Smoke Rings, Circlons and Alternative Theories of Everything
Reviewed by Peter Rogerson
As the author, a science journalist, points out, there is growing interest in ‘outsider art’, art from outside the academic and art establishment. She here examines the scientific equivalent of this, ‘outsider science’, the science that is produced by those outside the scientific establishment, those who inhabit the fringes and produce their own home-made cosmologies. Wertheim has been assiduously collecting these and provides a number of examples, before concentrating on the work of one of these outsiders, Jim Carter a trailer park owner and successful inventor from Washington State. She weaves these stories of the outsiders around a history of physics,
The great majority of these ‘independent thinkers’ aim at a simplification of science. They are alienated by the esoteric nature of much of modern physics, truly understandable only by the small minority who can penetrate the secret languages of advanced mathematics (the Latin of our times as she suggests). What drives them is not the dream of some new and extraordinary horizon for physics, that will push further beyond the boundaries of imagination and language, as does the mainstream, but the desire for something more concrete, more traditional, folksy, homely. In some ways these thinkers are the antithesis of the paranormalist, for while the latter usually chide mainstream science for being too materialist, the independent thinkers tend to chide it for not being materialist enough, for being too esoteric and occult.