efforts must continue in all areas to find that elusive complete answer.

In the meantime, the dissemination of scientific information to the public must be totally honest and open. Where several theories exist, that fact must be openly acknowledged with no thought for protecting vested interests of any sort. The task will be extremely difficult because of the nature of the technical language and theory involved but it must be attempted. If not, the day may come when, disillusioned with science and scientists, the public refuses to continue funding projects.

References [1] H. Dingle, 1972, Science at the Crossroads,
(Martin Brian & O'Keefe, London)

[2] B. H. Lavenda, 2005, J. App. Sc. 5, 299 - 308

[3] K. R. Popper, 1982, Quantum theory and the Schism in Physics,
(Hutchinson, London)

[4] J. Michell, 1784, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. 74, 35

[5] K. Schwarzschild, 1916, Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Phys-Math. Klasse, 189

[6] see for example:
R. Adler, M. Bazin, M. Schiffer, 1965, Introduction to General Relativity,
(McGraw-Hill, New York)

Since compiling the above comments, I have been privileged to be invited to address the Scarborough Astronomy Society again. I took as my title 'The Electric Universe' and gave a talk introducing the members to the basic ideas involved. If I may say so, the talk went down extremely well - not least because those present were being introduced to ideas totally unknown to them. Considering the important role amateur astronomers have played in the advancement of knowledge over the years, this is, I feel, significant and supports the need for far more open discussion of all sensible ideas in science.

Jeremy Dunning-Davies
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